Shooting Through the VR Light Synth Galaxy of Polynomial 2

If there’s one thing VR is almost tailor-made for it’s the free-roaming space shooter. Fly through a giant open environment, blast enemies into their component pieces and soak in the sights while remaining relatively free of any concerns of motion sickness. It makes a great show for VR newbies and is a ton of fun no matter the level of experience you’ve had in the headset, whether the game is heavy on the commands like Elite Dangerous or an arcade shooter like Polynomial 2.

The original Polynomial was a pretty space shooter in a fantasy galaxy made of billions of glowing particles and Polynomial 2 doesn’t see any reason to change such a beautiful style. Played from a first-person perspective, there’s no cockpit or any other indicator of what the player might look like in-game, but rather a simple HUD consisting of a target, indicators around the reticle for health and velocity, and a few numbers at the bottom for ammo and a more precise health readout. Polynomial 2 doesn’t require VR, so the numbers are probably tucked into the corners on a regular screen, but once you’ve wrapped a universe around your eyes it’s hard to play any other way.

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The basics of Polynomial 2 are pretty simple- enemies teleport in with a rainbow flash of radiant light, fly around for a bit while letting off streams of lasers, and then explode in geometric displays of shattering lines and particles when destroyed. There’s a chance they might drop a power-up, like a speed or health boost, but for the most part the reward for a defeated enemy is more sparkling particles added to the light show or, rarely, a new weapon.

At the moment there are only four weapons to choose from, with the initial weak lasers being joined by two types of projectile guns and a small stock of missiles. The lasers shoot out straight with zero travel time, the two guns get a target leading the enemy to help you adjust to speed and distance, and the comparatively slow missiles homing missiles take care of themselves. It’s a basic selection that will be expanded on as the Early Access process continues, and it seems probable that the enjoyably overpowered Weapon #3 will get a necessary nerfing at some point. It’s also worth noting one of the fun but strange side-effects of playing a VR shooter with no player model is that, when the guns are firing, it makes you feel like you’ve got the deadliest cheekbones in the galaxy.

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This is helped by a control scheme that I’m honestly hoping becomes more common for any VR FPS. “Forward” is determined by the targeting reticle, and looking around leaves the HUD hanging in space in the direction you’re traveling. A click of the right mouse button or right trigger on the gamepad re-centers the HUD towards the direction you’re looking, effectively eliminating the need to turn your head and rotate the view independently when used to its full effect.  You can also hold the button down to have the reticle auto-track to your head movements, which sounded great in theory until I realized I’d gotten so used to an earlier build without that feature that I just automatically focus on the reticle and adjust the mouse movement to keep the image relatively steady.  Looking around while flying is one thing, but quick movements of the mouse while sightseeing, turning the view without adjusting your body to match, is a great way to give your brain a thorough VR scramble.

Between the two control options it doesn’t take long to be able to target enemies without a second thought, which is good because they don’t fall apart without a few hits. The smaller drones take a few seconds of concentrated laser fire, shedding a stream of particles before shattering to bits, while bigger ones don’t go down without a serious fight. Getting a large spawner throwing a wave of basic popcorn enemies that track you with varying behaviors while missiles fly about can make for a tricky encounter, especially seeing as the waves get bigger and more intricate as its health gets slowly whittled down. If it gets a little hectic, though, there’s no reason you can’t just turn tail and run to get a nice period of peace and relaxation.

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It’s worth restating that Polynomial 2 is an exceptionally pretty game, and while you can play it as a full-on arcade shooter there’s also value in ditching the fight, letting the enemies sort themselves out while you do a little sightseeing. The galactic neighborhood is filled with swirling giant structures made of uncountable particles, all pulsing and changing color to the music. You can stick with the soundtrack or load your own music and the background will adapt to the beat, shimmering to whatever tunes you’ve got handy.  As you fly along space rushes past, filled with dust and micro-stars that are persistent while in view and rendered out to an impressive distance, and brilliant blue comets shatter and fragment before slowly fading away.  The space of Polynomial 2 is a huge and gorgeous place to relax in, once the enemies are left behind, and kicking back by traveling along a ribbon of iridescent particles stretching and spiraling away into a fully-realized Forever that lets you feel its full volume of space makes for a lovely period of chilled gaming.  Then a quick calling up of the menu allows you to restart the abandoned fight, because the enemies aren’t going to blast themselves to glowing neon splinters.

Pretty as it is, Polynomial 2 is Early Access and only just recently started there as well.  The game is a bit fragmented at the moment, with different stages all selectable from the New Game menu and no major campaign in place yet.  There’s even a section titled Half Baked Nonsense & Tests for experimental scenarios.  There’s a lot of tweaking and tuning to do to turn Polynomial 2 into a full game rather than a collection of arcade space-shooter mini-encounters, but the technical base to build from is already in place.  I didn’t experience a single crash, the bug with the HUD I ran across was either corrected or rare, and the developer has been quick with updates so I expect the bug that prevents me from playing in screen mode (even when choosing “non-VR” from the launch menu) should get cleared up soon-ish.  (-Update- Turns out that’s a Rift bug with the way it handles VR games.  All Unreal 4 engine games do the same thing, and it’s solved by unplugging the headset’s USB cable.) Even in its current state, however, Polynomial 2 combines its visually stunning universe with fast shooting action to create a game that’s an incredible showcase for the VR experience.