Larcenauts is the latest addition to the Quest’s ample FPS market, looking to stake its claim in the virgin soil of the hero shooter niche. Impulse Gear, creators of the critically acclaimed PSVR title Farpoint, have turned their attention away from story-driven single-player adventure games and towards the fast-paced adrenalin of the online shooter genre and have garnered a lot of buzz along the way.
Does this plucky, ragtag band of space rogues have what it takes to blast their way into your game rotation, or will their heist run afoul and leave them down and out, drowning their sorrows in some futuristic cantina?
Grab your guns and buckle your bandolier because it’s time to find out.
We can be heroes
Larcenauts is the Quest’s first foray into the hero shooter genre and is a welcome addition to the library if for that reason alone. This sub-genre has become popular in recent years with the rise of flat games like Overwatch. Much like Population: One has been called the Fortnite of VR, many will make the same comparison here with Overwatch.
For the uninitiated, hero shooters favour a character class system, with each character coming equipped with unique weapons and abilities. Larcenauts offers eight unique characters or “specialists” to choose from. The characters all have abilities that are varied enough to give an entirely different spin on the gameplay.
Larcenauts offers traditional character classes with a futuristic slant that makes the game sparkle while providing an eccentric and compelling cast of characters. Evander, for example, is an elite sniper whose high-powered rifle and cloaking ability make him deadly at long range, while the vaguely creepy Chi is a masked medic who seems to take just a little too much pleasure in reviving his teammates. There are also more unusual characters, such as the mighty Vod, an alien brawler who uses Dhalsim like extending arms to batter his opponents into submission.
This eclectic menagerie of misfits is elegantly balanced, allowing for a tactical depth to the game that begins right from the moment you select your character. Unlike non-hero shooters, choosing your character is about what role you want to fill within your team just as much as it is about which weapons you want to use.
Specialists come equipped with their own unique weapons and possess several abilities that encourage a particular style of play. Broadly speaking, each specialist has deployable gear, which allows the player to drop an item into the world and a quick ability, which is often based around movement. In addition, the ability to “overcharge” weapons provides a powerful variant accessible to either of the characters’ weapons and personalised grenades that suit their specific playstyle.
In addition to all this, each character has two Power Slates, allowing the player to add additional perks to enhance specific aspects of their play style. These could be as simple as a damage or ammo count modifier or as pivotal as extra usage of a vital ability. The choices are wide-ranging and add a thoughtful, balanced amount of customisation within each class.
This is all really rather nice and offers something that was sorely lacking on Quest until now. Finding the characters you favour takes time, and getting good at them takes more time, even before you start to tweak their load-outs and power slates. A lot is going on in Larcenauts, but everything makes sense and contributes to the game’s overall enjoyment without feeling cluttered.
The Dirty Dozen
Primarily multiplayer, with bots bolstering the roster when needed, Larcenauts is a 6v6 team-based shooter at its core. At launch, the fast-paced action takes place over four beautifully designed maps and features three game modes. Additionally, Impulse Gear have already shared a roadmap promising even more content before the end of the year.
On release, the game modes on offer include classic FPS staples like Team Death Match, a Capture the Flag style mode called Refuel, and the somewhat more innovative ‘Dronehack’ mode. In Dronehack, players carry a ball-shaped drone from one side of the map to the other to connect to an uplink before the drone explodes. The drone can be passed between players or thrown “downfield” to cover more ground and make it to the uplink, all while your enemies attempt to shoot you and/or steal the drone from you. It adds an original and often chaotic element to the mix and is a thrill to play.
Larcenauts‘ pacing is deliberately frantic, with each game mode encouraging you to cover as much of the diverse maps as you can. This is helped along by movement powers that push you at breakneck speed, as well as handy grapple points which allow you to traverse the vertical elements of the map swiftly and efficiently.
At times it can become almost overwhelming trying to balance all the elements of the gameplay. Maximising the utility of your abilities and timing the usage of your character-specific grenades or your overcharge mode can be a lot to process, especially while trying to remain mindful of where your enemy is attacking from and how best to support your team. However, once you get the hang of it, Larcenauts provides the sort of delightful madness that can eat your hours away.
Why do we fall, Master Bruce?
All that said, Larcenauts is not perfect.
In fact, a few critical design choices have been made, which could sadly ruin the game for some and would have been fatal for a lesser game.
To begin with, Impulse Gear have committed one of the cardinal sins in VR insofar as there are times when the players’ in-game hands stop tracking to their physical ones, and a canned animation takes over.
This happens during reloading and sprinting, two actions that you repeatedly perform as you play, so if this kind of thing bothers you, it’s REALLY going to bother you. Additionally, your off-hand is not used for two-handed aiming but instead just steadies your weapon against recoil. This means that once your off-hand engages with your primary one, it is no longer being tracked so long as the grip is pressed. If this sounds like a deal-breaker for you, I would recommend waiting to try Larcenauts until after the first few updates have gone live.
