Out of all the old-school video game genres out there, few are as satisfying as a classic shmup and now, you can enjoy one in VR.
1976 - Back to midway has you travel back in time to help the Allies of World War II with the narrator being the goofy and eccentric Dr. Ivanovich. Although the story sequences are pretty funny, the story itself thankfully takes a back seat to gameplay. Once you start playing, it initially feels weird as you're in a fighter plane's cockpit yet you simply look at a screen in the background where the gameplay happens on. Is this how fighter plane time travel works? Anyway, the game plays as you would expect a traditional vertical arcade shooter to play except it's in VR which means that the visuals come to life in 3D, you can tilt your head to get a clearer look at where you move your plane, and there are some cool effects, too, such as when you see enemy planes enter the playfield which looks awesome.
On top of the 2D shmup gameplay, you can also enter a couple of bonus "immersion zones" in each level that shift the perspective to either first-person or third-person which also changes the gameplay as you can aim in all directions while you try to defeat enemy forces without crashing. These zones are basically challenges that feature a variety of goals and also award extra points and cash. With that being said, the gameplay during these segments is super-simple so they act more as fun distractions than full-fledged side-content.
Although the mix of traditional vertically-scrolling shoot 'em up gameplay and these zones provides a well-rounded experience, it must be said that the core gameplay remains quite standard throughout the campaign as you carefully navigate through projectiles and barriers while trying your best to aim at the somewhat small weak spots on enemy crafts. I wish there was at least 1 extra button to use for something such as a special weapon or evasive manoeuvre because it's rather typical stuff without any stand-out features.
One thing that 1976 - Back to midway features is a permanent upgrade system where you redeem earned currency for extra shots that trigger every once in a while and cover more of the screen. In other words, you simply enhance your general firepower in various ways as well as your ability to earn more coins which is handy. Even though these upgrades are satisfying, they kind of take away from the online leaderboards because they become less about skill and more about how much you grind to get the best upgrades.
Finally, I encountered some truly odd glitches such as one time when my plane grew to almost entirely fill the screen after I completed an immersion zone which made me instantly take a hit because I literally couldn't avoid anything. However, the most frequent issue revolves around the audio which is all over the place. Sometimes, you can hear the robotic voice that announces when you accomplish things and other times, it's drowned out in a sea of static. It made me think I had surround sound toggled but there is no such option.
Playing a shoot 'em up in VR made me realise how much potential classic arcade formulas have for the platform. 1976 - Back to midway may not feature the most robust gameplay but it's still a heck of a lot of fun so give it a go if you dig shmups and have PlayStation VR.
- + Tight classic shoot 'em up gameplay blends well with different perspective zones
- + Occasional impressive visual effects
- + Rewarding permanent upgrades
- - Upgrade system makes the leaderboards feel hollow and less skill-based
- - Core gameplay is pretty standard
- - Odd glitches and audio issues