Franchises such as Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, and Starcraft will hold a very special place in the hearts of many gamers, and it’s a bit sad to see that the real time strategy genre hasn’t been trendy lately. However, there are some developers out there who have tried to re-imagine the genre in virtual reality. Are they actually decent and worth your time? Let’s take a look.
The state of RTS in VR
Let’s face it – the golden era of real time strategy is probably behind us, even on PC devices. Even though virtual reality has been perfect for many genres – adventure games, shooters, and interactive experiences, to name a few – the strategy genre (especially in real-time) is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you put on a VR headset.
But come to think of it, why not?
In virtual reality, you could have a bird’s eye view of the battlefield, deploy your units with Minority Report-like hand gestures and watch how buildings are being constructed right in front of your very eyes. In other words, there’s certainly reason to check out whether there are some good RTS games on virtual reality platforms such as PCVR, Meta Quest, and perhaps even the PSVR2 headset.
BattleGroupVR – a classic space opera
Admit it – you’ve always wanted to control an entire fleet of spaceships and steer them into battle. BattleGroupVR promises to let you do exactly so, but how well is the game actually implemented in virtual reality?
Currently, the space shooter is still in early development, although the release version of the game should come out somewhere in 2023. For a VR title – especially one in early access – the strategy options are remarkably decent and extensive. I found plenty of different ship types to commandeer during my playthrough, and the different configurations pretty much ensure that you’ll never fight the same battle twice.
And sure – while the whole package doesn’t feel as polished as a Triple-A RTS such as Starcraft, it’s damn good for a smaller indie title. The controls are relatively simple (it’s mostly point-and-click), but work well for this type of game. Something that I particularly enjoyed was the fact that you can experience the battles in first person, not unlike being present at a spaceship’s bridge in your favorite sci-fi television show. There are numerous camera options at your disposal, although most will stick with the standard settings.
BattleGroupVR is definitely not a pure skirmish type of game, there’s a pretty lengthy campaign that introduces you to all the game’s mechanics. Just like in Star Trek, you’ll have to deal with evasive maneuvers, hull breaches, arming photon torpedoes, and strategizing the kind of fleet you building taking every ship’s strengths and weaknesses into account.
The game has a price tag of $24,99 and is available on PCVR (Steam) and Meta Quest devices. Definitely worth a look if you’re into sci-fi and space-themed RTS games. As a Star Trek fan, I honestly found it hard to put down.
Final Assault – a VR RTS take on WWII
The second world war has always been a very popular setting, both for shooters and real-time strategy games. The developers of Final Assault decided to bring the setting to virtual reality in a cartoonish and action-packed manner. The rather unique character models are one of the first things I noticed, and it definitely doesn’t look like the game wants to present itself in a very serious manner.
I’ll be honest – for a smaller price point, I wasn’t expecting to see a lot of content while first booting up Final Assault, yet I was pleasantly surprised. There are two campaign modes, a free mode option, and also some PvP options. I wouldn’t describe the gameplay of Final Assault as a pure RTS, as the game uses a lane-based map design, which is easier to use in VR. While I understand that adapting to virtual reality may need some map changes compared to the classic mouse and keyboard RTS, it’s also something that may be offputting for some gamers.
There are different categories of units available at your disposal – think of the standard ones such as tanks, infantry, and planes. While you definitely need to think some decisions are true and will highly influence your strategy, there aren’t numerous variations available of these units. That can be both positive and negative: if you need something that’s easy to pick up and play, Final Assault might just be a great option for you. However, if you’re looking for the unit, faction, and skill tree depth that you might be used to from a C&C or Starcraft game, I think you’ll find the options a bit lacking.
Final Assault in VR just feels good. The presentation is quite lovely and I enjoyed the art style. Controls are also quite good and the gameplay is satisfying, but seasoned RTS players may find the lack of depth disappointing. Final Assault is available for $9.99 on PCVR and the original PlayStation VR.
Brass Tactics – from the minds of AoE II
Brass Tactics has quite a bit of similarity to the cult classic Age of Empires II. They’re both real-time strategy games in a medieval setting – and they’re designed by the same person! That alone should set the expectations very high for Brass Tactics, and my interest was immediately piqued.
The game is pretty much exactly what it promises to be – a medieval battlefield experience where you’re in full control of units and buildings. I found upgrade trees to be quite extensive and well-developed, something that is often lacking in this department in other titles. Visually, the game is also quite striking, despite its age. In my opinion, it really manages to nail the ‘tabletop battlefield’ experience quite well. Presentation- and control-wise, I really don’t have any complaints. Units are very clearly defined on the battlefield and commandeering them around works flawlessly. Purely classic RTS mechanics-wise, Brass Tactics is probably the best one I’ve played.
