Developer: Ratloop Games Canada
Publisher: Ratloop Games Canada
Platform: PC(Steam), PS4
Price: Free to Play, $19.00 USD for Premium Version(Same price on both platforms)
Release Date: August 14th, 2018
Virtual Reality Compatibility:: HTC, Oculus, PSVR
It’s not everyday that a new game comes around offering gameplay completely unlike any other games. Despite being made from three preexisting genres, Vroom Kaboom delivers gameplay that feels fresh and experimental, yet solid and polished.
The goal of each match is to destroy two objectives within the enemy’s base while protecting your own two towers. Both locations are connected by a long winding path, dotted with power-ups. Playing cards from your hand spawns vehicles into the map, allowing you to control them down the road and smash them into the enemy objectives.
The game is confusing at first because the in-game tutorials are lacking but once you get things down it’s quite simple. You draw cards from a pre-made deck, each representing a different vehicle. Cars, trucks, bikes, helicopters, missiles and drones, just to name a few. Playing cards costs resources(think Magic The Gathering mana costs), obtained by recycling cards on your hand, collecting them along the road, or simply generating some over time. Your goal is to make it across the road and crash into the enemy towers.
My first impression of the game was: I don’t like this. Yet, this game is trying to be original in a world where game ideas and resources are recycled ad nauseam. I was determined to take a better, deeper insight into its design.
As I kept playing matches, I realized Vroom Kaboom had more layers of complexity than I initially imagined. The first few games consisted mostly of watching a car race down the road and crash into a wall, over and over until the game declared me winner. However, as the game’s difficulty picked up, it became increasingly more difficult to reach the goal, simply because the enemy vehicles would destroy me before I got there. It was then that I was forced to control multiple vehicles at the same time, and that’s when things finally got out of control.
The measure of your skill in this game is, for the most part, based on how many vehicles you can micro-manage at once. Some vehicles shoot, others jump, some ram incoming enemies and other just shift aside faster than others. They also all move at different speeds and steer differently from one another. Additionally, up to three players are playing cards on each side of the road, quickly evolving into utter chaos. Bringing order to that chaos is how you win matches.
An important mechanic I feel needs to be brought up is the actual movement in the game. As it turns out, you don’t have complete control over vehicles, rather steering cars into different lanes set up along the road. The following is quoted from the developer’s FAQ:
Steering a vehicle at high speed requires a significant amount of brainpower to manage. If you let go of the controls for a second, you crash! What we found when developing VROOM KABOOM is that it is very difficult to do anything else once you’re tasked with driving at high speed. From the very beginning our goal was to provide a mix of action and strategy simultaneously. Very quickly we found out this was incredibly difficult for the player to manage.
To get around this, we experimented with a lane-based driving solution with self-driving cars. We managed to free up a considerable amount of players’ brainpower from having to precisely control their vehicle at all times, which allowed us to infuse our additional (mental) elements of challenge into the gameplay.
Having played the game, I’m compelled to agree. The path isn’t a straight line and most vehicles move quite fast, no doubt I would end up crashing into walls and missing enemy vehicles, both which are the opposite of what you want to do in Vroom Kaboom. On the other end, it never felt like the game was wrestling control away from me. Lane swapping done in-game isn’t a snap, cars actually steer gradually into their new position, allowing you to effectively dodge incoming threats. It also doesn’t stop you from crashing into walls, just makes it a lot less likely.
The three different factions in-game each have their own aesthetic, with matching vehicles and a field of battle. The styles themselves aren’t original, very likely inspired by others works, but I very much liked the variety.
The quality of graphics isn’t amazing overall but the game looks good where it need to be. Vehicle models look great and each of them feels very distinct from each other. Even if the ground and scenery doesn’t look amazing, you’re speeding past things too fast for it to make a difference.
The base game being free-to-play, Vroom Kaboom’s monetization model is based on Premium sales. Purchasing it enables all vehicles in the game, although you still have to actually unlock them through gameplay. Items are unlocked after each match, or bought using in-game currency.
We’ve started seeing games by small developers bringing VR options more often, VK being one such example. The gameplay is essentially the same except in VR, with motion controls. I was looking forward for the chance to play this on my PSVR but turns out that the game requires two PS Move controllers, which I don’t have. The game’s page on PSN says it’s optional but turns out it’s required in order to play within the PSVR headset.
In VR, the camera follows vehicles from further away and you are limited to 1×1 battles only, otherwise it’s the exact same experience except made better with whichever VR peripheral you may own. One thing I thought was interesting is that you can see exactly where your opponents are looking by their floating giant head avatar. These are visible even during non-VR matches, giving you an idea of what your opponent is actually doing.
The most obvious issue with the game for me was its introduction. Calling the in-game tutorial bad would be an understatement, and to be perfectly honest, the very beginning of the game is just boring. The game itself is alright but it really failed to grab my attention until I was 40 minutes into it. Considering it’s a F2P game with a “pay after you’ve played” business model, this is a fatal flaw. More work should have gone into capturing the player from the get-go.
Despite the issues I brought up regarding first impressions, Vroom Kaboom is a very well finished product. The free-to-play design works great for this game and 20 USD feels cheap for the content you’re getting, even though it’s optional. Not something to be crazy about, but definitely the type of experimental stuff that gaming is in dire need of in this moment.