Marvel and Oculus are honing in on social gaming with Powers United VR

Play as the Hulk, Deadpool and Captain Marvel on Rift next year
Marvel makes VR gaming more social

I reach out my hands, look down at my torso and then back across my shoulders. All I see is green skin, gargantuan muscles and a pair of ripped purple jeans. It's happened — I am finally the Hulk.

Instead of this development coming as a result of some amateur skin painting, feverish gym sessions and an ability to soak in the latest fashion trends, though, it was all the work of the Oculus Rift and its upcoming title from Sanzaru Games, Marvel Powers United VR.

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I'm not alone in this VR world, either. Joining me in the field is Deadpool, Captain Marvel and Rocket Racoon, three of the characters the game will feature initially before branching out across the Marvel Universe. And in the real world, this is, of course, actually three other players, including Sanzaru Games CEO Glen Elgan, playing in the same space. We're all communicating through the Rift, too, making this one of the few games to take advantage of the headset's microphone.

I don't really understand what I'm about to drop into, but I know it involves working as a team and harnessing the Hulk's powers to try and clear out enemies. And, admittedly, I'm no Marvel super geek but I'm ready to jump in and see what all the fuss about.

After all, as Elgan tells me: "Anything that we do, at its core, we want to make sure that it's fun. We don't want to create a tedious experience, obviously — nobody's going to play it if it's not entertaining."

Very quickly, with Kree soldiers swarming all around me, it was fun. I was able to pick up the Hulk's abilities and feel how hand movements transfer through the Oculus Touch controllers. One of my first actions was reaching out, clenching my fist and bringing a soldier up from the ground in my grasp. And although my fling wasn't quite as dramatic and triumphant as I'd hoped (I accidentally released my grip too late and drove the foe into the ground), the flailing arms and legs made sure the power of the Hulk was well conveyed.

It's not just each character's individual powers that are clear when you begin experimenting with different trigger combinations through Touch. Size and movement is one of the aspects of Powers United that hits you immediately — especially when you're trudging around as the Hulk only to see Rocket Raccoon scurrying around your legs.

The Hulk's shoulders are twice as broad as your shoulders, so we've got to make it feel true to your movement

At the heart of this still, though, is the co-op element. Although I was still getting to grips with the wider challenge, carried by my more experienced teammates, it's clear to see that this would be a much more difficult game to progress in without the help of a team chat. There were plenty of occasions when heads-ups over enemy locations helped the overall goal, or instructions about what to do next were easily conveyed.

And it's not just the communication that feeds into this team feeling, either, with group objectives presented before the start of each round that, if met, can help everybody progress faster.

The Oculus Rift and Marvel Powers United VR captures what it's like to be the Hulk

By the end of my round with the Hulk, I was just about grasping his various powers — charging my hands up before pounding them into the ground, bringing my arms from out wide to create a wild clap of thunder and crushing into the ground after coming out of the other side of a teleport — but the differences were equally apparent once I switched to Deadpool in the second round.

Instead of towering above and acting as a force of nature, I was armed to the teeth with weapons. If the swords and two sets of guns weren't enough to take down enemies and complete the round's objective, I also had ninja stars to grasp and fling across the map and noticeably quicker motion.

Essential reading: Oculus thinks standalone VR needs more time

Still, all the while under the headset, navigation felt a little jaded. To get around, users have to push the joystick on the left controller, while the joystick on the right controller allows you to change direction 90-degrees at a time.

It's nothing you don't get used to, since you're so immersed within the game, but the sudden transformation of perspective can be a little jarring. When you're waltzing around as the Hulk, it can be hard to spot enemy combatants in the same way, so having to quickly do a 180-spin when you see the screen filling up with the damage icon is a little strange.

The Oculus Rift turned me into the Hulk and it

But the team at Sanzaru Games are still fleshing out the title ahead of its release, which is expected to land in 2018. More and more characters from Marvel's crop of "around 5,000" will be added to the roster over the coming months, as well as the continuation of work on more modes.

"Every step you take in VR is a new step, it's like an undiscovered country," says Elgan. "So there's a lot of iteration that goes on and having to speed things up so people can get to the fun as soon as possible. There's a lot of esoteric technical challenges, too. For example, the Hulk's shoulders are twice as broad as your shoulders, so we've got to take your input and your control and make it feel true to your movement."

It's certainly appearing to meet the challenge of creating a convincing social VR gaming experience, and with a few refinements this will no doubt appeal to people across the spectrum. Even those who aren't necessarily all-in on Marvel, like myself, can enjoy the base level of Powers United VR simply because this is fun to dive into with friends. The only question now becomes whether it's able to add to this co-op fun - which sees everything from high-fives in the lobby to panicked communication in the heat of battle - with even more support.


In this sense, it's a shame this will be an exclusive title, meaning those rocking a HTC Vive or other high-end options won't be able to join the superhero morphing and team action.

And, as a result of its ability to bring people together, from seasoned VR gamers to starters, Marvel aficionados to comic book amateurs, could this wind up becoming one of the biggest VR titles yet?

"I'd like to think so," Elgan laughed. "It's been garnering lots of attention, it will garner a lot of attention when it comes out and Oculus has been on this path to make VR more accessible and affordable. So hopefully it all aligns by the time we get around to launch."



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