Hubris is the exact kind of VR game that I want to see more of. One that fully embraces the fact that it’s a, ya know, ‘game’, and not one that gets too tied up with the VR gimmick. I’ve lost count of how many VR games I’ve played that just go “hey look, a cool VR world for you to play around in!” but then all you end up doing is picking up keys and putting them in locks. They hinge too much on the VR ‘experience’ rather than actually making a game. Don’t get me wrong, the VR experience can be fun and interesting, but it’s short-lived. Hubris provides a genuine gaming experience that’s heightened by VR.
Developed by Cyborn, a Belgium-based 3D animation and game studio, Hubris is their first venture into the realm of VR gaming. Their confidence in their IP shows and is deserved. Hubris flawlessly pulls off a lot of VR mechanics that other titles tend to struggle with. Complete with immersive environments. It’s not completely without its flaws, but I say with confidence that every moment in Hubris was a pleasure to review.
If you’re interested in watching some footage I took while playing, check out this video. The footage was taken with an Oculus Quest. If you’re playing through Steam and are experiencing bugs, you’re probably using the wrong OpenXR. Log onto your PC from your Quest with Air Link or through USB, and make sure you set Oculus as your OpenXR within the settings of the Oculus app on your PC.
Hubris is available on Steam, Viveport, and MetaQuest for $39.99.
Story – Appreciated but Tonally Off
When it comes to VR games, stories tend to get pushed aside. Half Life Alyx did the industry a big favor by showing that a gaming-focused mindset works very well in VR. Having a solid narrative-driven progression helps bolster the hallmark of VR, that being immersion. It’s great physically feeling like you’re in a fictional world, but it’s made much better with lore, characters, stakes, and set pieces. No amount of interactive objects in a virtual space will out-immerse the power of good story writing. That being said, I have to acknowledge that my bias is hindered by the fact that I’ve played too many VR games with little to no storytelling at all. I’m happy that Hubris has a non-VR-type gaming narrative, but I can’t say it’s very good either.
You are a recruit of the great and feared faction Order-Of-Objectivity, or OOO for short, which deals with terraforming planets to harbor human life. You are sent with your pilot to a twin-planet system to search for another OOO agent but the mission goes sour as a rival faction has infiltrated the planet. Though you are only a recruit, you have to quickly adapt to the harsh environment and show you are capable of being an agent. This is a solid setup, brimming with potential that ultimately is never met. It hints at the ethical implications of terraforming, condemning all the current life on that planet to death to preserve your own species, but does nothing to actually expand on the subject. And the inherent dark tone of the gameplay clashes heavily with the writing.
All of the dialogue is written and performed as if you aren’t running around a space station littered with corpses, shooting and killing everything threatening. All of the characters are casual and quippy. You save a surviving mechanic from being captured by the rival faction. He’s had all of his friends and coworkers killed, and he acts like a Disney side character the whole time. Your pilot remotely controls a drone that follows you around everywhere and every vocal line she delivers sounds like a teacher talking to a child. Though the actors sound rather amateur, I think the blame rests more on the vocal direction than the voice acting.
There is a lot that’s good in the writing. The world is interesting, the OOO is mysterious and the plot is engaging. But when it came to merging the story and the moment-to-moment character interactions, it felt like something went askew. I dare to say that it was arranged haphazardly. The ending is rather abrupt, and it does have a ‘to be continued’. So I hope that future installments sort the writing issues out.
Gameplay – Other VR Developers Can Take a Lesson
In terms of the core loop, Hubris doesn’t innovate too much in the shooter genre, but compared to other VR titles, it shines. In a virtual environment, something as simple as running around with a pistol and shooting stuff can provide endless entertainment. And Cyborn knows this. Instead of hinging everything on VR as a gimmick, they’ve identified the actual fun elements of VR and concentrated on them.
VR Done Well
Until playing Hubris, I had not played a single VR game with satisfying platforming. Jumping around any virtual space can be exciting for some time until the flaws get frustrating. Not knowing exactly where your jump arc is or how the collision detection works can make platforming in VR tedious to no end. Hubris elegantly fixes the issue by remembering it’s a game.
Instead of giving you a realistically short and static jump arc, you jump like a video game character. You control how high you jump by how long you hold the button down, and can slightly control your direction in midair. Instead of concentrating on where you’re landing, it concentrates on where you can grapple. This is genius. You don’t have legs in VR. Even if you’re character model has legs, you’re never aware of them. Your VR avatar is essentially a disembodied head with arms. So, naturally, if you were going to do VR platforming, it should be centered around your arms.
