We played an early demo of Sparc in the spring, the virtual reality sport (or “vsport“) by developer CCP Games (makers of EVE Online) or more specifically, their Atlanta studio, and fell in love instantly. Sparc is fundamentally different than most other VR experiences in that it used full body motion and include a social layer to make it one of the most physical and immersive virtual reality titles ever.
It’s a workout, and a fun an addicting one that we couldn’t wait to play again once complete. This summer CCP Games unveiled Sparc’s release date alongside the news that it would launch exclusively on PlayStation 4 and this, as we can confirm from playing Sparc all week, this was a bad decision.
Barely anyone is playing Sparc since it’s currently and counter-intuitively restricted to only one of the big three VR platforms. The highest player count we’ve seen online is 22 at any given time, assuming this number we saw on Sparc’s three game modes is accurate. And because of that, only one of the three modes – the ‘basic’ one – is actually playable. In half a dozen attempts, we’ve never seen another player in the advanced or experimental modes. And up until yesterdays’ 1.04 patch update, you could do nothing but stand and wait. Now you can at least bounce the ball around by yourself while waiting and hoping another player will show up. When it works though, and you’re spectating a match with another spectator and queuing up to jump in on the next round, it’s amazing. It’e even better when the other strangers have mics and can talk. Everyone we’ve met in the Sparc court has been fun and gracious so far, like heading to the gym and interacting with real people playing Squash.
To be clear, all the modes are similar. The Advanced one as a more challenging rule set and the experimental one offers a differently-angled court to play on. The game is played with two players, one on each end of the court. Each gets a holographic ball with the goal of hitting the opposing player with it, or by deflecting their own ball back at them.
Players can dodge incoming shots or deflect them back with their shield, and if they successfully deflect the shield vanishes until the player throws the ball again to recharge it. Basic mode here is a little more forgiving since it also grants players small, permanent deflects on their fists to punch incoming throws back.
There’s an added layer to the back-and-forth here with the strike zone, a circular area just behind the players where if a ball strikes it, the thrower’s ball becomes larger and faster making it easier for them to hit the player. Games are three minutes long and whoever scored the most direct hits comes out on top. Advanced games, if they worked, drop the wrist deflects and are played until players hit four points and win a select number of rounds. There is no time limit here.
Sparc is the closest thing to being immersed in the digital world TRON, and it’s clearly stylized after it as well. Players can entirely customize their own look, first choosing gender, then picking suits, head style, gloves, helmets, masks, and choosing colors for each. One time I tried to look like a character from TRON: Legacy (a movie that by the way does still deserve a sequel…), and another time I looked like Iceman in an X-Men uniform from Marvel Comics.
Before jumping into to online play, or simply to practice, there’s a detailed tutorial which explains the rules, movements, and the arena, and there are five challenges to practice throwing, deflecting, and dodging (which leaderboards for each for the hyper competitive vsports atheletes!). Start here to see how the feedback loop is the best we’ve seen in VR.
Sparc is simply incredibe when it works. It has a few bugs here and there, and it crashed on us a few times before the latest update, but the only issue is that it doesn’t have players. Either Sparc needs to be fast-tracked on all capable VR platforms or it needs to be pushed out for free as a PlayStation Plus free game for PSVR owners. There’s so much potential with Sparc’s gameplay idea and this platform, not just for additional modes an courts, but with other vsports with the same design aesthetic.
Sparc is available now, exclusively on PlayStation VR.
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