Developer / Publisher – Fast Travel Games
Price – US $19.99 / CAN 24.99 / EU €19.99 / UK £17.99
Release Date – October 5th, 2023 (PSVR /Steam)
Input – 2 x Motion Controllers
Play Area – Seated
Store Links – PlayStation, Steam
Reviewed on – PSVR 2
This is Ghost Signal: A Stellaris Game, a VR rogue lite that uses the medium in less then traditional fashion as you navigate a spaceship throughout the galaxy using 3rd person controls. It’s always nice to see a game in VR that isn’t in 1st person but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea so let’s see if travelling through this dangerous universe while dying again and again is worth it, shall we?!
The premise here is a simple one, placing you in the role of the captain of a star ship hit by a massive wave of energy with your only clue to its origins being a distant signal being broadcast from unknown regions of space. Unfortunately, that wave was more then just a simple blast of energy as it seems to have caught you in a time loop that resets back to the wave’s initial pulse every time you die, forcing you start over in a universe that is ever changing.
An opening tutorial breaks down the basics of controlling your ship and firing its various weapons with your weapon selection being mapped to your dominant hand (you can choose left or right) while flight controls are mapped to your off hand. It’s a system that works well enough though admittedly, whenever I took a break from the game and came back to it, I seem to always forget how to fly my ship as it’s a combination of face button presses and thumbstick direction that my brain just didn’t want to commit to memory. It didn’t take more than a minute to remind myself how it all works and once I was back into the groove of things, I could enjoy the game once more. You have 3 weapon types; lasers have long range and are great at depleting shields, BLASTERS are shorter range and rip apart ship exteriors with missiles having unlimited range and delivering massive damage though you can only carry a few of those with the first 2 ammo types having infinite supply but need to be recharged if used heavily.
As a roguelite, every time you restart will give you a different path ever changing encounters and loot. Said loot comes in 3 forms, the first is cold hard cash, which can be spent at vendors you’ll run into on your journey or can upgrade the buffs you’ve picked up on that go. Those buffs can come from random encounters, space creatures and boss battles with each being able to be upgraded 3 levels for increased efficiency and effectiveness. Those run buffs could add more missiles to your arsenal, increase the effectiveness of each weapon type, shields, repair your hull or add any number of unique powers that could be the difference in getting that much further on that go. The last type of loot is good old-fashioned experience which stays with you after you die and can be spent on permanent buffs for your ship which affect not just your ship but also reduce vendor costs, increase random loot values and a host more advantages that should make each run just a little easier. It’s a good system and like any rogue lite, you’ll have good runs and bad ones, with the key being to try and try again and while the game did get a little samey after a few runs, taking a short break seemed to be all I needed to recharge my motivation for my next attempt the get to the source of the signal.
There are 7 galaxies to get through with each containing 6 encounters which range from simple battles, elite battles which are much harder, creature encounters which may or may not include combat, vendor encounters, away missions for your crew or unknown areas that tend to provide some unique surprises. Any incidents that involve you needing to make a decision or explore a planet are handled by text only, usually giving you multiple choices that could yield reward or disaster depending upon your selections. Once you beat the game, you’ll also unlock new ship types with all new upgrade trees and there are also daily challenged and online leaderboards as well to help keep you motivated to keep returning to the stellaris universe and while I don’t personally care about those sorts of things, I’m sure they’ll be welcome inclusions for some. On that note, to get the true ending, you’ll need to beat the game with all 3 ships.
I will say that my initial impressions of Ghost Signal were a little underwhelming as it’s very clear that this is a smaller VR title that shows its standalone roots. I don’t mean that to be insulting but rather to tell you to keep playing and move past the somewhat lacking presentation as once I did, I got hooked on the game loop here. Scanning each new stage for precious resources to spend on upgrades, learning how each galaxy’s enemies behaved while adapting my attack strategy accordingly, seeing how each buff affected my performance and running into new encounters really kept the entertainment value quite high with deep runs taking somewhere in the neighbourhood of an hour or more.
Now, while the visuals didn’t blow me me away, they don’t look bad by any stretch offering up some fantastic sci-fi backgrounds and truly unique creatures and encounters that can be quite impressive. You’ll be staring at the void of space which may have a planet, space station or something else happening in the background while you steer your ship around asteroids and foes. That action typically takes place right in front of you making this a relatively comfortable seated experience though on a few occasions, a ship seemed to want to leave battle forcing me to chase it outside of the usual bounds of combat. As you are controlling the ship almost like a toy, the scale of the game feels like you are playing with toys with everything having a micro machine type vibe. You can pull or push your way around each stage and getting in close to anything reveals a decent level of detail and care. Lighting effects and explosions are all on point with the unique encounters during each run often supplying something new and exciting to look at be it a huge creature in the background, a machine absorbing the energy from a planet, meteor shower and a host fun nearby objects to distract you from the distant void. Anything outside of combat is presented in text bubbles with moving image of whomever is speaking, which is a tad unfortunate, but no one ever gives any crazy speeches and the pictures of the aliens do have some decent detail in them making for an overall pleasant sci-fi visual experience.
As for the audio, an relatively epic sci-fi inspired soundtrack is present and changes with every encounter type with sound effects all being on point which is great as some battles can be fairly hectic and the audio queues of incoming fire could be your only clue that something troubling is heading your way. Along for the ride is your robot companion VIR who talks to you and elaborates upon the situation, fleshing out some of the encounters and the overall story. 3D audio is used here but with a bulk of the action happening in front of you, it does feel underutilized but outside of that, I really don’t have any complaints about what I was hearing from Ghost Signal.
Rogue lites are tricky genre for myself as I tend to crave more narrative heavy single player experiences then repetitious game loops. With that said, Ghost Signal did pull me in and I found myself saying ‘just one more go’ on more than a few occasions as I felt like the next run could be THE run to get me to the end. The nature of the rogue lite beast is that not all runs are equal but with each failure, I still improved my odds for the next go thanks to those permanent perks and thanks to the save feature, I could quit the game mid-run and continue where I left off. I enjoy that this isn’t a 1st person VR title and while what’s here may not be perfect, it’s refined and one of the more chill, but fun VR games I’ve played in recent memory.
Fast Travel Games provided The VR Grid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!