Out of Ammo Review

Out of Ammo is a misnomer. At no point in this real-time strategy/first-person shooter hybrid did I ever feel pressured into conserving bullets while wave after wave of enemy combatants descended onto my position. Of all the base building and defense elements I had to manage in this game, ammo was never an issue that I or my AI compatriots had to deal with. Even when I took direct control of a unit, I never fretted over losing my supply of deadly bullets. So, the game really shouldn’t be called Out of Ammo. It should be, I dunno, "Not Out of Ammo."

This is just me being nitpicky (and bad at naming video games). Out of Ammo is an entertaining PlayStation VR game developed by Rocketwerkz and published by Zen Studios, those fine purveyors of Pinball FX. The game takes a page from Double Fine’s Brutal Legend by framing gameplay around a combination of RTS base building and unit management with the visceral thrill of shooting blocky enemies in the face. As an unnamed commander, your job is to defend a base from incursions by infantry commanded by an unseen foe. Starcraft this ain’t, which means the RTS elements presented here are readily accessible to those new to or intimidated by the genre (like I am). Rocketwerkz’s game is fun enough but rough around the edges, a notion made all the more real by a prominent “v1.0” slapped on the logo.

The game is broken up into two playable modes: Survival and Missions. Missions offer three standalone, time-based scenarios in which you shoot enemies in first person while trying to complete some sort of objective. In “Overwatch,” you’ll snipe enemies trying to attack friendly soldiers as they wait for extraction. “Icarus” sees you defending yourself following a plane crash, shooting down Middle Eastern-looking fellows as you wait for rescue (did they have to be Middle Eastern? Really?). Finally, “Vertigo” lets you play hacker as you steal files from a laptop while shooting enemies using a high-end shotgun (that only fires one shot even though it’s equipped with a drum magazine). In truth, none of these missions are all that fun to play. Each have some nagging issue that prevents them being the sole reason to play this game.

Survival, on the other hand, is far more interesting because it is more representative of what Out of Ammo is all about. Choosing from one of eight maps, each with their unique terrain design and environmental obstacles, you play until the enemy has destroyed your field base. You lead the charge from a bird’s-eye view, assigning base crews to construct various structures and defensive measures as helicopters drop off supplies at regular intervals. With the PlayStation Move, you have complete discretion over placement of the chief combat units - Sniper, Rifleman, and Rocketeer - in places that make good use of their offensive abilities. Towers, for example, are a great place to assign snipers and give them the advantage of the high ground. Additional units, such as Engineers and Medics, support attack units by healing them and making new structures available. As you complete each wave, the enemies get stronger and show up in larger groups sporting rocket launchers, long-distance snipers, and tanks.

You could easily play a Survival map (either offline or with friends) from the commander’s view and let the grunts do all the work, but there are two ways you can lend a helping hand. With each kill, points can be spent towards special attacks triggered from a controller held in your left hand. An artillery strike can rain missiles from above, strafing runs can attack fixed and mobile positions, and you can mark targets for precision sniper fire. These tools are great for getting out of tricky situations or getting the drop on enemies, though be careful. Don’t be like me and accidentally trigger an artillery strike on your own towers. If you feel that your troops are overwhelmed, you can step in by taking direct control of any unit on the field (including medics), using maneuvers or tactics that go beyond the typical AI response of “stand in place and shoot until they are dead” or “stand in place and shoot until I am dead.”

Possessing units is pretty fun and easy to do. Simply highlight any unit class and select the option to take control from a radial menu. There are no load screens or special transition animations to sit through before you have full control of your unit. The seamless and instant transition from god's-eye to boots on the ground is awesome and prevents the enemy from gaining any advantages while you wait for the game to let you loose. The on-foot experience plays like what you’d expect from a first-person shooter. Point your weapon with the Move wands and shoot stuff until it's dead. To add a measure of realism to the shooting combat, the game employs a deliberate and granular approach to reloading. Instead of the game doing it for you, the player needs to mime the action of pulling a new clip or bullet from your hip and load into the gun. The process is different depending on the type of gun you’re using. Pistols, combat shotguns, and rocket launchers have a fairly simple process, be it loading a new clip or barrel or moving your hand towards the front of the rocket launcher. Other weapons, like the sniper rifle and stationary minigun are far more involved. The bolt action sniper rifle, which can only fire one bullet at a time, requires you to reach out and pull back on the bolt hand, grab a bullet from your hip, load it into the gun, push the bolt in place, and pull the trigger. In a game where you’re often swarmed by enemies in different directions, the time spent having to reload can be detrimental to your efficiency, but no one can say that it doesn't look and feel cool.

As I played through different Survival maps and Missions, I felt like this particular game might work better on the HTC Vive rather than the PlayStation VR. The key reason is the jitteriness inherent to the PSVR platform. When I purchased the peripheral a few months after its launch, I noticed that, unlike the Vive and Oculus Rift, your in-game hands can never really stand still. This isn’t a big problem with VR games that don't require any intense precision but it’s another thing entirely for Out of Ammo. I had a hell of a time with the “Overwatch” Mission because I found it difficult to line up an accurate shot against enemies that were so far away, they appeared small even while looking through the rifle’s scope. Too many times I wasted shots because my jittery digital hands twitched in a different direction just when I pulled the trigger. I had the same problem with the “Vertigo” mission. There are moments between enemy waves that you have to enter a number sequence on a laptop. I failed these sections repeatedly because my hand would shift over a number key or, far worse, brush the CLEAR button. As you only have what feels like five seconds to complete the code sequence, it’s almost impossible to accomplish this without messing it up, which made the whole scenario unfairly frustrating. Another VR concern I had is the inflexibility of the PSVR’s ability to do proper room-scale games. I’ve spent some time with the HTC Vive and I found that it can easily handle me turning a complete 180 degrees. The PSVR has some difficulty with that. With so many things going on in different directions, it would be far easier to just turn my head completely around instead of having to rely on a button that will turn the camera about 15 degree increments. One other problem I experienced was that the action of reaching for your hip to grab a new clip is actually incorrect. Whether its a fault of the software or proper detection of the Move wands, the only way I could reload was to bring the wand up to my chest; only then would I get the small vibration effect that alerted me to having a new clip in my hand.

Out of Ammo offers a nice blend of RTS and FPS mechanics that's pretty fun. The ability to take possession of friendly units and fight alongside AI soldiers is a cool trick that puts you in the middle of action. It's unfortunate that known technical issues with the PlayStation VR don't allow for the level of precision I came to rely on during the heat of combat. It's also a little dry, content wise, as Survival maps differ only in terrain and setting--you'll always fight the same units no matter which map you choose. I look forward to what version 2.0 and 3.0 might look like down the line.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.