Sparc Review — Virtual Sports, Real Sweat (PSVR)
As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing cooler than Tron. I fell in love with its neon aesthetic at a young age, and I thought the disc battle was just the raddest thing I’d ever seen. So, when I saw that CCP Games had essentially adapted that idea into a VR game called Sparc (although it uses balls instead of discs, which I’m sure is a very important distinction from a legal standpoint), I was instantly intrigued.
The objective of CCP Games’ virtual sport is to hit your opponent with a glowing ball. It’s essentially a game of dodgeball, only that the ball can bounce off walls at a high velocity. Oh, and the player can grab their own ball in order to create a shield that can deflect projectiles thrown your way. This means that the player is constantly giving up their main form of defense when they attack. There’s always a give and take to the action, and it creates a mind game in addition to the physical one where the player is moving their body to dodge balls and using their arms to toss them at their opponents.
There are a couple different modes in Sparc, and the “basic” mode actually adds in the ability to punch the balls with your hand. It makes defense less of a concern and encourages riskier play. Advanced play removes the option to punch balls (which is sort of a bummer since it’s really fun to punch something that’s coming right for your face), but it creates more of a chess match. Finally, there’s an experimental mode that features a crazy stage (you can view it in the video above) rather than the standard court. I had a blast in all three modes, and found the advanced offering to be my favorite when I was in the mood for more tactical play.
Like the Wind
Sparc is very much a multiplayer experience. In fact, besides some fun mini-games that help players hone their skills, there isn’t much of a single-player offering. That’s sort of a bummer early on, since it’s a little daunting playing online when you don’t really know what you’re doing, but the human element of the game is really key to the experience. Knowing that you’re matching wits and reflexes with a real person really makes this feel like what CCP Games are advertising it as: a virtual sport.
For the most part, I only have praise to say about Sparc‘s online play. I never felt like I was experiencing a fit of lag, and the game always ran smoothly. There are a few frustrating things about the interface, though. The big one is that players can’t group up into a party. That means they have to invite them once they join a room (which only holds four people). Since only one match happens at a time (and it’s a one-on-one competition) it leads to an awkward situation where sometimes you’ll be in the room with another person whom you don’t actually want to play against. The ability to create a private room or just being able to group up would go a long way in the future.
As I noted, there’s four people in a room, yet there’s only one match going on. That means that half of your time online is spent watching other players compete. Thankfully matches are typically short (basic ones have a time limit of three minutes), and Sparc features one of the coolest spectator modes I’ve ever seen. The actual matches take place within the same space as the lobby, and players get to watch the action from a third-person view, as if they’re a god looking into the arena. It’s really a sight to behold, and keen-eyed players can actually notice the lobby players while they’re competing.
The other upside to not constantly playing matches is that you get a moment to take a break. While this isn’t an actual sport, it does require a lot of physical motion. I was using both arms to catch balls and toss them back at my opponent, jumping around like a kangaroo to dodge balls, and that takes a toll when you’re wearing a VR headset. Sparc will make you sweat, so the break is actually very much welcomed. I started taking the headset off and getting some water when I wasn’t playing, and I never got too exhausted.
Sparc‘s biggest flaw is that there just isn’t more content. Additional stages or customization options for the actual game would’ve gone a long way to making sure there was more to do. There’s a fantastic base, and I’m hopeful that CCP Games will continue to add more. It’s just that it’s pretty bare-bones for a game that is charging $30 for admission. Those who don’t have the same competitive streak as myself won’t find much to do, and that’s a bummer.
My initial impression of Sparc had me raving about how it was the best game I’ve ever played in VR. I’ve since come down from that initial high, and while I do have some concerns about the amount of content, it remains one of the best experiences I’ve had on PlayStation VR. It’s absolutely enthralling, and while you may look like a tremendous dork while playing it (I’ve seen footage of me playing and it’s not a pretty sight), you feel like the coolest person in the world as you’re barely managing to dodge balls at the last second.
Sparc review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.