While gaming continues to shift evermore towards complex, sprawling experiences, it’s easy to lose sight of just what makes the medium so fun. Some of the best experiences in gaming are the simplest: popping balloons in Mario Kart, hitting a ball back and forth in Pong or ramming ostriches into each other in Joust. Taking a simple concept that anybody can immediately grasp but that takes countless hours to master is the recipe for an addicting game and something that CCP looks to have accomplished in Sparc.
The first time we witnessed Sparc was nearly one year to the date at GDC 2016, where it was known as Project Arena. Although tons of fun, it felt like a prototype that cribbed a bit much from Discs of Tron. Although Sparc builds off of Project Arena, it now feels like its own fully-formed experience that although influenced by multiple properties, successfully comes into its own. Described as a “virtual sport” the game takes influence from Tennis, Racket Ball, Dodgeball and Jai alai on the sport side of things and Pong, Windjammers and Air Hockey on the game side.
The mechanics behind Sparc are simple: pick up a ball, throw it at the opposing player and try to dodge the ball that’s thrown at you. You can move your body, hit the ball away or deflect it with your shield. If the opponent’s ball strikes your body, they get a point and you play until a threshold is hit the ends the match. Simple yes, but also quite complex. Much like in Tennis, there are tons of different shots you can make and times to implement them. Because it’s a multiplayer game against a real opponent, you must also analyze their style and adjust your strategy accordingly to defeat them.
Visually the game retains Project Arena’s futurist Tron-esque sort of look with sparse environments overlayed with bright neons. Instead of functioning like a soulless matchmaking screen like most multiplayer games, CCP wants it to feel as if you were actually on the court. As such, you can virtually walk up to players to challenge them or simply watch them and learn their strategy. The player avatars can be customized, lending a more personal feel to the proceedings.
We were able to play three full matches of Sparc during GDC but itched to play more. It’s a game that makes sense for the VR format and plays exceptionally well. It will hard to be able to accurately judge its appeal until the full product is out as for it to be successful, it will have to become the “vSport” CCP wants it to be. This means tournaments and players constantly training and challenging each other. If the market bears that, Sparc could be a real winner on VR.