Developer / Publisher – Cactus VR Studios
Price – US $14.99 / CAN 19.99 / EU €14.99 / UK £12.99
Release Date – November 2nd, 2023
Input – 2 x Motion Controllers
Play Area – Seated, standing
Store Links – PlayStation, Steam
Reviewed on – PSVR 2
Cactus Cowboy – Desert Warfare is the follow-up to the PSVR 2 launch title Cactus Cowboy – Plants at War and the 5th entry in this series. Having only played the previous game for a few minutes, my expectations coming into Desert Warfare were low thanks to the very basic textures, hit & miss voicework and some general jank that left me with little reason to come back to that free title. When I first booted Desert Warfare up, I wasn’t impressed by what I was seeing or hearing as it didn’t look like much had changed from the last title, but this time around, I pushed past my initial feelings and dove headfirst into the 6-hour campaign.
A quick tutorial breaks down everything you can do from running, jumping, climbing, firing and reloading weapons, placing context sensitive items like C4 and how to use Helga, your resident healer who will pop up throughout the game. A quick prologue sets up what the evil bug army is up too as they have brought their leader back from the dead and he’s out too exact revenge upon all the cacti in the world. It’s a silly story, but that falls right in line with the fact that this is a silly game that never takes itself too seriously, is loaded with pop culture references, some adult language and enough charm to help make up for the presentation.
This is a traditional shooter and throughout the game you’ll find various guns from pistols to sniper rifles with a bulk of my play using the different machine guns and scoped rifles. The campaign will take you to a variety of locales from army bases, cave systems, office buildings, city streets and host more and while the art style chosen isn’t the greatest to look at, it does allow for some larger levels that make cruising through them fun, especially the sniper stages as the scopes in here are true scopes and don’t lock to your face when you bring the weapon close to your head. The guns feel alright in hand and need to be duel wielded lest your shots go everywhere but where you are aiming and while you can enable a quick reload option, I found the manual reloads to be decent forcing an ejection of a magazine, grabbing the ammo at your waist, placing it in the weapon and loading that next round. Your waist, chest and shoulder can hold 3 weapons while ammo for whatever gun you are holding appears at your stomach and grenades for the grenade launch are at your chest. It’s a fine enough system but I never could quite get the placement of the belt correct so on more than a few occasions I accidentally grabbed grenades or the wrong weapon which did irritate me and even though I kept trying to adjust its position, I just ended up giving up and dealing with it. I’m not sure what the solution is here as you can move it pretty much anywhere so maybe it’s just me or the entire layout needs to change…I dunno.
You’ll also run into vendors that allow you to customize your weapons by adding attachments like grips or sights as well as different skins using cash found hidden throughout each stage. Ammo is also littered everywhere and is specific to each weapon type and should you take damage, you’ll have to keep an eye out for Helga, a sunflower who will instantly heal you or you can switch it up so you need to press a button to utilize her skills. You can also choose from 3 difficulties which basically just increase enemy damage and change the time you can be away from your target during escort missions with the medium difficulty offering some challenge, though for the most part it was fairly easy. The premise and really the whole game is ridiculous, but the developer knows that and fully embraces its shortcomings, allowing me to forgive what it’s lacking and just enjoy what it’s delivering, a campaign shooter loaded with action and comedy. Haptics are on point with guns all vibrating accordingly and your headset rumbling when taking damage.
I’m not gonna go to hard on the visuals here as it’s very apparent that this isn’t even close to be a good-looking game when it comes to any VR standard. It’s very cartoonish and the art style is at least consistent, and I appreciated the variety in the level designs as well as the scope of the some of the stages, the endless draw distance and that anything I killed stuck around in the environment as I always love looking back at my path of destruction. There are a couple nighttime levels that use some dynamic lighting for shadows and whatnot, and I would love to see some level of that come to the other stages as those lighting effects made those darker levels the best-looking ones in the game. Your cacti brethren don’t look great, enemies can look so rough that I couldn’t tell what kind of bug they were with some barely animating (I’m looking at you doggies) but when you kill them, and they fall into pieces, it’s oddly satisfying. Bosses also stand out as looking particularly bad, especially the big bad behind it all and as much as I’m going to drop my score because of these visuals, there’s a charm and care behind it all that has me being more forgiving than I probably should. I don’t think any reprojection is being used and I got to assume this is running at 120 Hz and I can say without any doubt that everything in here looks crystal clear.
Audio design is more of a mixed bag as the sound effects are on point with guns and explosions sounding just fine and spatial audio is used which is always appreciated in a game where enemies can come from any direction. One of the worst aspects about Desert Warfare is the voice acting, which uses and AI text to speech and does give each character their own unique voice, but they consistently flub lines or say things that can be hard to understand. There is actually a fare bit of talking and story happening so it’s unfortunate that it can be hard to listen too at times. It’s not awful, but on more than a few occasions I was happy for the subtitles as I missed a word or 2 and there are a few intentional laugh out loud moments and pop-culture references that I appreciated.
I like this game, I do, though I admittedly had lower expectations than other recent releases so while my score may seem a little confusing, it largely comes down to the fact that this game works as advertised and delivered a fun campaign. The presentation is easily the biggest knock against it but if you can look past that, then there’s a fair amount of game to get through considering the asking price which isn’t criminal. I think a $5 drop would go a long way into convincing those on the fence to pull the trigger on this, and honestly, if you are just looking for a good ol’ fashioned shooter play Plants at War 1st, if you like that, this is a better game and probably worth the asking price.
Cactus Studios provided The VR Grid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!