I don't know how Blaston slipped past my VR radar. Released in late 2020, it's a dynamic duel shooter where you duck and weave in a small arena to dodge bullets while snatching various floating guns in the air around you to blast your foe away. With the strategic body contorting of Superhot mixed with multiplayer strategy, Blaston has remained a popular title with an active community on Discord.
The big news today for Blaston fans is the new Arctic Blast DLC, which adds a charming, winter-themed casual playlist for violent snowball fights that won't affect your game ranking. It also adds a new "Knockout!" tournament mode for 2 to 8 players, with a massive trophy and bragging rights for the winner. Having tested the new free modes, they only make this $10 game even more appealing.
Most excitingly for Meta Quest 2 owners in general, Resolution Games has incorporated the Meta Passthrough API into Blaston. It uses sensor cameras to insert your real-world surroundings into the virtual environment, so you can see exactly where nearby objects are. No other Oculus Store game that we know of has added this feature officially to their game.
As someone who copes with using VR in a cramped apartment living room, it has me rabidly excited for AR to come to other popular Quest 2 games. It won't work for every game, as I'll explain. But this could begin a trend of democratizing VR for new Quest 2 owners that can't afford a massive home with a dedicated VR space.
Disclaimer: This Blaston hands-on test was made possible by a review code provided by Resolution Games. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
What's new with Blaston Arctic Blast
Past Blaston updates added a short Crackdown campaign mode to sharpen your skills against bots, a Western-themed mode with quick-draw showdowns, and the Ozo Lounge for meeting, dancing with, and challenging your fellow Blaston players. But this latest update could be the best one yet.
|Genre||Action, Shooter, Exercise|
Until recently, players could only participate in a ranked mode where every match mattered. As Resolution Games Community Manager Dennis Bagstevold told me, because the game matches you against similarly-ranked foes, you're constantly in a stressful fight for your life. So the addition of casual modes lets people enjoy themselves and try out new shooting techniques and advanced weapons they haven't unlocked yet, without worrying about rank.
The latest casual mode is Arctic Blast. You'll face off on separate ice floes in a new Arctic Resort map. Step off, and you'll freeze to death instantly; stay in the zone, and you'll have to dodge deadly snowballs and Ice Cannon blasts from your opponent.
As a newbie, I much preferred the standard duel mode, even with its more basic map design. The arctic mode looks gorgeous but has very limited weapon options compared to the main mode — and it doesn't currently support AR passthrough, either. But for those who've used the same maps and modes for a year, I'm sure they appreciate the switch-up more.
Another newly introduced mode is Knockout!. Two to eight players join a lounge and compete in a simple tournament bracket. While two players face-off, the rest can spectate, listen to music on the jukebox, check out the in-headset Discord feed, or just hang out. Bagstevold explained that most players organized unofficial tournaments online before this update and hoped that this would help make it easier for friends to face off all at once.
Last but certainly not least, you get a new mixed reality toggle. Turn it on, and you can see your nearby furniture or people etched into your virtual surroundings.
Why AR passthrough changes the VR game
In Blaston, you must stay within a 6-foot diameter at all times, and you'll need every foot to have enough room to comfortably dodge the bullets flying your way. Like most rhythm or exercise games, it's designed to be confined to a small area, but if your play area is too small, it'll impact your performance.
In my case, I don't have an uninterrupted space like that in my apartment, so when it comes to dodging bullets or swiping at targets, I can never fully lose myself in a VR game without the fear in the back of my mind of hurting myself or damaging a Touch controller. That changed while testing Blaston with passthrough enabled.
I can't show you what passthrough looks like; for privacy reasons, the Quest 2 never stores or uploads any camera footage of your home, so screenshots with passthrough enabled show your characters standing in a black void. So picture the fuzzy surroundings you see when setting up your Quest Guardian with a neon, cartoonish filter over it, overlaid on your favorite VR game.
In the case of Blaston, my couch, TV, tables, and other furniture — plus my partner sitting at her desk across the room — were all visible in green lines amidst the dark void. They're fairly muted compared to the main UI of the game, so it's not distracting at all; they just serve as a handy reminder in case I stray too close to something (or someone).
Speaking with Resolution Games CEO Tommy Palm, I learned that incorporating AR into a VR-only game was "surprisingly tricky" for his team, despite receiving help from Oculus/Meta. He didn't give many technical details but did note that some design decisions that made perfect sense for VR made it challenging to incorporate AR content into the world.
Another issue Palm pointed out is that the Oculus team didn't design the Quest 2 sensor cameras with realistic passthrough in mind. Blaston could get away with cartoonish, pixelated passthrough thanks to its distinct animation style, but the more realistic the VR graphics or detailed the world, the more that your blurry, real environment will look out of place in that world.
While Palm didn't suggest this, other VR developers may be having a more difficult time incorporating passthrough as a result of different graphics or designs. If your VR world already has physical objects that could overlap with passthrough objects, that could cause a problem; and passthrough looks less natural in games where you're physically moving around a world, as your room will stay static while the VR world shifts.
Still, I believe this passthrough update could herald another wave of transformative updates, on par with the widespread Quest 2 graphical enhancement updates from last year. Games like Beat Saber would work perfectly with it, and others could at least offer always-on passthrough as an accessibility option, even if it breaks immersion a bit.
AR on the Quest 2 "lets consumers peek into the future," says Palm. The Quest 2 is very affordable compared to AR or mixed-reality prototypes, so more people will be able to try out the technology than the small niche groups that normally would. Eventually, he suggested, AR on the Quest 2 could enable more cross-play experiences with people outside the Quest 2 using smartphones since passthrough lets you be more aware of them.
For now, I already don't want to go back to VR games that don't offer passthrough as an option.
Why you should play Blaston
Having tested my skills against my coworker and random strangers in ranked mode, I played enough Blaston to make myself pretty sore the next day. Like any rhythm game, Blaston makes you work your body hard without really being conscious of the effort during matches. The difference is that bullets don't follow a set pattern like a Beat Saber map, so you're going to make more varied and frantic motions as you bob and weave around deadly shots.
While Blaston has a campaign, it's not long enough. If you want something story-driven where you don't have to worry about the anxiety of dueling real people, this game isn't for you. But I found it a nice change of pace from all the single-player Quest 2 games where your only competition is yourself and crowded leaderboards. The thrill of successfully defeating a real foe, or the frustration of losing by just one bullet shot, can drive you to keep playing "just one more match."
In our next update of the best Oculus Quest 2 games, we intend to add Blaston to the list, though deciding whether it fits best in the multiplayer, shooter, or exercise categories will prove challenging — it's epic for all three. Resolution Games already has several other games on our top lists, including dungeon-crawler Demeo, family-friendly Angry Birds: Isle of Pigs, and asynchronous multiplayer Acron: Attack of the Squirrels!.
And, best of all, for my fellow apartment, studio, or condo-dwellers with limited floor space, you'll get your first exciting look at passthrough and protect yourself and your console from harm.
Bottom line: Blaston tasks you with taking out your fellow duelists online one at a time. Play ranked mode to unlock new weapons, Arctic Resort to casually test new weapons, or Knockout! to prove you're the best in the Discord chat.
- $10 at Oculus (opens in new tab)
Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.
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