Sparc presents itself as a virtual sport best played through online 1 vs 1 multiplayer matches – and it’s something that Tron fans will have dreamt of for decades.
When CCP first announced Sparc for Playstation VR (it’s coming to the Rift and Vive later), I immediately thought of Tron – with its visual style and one on one gameplay. I also thought of Holoball, which also came out for Playstation VR. Both excellent references, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I started playing the game a week ago, and also got to see a few others play it during Gamescom. People were having a blast, so I knew it wasn’t just me.
Over-simplifying things, Sparc pits you against an opponent inside a rectangular chamber and requires you to hit your opponent by hurling a ball at them. You stay on your own side of the chamber as you do this, so it’s a bit like dodgeball. Being a futuristic sport though, there are quite a few twists – which includes hitting balls off the walls and powering up your throws by throwing them into “strike zones”.
You can either deflect balls using a shield, or you can dodge them. It may sound silly, but the latter is literally done by dodging physically – leaning or stepping out of the way of an incoming ball. Sparc is meant to be a physical, full-body experience – and as such it’s very convincing in projecting you into a Tron-like environment where it feels like you’re completely there, even though Playstation VR of course only tracks your head and Move controllers.
There are always two balls in play – one’s your and one is your opponent’s. They serve two purposes, as Sparc’s not just about hitting the other player with your ball but also about not getting hit yourself. Your ball, when not being hurled at your opponent, can also transform into a shield that can be used to deflect shots – so you’re constantly making a trade-off when deciding to go on the offense, as it leaves you without your shield and more vulnerable to attack.
This dynamic comes into play mostly in the game’s “advanced” mode, which is very tactical when compared to the basic mode of play – in that mode, incoming shots can also be deflected by punching them away. It’s definitely a more physically intense mode as well, since you’re pretty much already moving whereas advanced mode can feel like a staredown at times. Different players use different tactics, and it’s great to figure out someone’s weak spots – even your own, and you’ll need to find a way to make yourself less vulnerable to certain strategies that others might use against you.
Besides engaging in these multiplayer one on one matches, there is also a spectator mode which has you witnessing others go at it – and it’s great to watch because not being in the middle of things allows you to study strategies more carefully before you use them yourself. The downside, however, is that you’ll be inactive for a while as you await your turn – no matter how cool it looks when you’re a spectator. It would be great if these was some kind of game you could play while waiting in a room/lobby for your own match to start, but there currently isn’t.
Speaking of which, these is very little content outside the multiplayer matches anyway. There is no real single player mode to speak of, apart from a few practice drills you can run to hone your basic skills a little. This is a shame, because Sparc would be great to play against a variety of AI characters – especially if they all had different personalities and gameplay styles. I remember playing Shufflepuck Cafe back in the day on my Atari ST, and that kind of “campaign” would be a great fit for a game like Sparc. CCP has been great at adding post-release content to their games in the past though, so maybe this will one day happen.
As it stands, Sparc is most interesting to those who enjoy multiplayer sports titles, and who enjoy getting up off the couch for a physical virtual reality experience. If the community thrives, then Sparc will have definite staying power. It’s a fun game that’s easy to pick up and hard to master, and I enjoy the fact that it came out in the same week at the DotEmu remake of Windjammers. If you enjoyed that game 20 years ago, then Sparc gives you a look at sports 20 years into the future.