E3 2014: War Thunder, Oculus Rift’s New Best Friend

I’ve been on the virtual reality train since before the metaphorical transcontinental railroad came to be. Hell, I (very much regrettably) picked up a Virtual Boy at launch because it was, and I quote my clearly dysfunctional young self, “the coolest thing ever.” The truth is that it was — as should now be evident by Nintendo’s near immediate discontinuation of the product — utter garbage. That didn’t derail my enthusiasm in the technology, though. Virtual reality was, and still is, a wellspring of potential. And recently, its place in gaming’s future has been spearheaded by an abundance of outrageous investments, basement-community approval and, most importantly perhaps, incredible gaming experiences.

Enter War Thunder, the realistic aircraft and (as of may) tank simulator from Gaijin Entertainment. My first appointment, and introduction to much of the game, was a hands-on demonstration of my general ineptitude and also an online tank battle. The developers were kind enough to ignore my disqualifications, thankfully.

war thunder 1

Commanding the tank was reminiscent of my time with Armored Warfare, albeit slightly less arcade-like. The map, which was brimming with detail, stretched as far as I could see, and enemy vehicles peppered the surrounding hilltops. While I didn’t have time to properly scope the field and dig into the meat of War Thunder’s mechanics, I did manage to fire enough shots to get a feel for the controls — which are, by all accounts, as smooth as controls for a realistic tank sim can be.

There was also plenty of room for strategy, with assorted bullet types making up the hotbar. “Powers,” as I like to call them, range from anti-aircraft shells for those good ol’ mode appropriate skirmishes to your more basic, still-just-as-exiting quick fire exchanges. The landscape, too, can be used to your advantage. Various earth formations, as well as trees, stones and terrain elevations make evading, sneaking, and finally destroying an enemy a tactical treat. It’s shockingly addictive.

War Thunder blends platforms as seamlessly as it blends land and air combat, and while playing on PC is perfectly serviceable, cross-platform play makes it all the better. For those of you unfamiliar with the fancy tech-talk, that means you can play on one device against (or alongside) folks using another. There aren’t any real restrictions, and your account is the same across all platforms. It’s pretty incredible to see in action, and Gaijin had one of each platform build running on the round table during our meet. There’s a lot to love about War Thunder, even on the surface with its quick-thinking strategy and gorgeous scenery. In a nutshell, it’s both a hardcore and lighthearted free-to-play experience that doesn’t penalize the stingy, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Well, at least I thought I couldn’t.

That, of course, was before I entered my second appointment: the mysterious room of magical wonder. Unlike the first meeting, which had multiple fellas in Gaijin shirts directing my misadventures in tank-land, the second room only contained a single gentleman in a neatly ironed polo. I was told to have a seat before a presentation of complex controls; a professional grade throttle and flightstick.

war thunder 2

At that point, I was already well versed with the Oculus Rift, though not quite sold on the experience it offered. War Thunder changed everything, however. From a first-person view, I slowly made my way into the open skies as the lightly cologned man instructed me on all the different triggers. Once I gained enough air, he told me to spin which, sequentially, had my world turn as if I were in fact soaring through the sky. My surroundings, the beautiful vistas, forests and rivers below, swum around me as I rotated my head in awe. Finally, the Rift has a game worth bragging about.

The earth below was one of the many maps available for all forms of combat; tanks, planes or both. I was told that every sliver of the game world was available with the Oculus, and that action happens in real-time as you slice the air above the ongoing ground skirmishes. I didn’t get a chance to blow down any enemy targets – I was too busy being awestruck by the view.

It wasn’t long before I crashed — the inevitable outcome of a game involving planes, flight controls and my hands. It’s hard to explain the overwhelming emotions felt during my session in the sky, even as flames arose from my engine. It’s the most convincing unreality I’ve ever been in. Confusing, I know. War Thunder, an already immensely enjoyable game, and most certainly one I’ll be hopping into again, is also the first title to sell me on the Oculus Rift. Sure, plenty have nudged me in its direction, but none forced me to question the validity of my households entertainment without the headset.

My airborne Oculus trip was, without any semblance of doubt, my most enjoyable gaming experience in months. That’s true even when you take into account my subsequent headache. War Thunder is available now on PC, Mac and PlayStation 4 — get it while it’s hot. Or cold. Or no particular temperature at all, because it’s a game. An amazing, must-play game that you probably shouldn’t cook or freeze.

  • Matthew Fuller

    Were you playing on a DK1 or something else?

    • DK2, which made the experience the great one it was.

      • eaaew

        What can you tell us about the resolution of the kit: is it good enough to enjoy and be able to play the game properly or not quite there yet?

        • Well, the DK2 is 960×1080 per eye, so it’s pretty enough. And lag is almost nonexistent — at least in War Thunder. Although to be completely honest, while it’s impressive, we’re likely only months away from DK3. I’d wait for the update, primarily for the improved response time.

          That said, if you simply have to get one now, it’s working well enough to enjoy.

          • Dave O’Reardon

            Do you have some insider knowledge behind “only months away”? (not to mention the existence of DK3 rather than CV1!) The only public info from Oculus is “we’ll be disappointed if it’s not out by 2016”

          • Although CV1 was the prototype they openly discussed, it’s likely that they’d release another developer specific iteration as well; far earlier than any consumer version. As for the “months away” comment, it’s speculation based on tidbits of info I’ve heard recently.

            Worst scenario, DK2 is good enough for now.

          • Dave O’Reardon

            I’ll be amazed if we see a DK3 before a CV1. But if you’re right, I’ll read everything you ever write on the Rift, knowing you’ve got the inside scoop 😉

          • So will I. I’ve learned to take industry chatter with a grain of salt and pass it on to the masses. It makes sense to me, though.

          • Subterflume

            Can you write more about this or tell us anything else about this DK3 chatter? You’re the first person I’ve seen mention it.

          • Sure!

            After chatting with some VR developers, I found that they’re still struggling to resolve issues with latency. Most want a higher resolution, too. These issues, they say, hold them back from creating a truly great product (or more accurately, one that’s more than an overhaul of existing work). So I asked if they heard about a new dev kit.

            A few informed me that a DK3 was in the works (at least on paper), perhaps for a release alongside CV1 (or shortly beforehand). It would be identical to the CV1, but coupled with dev-tools and whatnot. Essentially, it would be suitable for full ground-up projects, rather than tech implementation and experimentation. Unfortunately, that’s all I know.

            I’ll see about extracting more information and doing a write-up. When and if I do, I’ll let everyone in the comments know.

          • Subterflume

            I hope you managed to dig up more, nobody has touched on this at all so it’d be a decent scoop!

          • Matthew Fuller

            Hmm. a DK3 would have to include a new input method. Clearly this is the last major issue to solve besides user experience. You have a point. Plus, it takes more than a year, probably 2 years, to make a good VR game — even low budget — so delay of CV1 to 2016 seems highly plausible. Many other factors to consider, we enthusiasts know them all. lol.

          • My thoughts, as well. While I’d love to see CV1 made available sooner, it’s wishful thinking. Plus, more time for games won’t hurt.

      • Matthew Fuller

        Just wanted to acknowledge your reply. Thanks.

  • Dale

    And still you got a headache 🙁 man i hope this whole VR thing works for me.. I dont get travel sick, i don’t think i get sea sick.. I just hope i’m one of the lucky ones.

    • The headaches usually fade once you’ve adjusted to the whole thing. It’s tricky to jump into from a plain old television set, though.