I hated Smashbox Arena on my first go. Loathed it. Wanted to throw my PSVR headset over my balcony and watch it smash into a thousand expensive pieces. Why? Because I’m an idiot, and good things come to those that wait (and take the time to play vital tutorials.)
Let’s start with the basics: Smashbox Arena is a PSVR game, so you’re going to need a PSVR headset. No headset, no play. You’ll also need two PS Move wand controllers. No PS Move controllers, no play. And no, there’s no support for the PSVR Aim gun. Why? Because not every game needs it shoehorned in, that’s why. Now we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s get stuck into what makes Smashbox Arena so bloody awesome.
Smashbox Arena is s first-person team shooter. On the surface it looks simple as hell. The graphics aren’t going for any kind of realism, and the general look of the game is rather simple. Don’t let that fool you, though, because Smashbox Arena is a deeply tactical game for those who take the time to learn its intricacies.
Games are played as 3v3 matches in short rounds. The first team to be eliminated loses the round, and the winning team earns a point. Easy enough to follow, even for the maths dunces. You eliminate the other team by shooting balls at them. Your guns aren’t super-powered Uzis with unlimited ammo, they’re one-shot machines that need reloading. Following? Good.
The maps are littered with little balls of energy that you need to pick up by pulling the trigger, then they zip up to your gun. Now, this is where things get interesting. Not only do you now have a deadly projectile, you also have a shield. Should an opposing player try to off you with their own energy ball, you can simply parry it away, take aim, and kill them dead. Think of it as a little like dodgeball, if you will.
Movement… Now, I know that many, many PSVR players loathe teleportation locomotion in VR games. I know, I’m not always a fan of it myself, but it’s something we’ll have to live with while the technology matures. That being said, Smashbox Arena uses the inherent weakness of VR as a valuable gameplay tool. To move around the battlefields you need to throw out a teleporter. There’s a second or two delay, and then you teleport to where you’ve lobbed your teleportation sphere. The upside is that you can see when an enemy is going to appear in front of you, the downside is that it’s exactly the same for them. Oh, and you can’t throw one if both of your hands are full of deadly balls and powerups. This brings around some interesting gameplay moments, or at least for me it did. I’d find myself in something of a Mexican stand-off with the other team, each of us armed to the teeth, waiting for somebody to make a move. Do I fire one shot and hope to teleport up high behind them? Or do I wait for them to make the first move and hope I can deflect the shot? It can be pretty damn intense, let me tell you.
Before you go jumping straight into the online modes, let me suggest that you try out the training section first. I made the sorry mistake of jumping into the online portion of the game straight away, and all it got me was a couple of nasty messages from my team mates. The tutorial will guide you through movement, using power ups, and even getting to grips with popping around the battlefield while offing some enemies. Trust me, it’s worth the ten minutes it takes to get through.
Smashbox Arena is a multiplayer focused game, of that there is no doubt, but there’s also a single player Story Mode. It’s called a Story Mode in the game, but the reality is that it’s just regular matches against A.I opponents with a few lines of dialogue in between; there’s no real story here and you shouldn’t go into it expecting one. Think of the single player as extended training for the online mode. I actually really enjoyed it, to be honest, as I knew that there wasn’t some smug bastard somewhere in the world laughing at me for dying. There’s a few hours of play to be had for lone rangers, as well as differing difficulty modes. Plus, you can unlock new characters to play as online, though it’s only ever going to be everyone else that sees your character…
Online is where Smashbox Arena really shines. Teaming up with a couple of mates in a party makes for excellent team-based tactical gameplay. Calling out to one another across the battlefield should be your top priority, aside from dying of course. You can play with random folk, too, and it’s no worse, but I personally think that the game begs for player interaction. I had a few games with randoms that just went to shit in a matter of moments because of a lack of co-ordination. The enemy teams were obviously a group of friends, so that didn’t help.
So, the technical bits. It’d be a poor review if I didn’t mention the tracking, wouldn’t it? I’m happy to report that Smashbox Arena’s PSVR tracking is superb. Only very rarely would I have a bit of a wobble when bringing my hands up to my face, and on the occasion I did have a major spaz-out, it was because Charlie had climbed the TV stand and knocked the camera behind the telly… In all seriousness, it works really, really well. Even with the ancient technology that is the PS Move wand, I didn’t have any problems. Kudos to the developers, and let it be a lesson for would-be PSVR devs.
Graphically we’re not looking at anything special. The game’s maps are clean, crisp, and uncluttered. I never had any issues in making out far away targets, though PS4 Pro players can expect a little more visual fidelity in their game, but there’s no advantage over other players. Good to keep things fair, no?
What you get for your money is a more than competent shooter, and a genuinely great attempt at something a little different for VR. We’ve got no real multiplayer shooters – and I don’t think the platform is ready for it quite yet – but we’ve got a taste of the future that likely won’t go stale anytime soon.
Smashbox Arena PS4/PSVR Review
Overall - Fantastic - 8.5/10
Smashbox Arena ticks all the boxes: Fun? Yup. Functional? Yup. Plenty of content? Yup. More content on the way? Yup! You can’t go wrong! If you’ve been itching for a tactical team-based shooter, by default this is the best thing available, but it’s pretty damn great in its own right anyway.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Slim.