Released this week on Gear VR, Augmented Empire is a surprisingly brilliant little game.
Seriously; it is. I’m not a massive fan of VR gaming – I generally find that spending more than a few minutes in a headset is far too uncomfortable to ever truly enjoy the game that I’m playing – yet I’m eager to shove my face back in my Gear VR to see where Augmented Empire is going to take me.
It’s a story-led adventure with RPG elements and turn-based strategy-style battles. The game puts you in the role of a guide of sorts, with a top-down perspective over a fixed area. It’s up to you to issue instructions to the characters under your charge – in battle, that means telling them when to attack and when to take cover, and out of battle, it means exploring the environments, finding useful materials and interacting with story-enhancing elements.
Set in the neo-noir city of New Savannah, Augmented Empire takes you through a number of locations, each as carefully crafted as the last. It’s Gear VR, so the graphics aren’t going to blow you away, but in terms of styling and art design, it’s mightily impressive. The way the game flicks between static environments feels like a futuristic pop-up book whose pages you can run around in. Every location is stuffed with character; intricate building designs, graffitied subway stations and carefully detailed posters all help bring this little world to life.
Although I’ve only played a couple of hours of what's apparently a 10-hour experience, the story has me completely hooked. Augmented Empire’s world is one where citizens are graded from 1-10, with the highest living in comfort and the lowest living in squalor. It isn’t the most original concept, sure, but it’s delivered in a way that’s going to make you eager to find out more. The excellent voice acting certainly has something to do with that, too: the cast includes Doug Cockle, Kate Mulgrew and Nick Frost - a calibre of talent rarely seen in what’s essentially a mobile game.
If you happen to have a Gear VR, I’d highly recommend giving Augmented Empire a try. Amid the shovelware and low-budget experiences that litter the Oculus store, this is a true gem in the rough. It’s just a shame that, since it’s been developed in partnership with Oculus, it’s unlikely to release on any other format outside of VR so more people could have the chance to experience it.
It's available now on the Oculus Store for Gear VR priced £7.99.