Despite understanding that at this stage in VR development, having an animation take over your hands is borderline criminal, I got past it. In fact, it was relatively easy for me to ignore these issues because of how brilliant literally everything else in the game is.
That is an important point to note here, as my Solaris review pointed out similar issues, and I scored that game poorly. The difference here is that, unlike Solaris, once you get the canned animations out of your mind and just play, Larcenauts offers a level of depth and polish that will see you joyfully rushing back into the fray time and time again.
The good news is that during our recent DevTalk with Impulse Gear, they confirmed that Immersive Sprint, Two-Handed aiming, and Manual Reload are all on track to release shortly after launch. One can only hope that the lack of these features doesn’t hurt the initial player base.
The Spandex Looks Good On You
For this review, I played Larcenauts on the original Quest. I must commend the team at Impulse Gear for how much they managed to squeeze out of the older headset. For those of you with a Quest 2, however, Larcenauts provides better textures and increased levels of detail. So yes, it’s prettier on your new gear. Lucky you!
Whichever Quest you’re playing on, Larcenauts is a thoroughly good-looking game, with varied environments and excellent character design throughout. Despite the intense action, frame rates seldom drop, and assets don’t pop into existence as complex scenes render. It’s bright, vibrant and smooth and is a testament to what a talented team can achieve on the Quest.
The levels are thoughtfully designed in terms of gameplay and provide excellent graphical variety, with each level having different zones and unique visual motifs. My own favourite level is definitely Hazard Pay, where the action takes place under an ominously purple-clouded sky, lit up by an electrical storm and an impressively exploded planet in the skyline. Somehow Larcenauts manages to do more with the ambient backgrounds than many other games have, all while providing impressive gameplay action.
The character design is also excellent, with each specialist looking unique, interesting, and appropriate for their role in the game. This really makes the process of trying them all and picking your favourites very satisfying. The UI is also elegantly designed to be clean, effective and user friendly. I did notice a slight graphical glitch on the character select screen, but that’s a minor issue, and it didn’t lower my opinion of the production values.
Overall, I would say that Larcenauts has achieved a visual standard that few other titles on Quest have.
I’m holding out for a hero
The audio design in Larcenauts is equally top-notch. The voice acting is excellently performed and used to significant effect, treading that fine line between filling the void and becoming obtrusive, and it does so with finesse. In addition, each character has a distinct personality that is rendered admirably through their limited dialogue. It all meshes perfectly with the tone, pacing and aesthetic of the game and is an excellent example of the power of clever sound design.
The music is pretty good as well, with lively hooks that will have you unconsciously nodding your head in between matches. It’s juxtaposed to the background music with increasing intensity as matches wind towards their climaxes. It’s catchy, distinctive, and most importantly, totally harmonious with everything else that the game has to offer.
Spatially, Larcenauts succeeds but does not excel. Compared to Population: One and Crashland (I know, different genre), Larcenauts doesn’t stack up as the pinnacle of directional audio. Perhaps I had the music up too loud, but I found it difficult to pick out directional cues amid even mild action, most noticeably with approaching footfall. It would appear that all our delightful space rogues (even the heavy metal ones) are remarkably light on their feet or wearing very soft bunny slippers…
Live, Die, Repeat
The biggest question with an online multiplayer game tends to centre around longevity. How long will the game be able to keep you coming back, and more importantly, how long will it be able to sustain its player base? Sadly, I dropped my crystal ball recently, so your guess is as good as mine.
I will say this; I have already put as much time into Larcenauts as I have in Contractors, and I like Contractors well enough. However, I have little interest in going back into Contractors again, whereas I can’t wait to get back into Larcenauts.
I played for a few hours, just experimenting with all the specialists, trying to decide who I wanted to master. I then spent another few hours focusing on two of them, only to change their load-outs and power slates and have them feel like entirely new characters. I have a ranked list of the specialists in the order I want to practise playing them, and I expect to be playing Larcenauts long after learning to use them all proficiently.
If you find that the basic mechanics, diversity of customisation, depth of tactical team play and overall flow of the gameplay appeal to you, and if the game draws and maintains a decent player base, then you will probably find that there is more to keep you coming back here than in pretty much any other shooter on Quest.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Larcenauts is an incredibly polished and well-delivered hero shooter that manages to offer something new and exhilarating within a fairly crowded market. At launch, Larcenauts is marred by some questionable design decisions that would have felled a lesser title. However, the game has made up for these shortfalls by focusing on the core elements of gameplay that make it so satisfying to play.
Larcenauts excels thanks to its range of customisations that allow for varied play styles and add magnificent depth to the outstanding team play. All in all, Larcenauts is a unique and downright engaging multiplayer shooter that is as addictive as it is fun. If you’re looking for a new way to blast your friends (or total strangers) in VR, then I highly recommend taking this one for a spin.
TLDR : Summary
Larcenauts is an excellent addition to the Quest library for anyone who enjoys fast-paced online shooters. It's jam-packed with so much character, customisation, and tactical options that it should become one of the most popular titles in the genre. I'd give it a 9, but I realise that the canned animations, while they remain forced, will put off some players.