From Other Suns Is Like a Playable Firefly Episode

SAN FRANCISCO – As much as I like to be optimistic, sci-fi fans have to face harsh reality: Firefly is never coming back. I liked the quirky, episodic drama about space pirates as much as the next Browncoat, but reassembling the cast and crew isn’t possible.

However, if you and your friends want to make your own Firefly-style adventures – in VR, no less – there may be hope on the horizon. From Other Suns is a cooperative sci-fi shooter for Oculus Rift and Gear VR that’s just as much about managing your very own starship as it is about blasting apart robots.

I experimented with both the single- and multiplayer modes in From Other Suns (whose title is likely an allusion to a Richard Wright poem) at GDC 2017. The combat still needs some work, and moving around is more obtuse than it should be. Even so, the overall scope of the game is too tempting to ignore. You (and your friends, if they’re around) take command of a starship, traveling the galaxy and taking on randomized missions that come your way.

You can explore the entire ship between missions, and will have to manage environments like the engine, the bridge, the computer core, and the teleporter by manipulating the proper in-game equipment with your Oculus Touch controllers. Rather than simply watching a cutscene about a distress call, you’ll have to travel to the bridge, bring up your star charts, pick out a signal, and listen to it. This helps the ship feel like an immersive, real place, rather than just a hub for video game missions.

The beauty of From Other Suns is that you can accept or decline whichever missions you see fit, and you’ll only have enough time to take on a limited amount of them. There is an overarching plot, and if you ignore it, the evil forces at work will enact very dark plans on the galaxy. Finding the right balance between being space pirates and, in Firefly lingo, “Big Damn Heroes” will likely be at the crux of the game.

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On the other hand, the gameplay still leaves something to be desired. You play the game from a first-person perspective, but still move around, from a fixed perspective, in third-person. Constantly switching between the two can be jarring. Something as simple as walking through a doorway could mean orienting yourself toward it, watching your character leave the room, and then resetting your visuals once you arrive in the new setting. Out of combat, it’s a pain; in combat, it’s a hazard.

Fighting, too, isn’t as tight as it could be. While you can choose from a variety of different guns and tools to conquer your foes and interact with the environment, hit detection feels loose, and your guns don’t feel like they have much heft or damage to them. Moving during combat, as discussed above, can throw another monkey wrench in the process.

Still, From Other Suns isn’t a combat simulator; it’s about the experience of being on a spaceship crew. If that’s what you want, it may be the most immersive way to do it. The game will be out in Fall 2017 for the Oculus Rift and Gear VR, but there’s no price listed yet.