Almost every ledge can be gripped. So instead of jumping between platforms, you’re jumping and grabbing platforms. The climbing is the same as any other VR game, grab the context-sensitive spot and pull yourself up. The climbing itself is never the issue, the issue usually comes once you get to the top of your climb. Some games have you painstakingly have to position yourself so that you don’t fall, some games have it so you flick your wrist then you’re instantly at the top. Hubris found a perfect solution with vaulting. When you get to the top of your climb, pull the controller down to about waist height and you’ll vault on top of the platform that you’re gripping. Coupled with the good jumping, this makes for seamless and satisfying platforming.
Actually Fun Swimming
When I first was introduced to the swimming mechanic, I gave an exasperated sigh. Not another barely-working mechanic in a VR game, designed to make you look like a knob as you wave your hands around in the real world. But then after a few minutes of playing, I was surprised. It was actually working very well and was fun. As you move your hands around in the air, you gain acceleration in the water opposite to the direction that your palms are facing. Though it somewhat simulates swimming, it’s not really transferable at all. But as a game mechanic, it’s great. You have full control of your placement, movement, and direction, and in an intuitive way that can only be realized in VR. Hubris has to be one of the only games where I’ve had fun in a water level.
But What About the Shooting?
I personally get annoyed with VR games when they try to simulate real life with their guns. A shotgun will need a second hand to pump it, or a machine gun needs you to grip it with both hands to operate it. We’re not actually holding a two-handed object, so they usually just end up being janky. But you are holding a controller so the jump to imagining that it’s a pistol grip isn’t that far. Half Life Alyx was a breath of fresh air when it made all guns one-handed. I’m glad to find that Hubris followed this understanding.
There are three guns in the game: pistol, shotgun, and machine gun. Three guns may not seem like much for a shooter game, but I was completely happy just using the pistol the whole game. You pick up numerous materials as you travel around that you can use to upgrade your guns. It only gives stat upgrades (power, magazine size, etc) rather than mechanical upgrades, so it doesn’t change the way you play as you apply upgrades.
I personally like that you don’t unlock a laser sight or some form of easier aiming because I always feel like I’m cheating when I can point the dot at a thing and shoot. By forcing you to use iron sights, you have to get good at shooting straight. It does have an issue with shot registering though. A lot of the time, I couldn’t really tell if my shots were hitting the enemies until they died. It’s fine for the most part, but I wish they make the enemy models react a bit more to being shot in a future update.
Graphics & Sound – Sci-Fi Scarcely Looks This Good
The visuals in Hubris are stunning. Every environment is vibrant and unique but doesn’t fill the viewing area with so much visual noise that you can’t still get swept away by a beautiful horizon. By initially being an animation company, Cyborn has no troubles when it comes to visual design. The only issue is that some things can look somewhat generic.
When you’re outside on the planet, everything is great because it’s all unique. The alien flora and fauna are interesting and colorful. But when inside, everything takes on that same old sci-fi space station aesthetic. Everything is spotless and all the surfaces are white and pristine, and everything is segmented. I guess it’s more a fault with genre standards than it is with this specific title, but I wish there was something to make it stick out from all other sci-fi titles.
Some of the enemy designs could be more interesting too. You fight jellyfish when you’re underwater, and weird bulbous crawly bug guys when you’re on land. The bulbousness of the bugs provides a satisfying target to shoot, but they look boring. It’s an alien planet, there should be something weird to shoot at. You’re an animation company and you couldn’t design some interesting alien beasts? Come on. The enemy faction is good though. Their drones are menacing, their foot soldiers are challenging, and they have a nice purple motif to make them distinct from the environment.
Needs More Music
I didn’t realize how much it was missing music until a very specific section of the game. You get into a Star Wars-style speeder and start driving at high speeds through a bunch of obstacles. You’re dodging a bunch of debris and getting attacked by enemy ships. It’s exciting and explosive and crazy … and yet it feels like a casual drive home from work on the motorway. It’s completely silent except for the sound effects. While it was still fun, it just felt weird. A lot of the big moments that deserve a big score to amplify them feel dulled by the absence of music. It could just be that I was playing a review copy though, so hopefully, they’ll get some music in a later update. Overall, during the explorative and combat moments, it’s not that noticeable.
Hubris was reviewed on PC with an Oculus Quest, with a key provided by Renaissance PR.