Maps are well-designed, and the feeling of ‘grabbing’ a building with your hands and putting it somewhere on the ground is just pretty awesome. Of course, you’ll also have to deal with resource management and comparing the strengths and weaknesses of your units against your opponents. Narrative-wise, Brass Tactics isn’t overly convincing, but the gameplay really makes up for it.
The campaign, which should take you around six hours to complete, does start quite slowly. Be prepared for some handholding and lengthy tutorial missions, but I suppose that’s not really a bad thing considering controls in VR aren’t always too easy to use.
Unfortunately, just like many other VR RTS games, it seems like Brass Tactics isn’t really supported anymore by the developers. While it’s still available on PC in Meta Store, I would love to see this cool RTS on newer platforms such as the standalone Quest headsets. It’s also a shame that it’s not available on Steam. Additionally, the price tag of $29.99 might be a tad too much considering some other games on this list.
Orkana Conflict – an interesting RTS/FPS hybrid
Many have tried to bridge the gap between real-time strategy and first-person shooter – remember Command & Conquer: Renegade, anyone? Add virtual reality into the mix, and you’ve got yourself quite the interesting concept. Meet Orkana Conflict, a relatively recent (and unpopular) game that certainly reminds you of earlier C&C games in an alien-like setting otherworldly setting.
With a lengthy campaign that can be both played in the first and in the third person, Orkana Conflict definitely tries to provide players with plenty of content. Something that immediately struck me was the fact that Orkana Conflict really tries its best to emulate that older, golden-era RTS feel – there are your classical base-building (houses, barracks, vehicle factories, walls…) elements and numerous types of units and honestly, it’s just really fun to play. Sure – the base building mechanics may not be super extensive, but at the same time, they’re easy to pick up and quite intuitive. I feel like there’s a lot of potential here.
Regarding the mix between RTS and FPS, I usually found myself building up my base and creating units in third-person mode – and when it was to rush the opponent and kick some ass, the switch to FPS is certainly a logical one. Sure, the controls are a bit clunky and Orkana Conflict may not be the most graphically impressive game out there, but you also have to keep in mind that this is a one-man project and is quite impressive.
I did have a minor annoyance playing the game: English translations (originally in German) aren’t the best. You’ll spot minor errors or some weird sentences that you wouldn’t expect to see in a video game.
Orkana Project isn’t an AAA-type virtual reality strategy game, but it’s a very unique and cool project that’s definitely worth your time if the hybrid concept seems even remotely interesting to you. For $8.99 on Steam, it’s not exactly an expensive purchase, and there’s a demo available if you’d like to try it first.
Cosmic Trip – simple, unique, and arguably the best VR RTS
The VR RTS genre isn’t exactly the most populated one, but I can really say that Cosmic Trip is one of my best RTS experiences – VR or not. It takes base defending to the next level. You’re not just building and defending your base, you’re pretty much in the middle of it and have to defend your immediate environment! The perspective of completely different and only possible in virtual reality.
I’ll be honest – I was a bit skeptical of the game because of worries it wouldn’t age well and it was released some time ago, but I completely fell in love with this absolute gem of a game. The cosmic presentation works marvelously, the art style is great, and the developer Funktronic has absolutely nailed the PS2/Xbox-era-like aesthetic. It reminds me of Ratchet & Clank and Jak & Daxter, which is absolutely a good thing.
Right, back to gameplay! As I mentioned previously, you’re pretty much the middle point of the entire game and you’ll be dedicating resources, repairing buildings, gathering resources in the form of crystals, and commandeering troops to defend your base (and yourself!) against waves of enemies. There’s a bit of action thrown in there as well – your control tool to construct buildings doubles as a nifty weapon. Cosmic Trip spent quite some time in early access and has even won a couple of VR-specific gaming awards.
Since the full release, there’s plenty to do in Cosmic Trip with three feature-rich game modes and plenty of different environments. In fact, Cosmic Trip is the only game on this list with levels that look and feel visually distinct from one another, which is absolutely a good thing. There’s even an option to involve Twitch streamers in your play session if you’re into that sort of thing.
The greatest downside of Cosmic Trip? The fact that it’s not available on more recent platforms. This game would absolutely be wonderful on the standalone Quest headsets or even a new platform such as PlayStation VR2. You can find the game for just under twenty dollars in the Oculus Rift and Steam marketplaces.
Cosmic Trip does a whole lot of things wonderfully right and is the best example of why real time strategy in VR can work really, really well.