Welcome to This Is Not A Review. In these articles we discuss general impressions, ideas and thoughts on any given game, but as the title implies, it’s not a review. Instead, it’s an exercise in offering a quick recommendation (or dismissal) after spending enough time to grasp the ideas and gameplay of a thing without necessarily playing it from A to Z.
The subject of this installment: Twelve different PSVR launch titles!
We usually cover just one game in TINAR, but this is a big week. Steven Brown and Dan Weissenberger each picked up the new Sony PSVR headsets, and after spending a couple of days with them, they got together for a freewheeling discussion about the hardware, games, and future prospects of Sony’s new gambit! There’s a more in-depth podcast covering the PSVR and its games going up next week, but until then here are some thoughts about the launch lineup!
The London Heist
This is far and away the “showcase” piece of the VR Worlds disk. The London Heist is an interactive, Guy Ritchie-inspired game involving the theft of a precious diamond. It’s the best looking of the five games in VR Worlds, and the most interactive. This is the one to show off when you want other gamers to get an idea of what VR can do for the medium. It’s also the one most hamstrung by the Move controllers. While interacting with the environment feels great, fine-tuned aiming with the two sticks is shaky at best, and added just enough frustration with the hardware to pull me out of the experience.
The 1990’s promise of VR is finally here and with it we make… Pong. Yes, it’s fancy and pretty VR Pong with a few power-ups and skills thrown in, but it’s still Pong. Dangerball is all about knocking a ball back and forth between the player and the computer, using one’s head to move the paddle around the screen. There is very little to say about it mechanically, but those with neck issues need to be aware that some moves require quick, sudden jerks. After twenty minutes with the game, my shoulders, neck, and jaw were starting to feel tense, so take care if you have chronic pain in those areas.
VR Luge is the most lackluster of the offerings included in VR Worlds. It’s a downhill urban luge game which should be terrifying to experience, but instead ends up as boring. Going down a European highway at speeds of 90 MPH sounds exciting, but the lack of any weight to the VR avatar makes the simulation dull. In addition, ramming into an oncoming car only slows down your speed as you pass ethereally through it. Not even slamming into the sides of the track have any consequences beyond a slowing down and an extremely jarring reset back on the path. Honestly, don’t waste your time with this one. It’s more than just a mediocre game, it actually cheapens VR as a whole.
Scavenger’s Odyssey, more so than any of the other games in VR Worlds, shows the potential more traditional games have in VR. The game itself is rather simplistic. As an alien scavenger, I piloted a quadrupedal mech through a few asteroids and spacewrecks while fighting off a series of hostile, swarm-like critters. Jumping across from various rocks and bulkheads does a good job of capturing the feeling of zero-g, and the head-tracking targeting of the mech’s guns allows for far more precise combat than found in The London Heist. Ultimately, it’s the promise of what’s here that excites me more than the game itself. There are fleeting moments of tension and suspense peppered throughout the game, but it’s never anything overly creepy or even scary, and not even close to being survival horror. However, with a few tweaks it quickly becomes clear what VR can do for dormant franchises like Dead Space.
While The London Heist is what you want to show gamers who want to know what VR will play like, Ocean Descent is what you show non-gamers who want to try out VR. That’s because Ocean Descent isn’t a game, so much as an interactive story. There’s little-to-no interaction from the player as they’re lowered down in a shark cage to investigate submarine wrecks and colorful reefs. Honestly, there just isn’t much to say beyond that it’s strangely relaxing to watch a sea turtle drift by or a tropical fish prod at the cage.
Making Rez compatible with PS VR sounds like a no-brainier, but I can’t justify the cost for what is essentially a 15-year-old game with the added gimmick of head-tracking thrown in. Yes, the added immersion is interesting, but I found it added very little to the overall experience. Perhaps if the entirety of Rez were redone and built-from-the-ground-up for VR, I would be far more willing to recommend picking it up. Sadly, I can’t encourage anyone to sink another $30 in if they already own it.
Another VR rhythm-focused game, but this time you play as the beetle from Journey’s best album, Escape. It’s far more frantic and skill-based than Rez, and significantly more challenging. Essentially, Thumper is a lot like Bit.Trip Runner where the player has to jump, hover, and grind at the right time to survive the stage. It starts out simple enough, but as the tempo increases and the levels become more complex, it quickly becomes a matter of memorization where a single misstep will doom the poor little bug. Fortunately, the checkpoint system is generous and I never had to go back too far, but the fast-paced visuals started to cause a headache with extended play.
It took quite a bit of nerve for Rebellion to stick with Battlezone‘s design aesthetic. One of the oldest iconic video games, the original Battlezone offered nothing but green lines on a black background, implying enemies than depicting them. So, Rebellion could have been excused had they wanted to go an entirely different direction with the look – they didn’t, though, instead building an entire world in which the smooth lines and harsh angles of the vehicles make perfect sense. That world? TRON. And really, it winds up being a perfect setting for a hovertank combat game. The gameplay is stellar, but what really impresses is how well the developers use the the entirety of the virtual cockpit that the player is seated in. In addition to a huge viewing window that makes duelling tanks simple, to each side are banks of monitors packed with information – about the level, enemies, the tank’s status. Glancing around the cockpit to quickly asses the tank’s condition quickly becomes second nature, turning the game into one of the most naturally immersive PSVR experiences.
The Brookhaven Experiment
Well, we all knew that games where you stand in one place and shoot waves of zombies were coming when PSVR was announced, and The Brookhaven Experiment is the first of them. The environments are packed with detail — all of it a little undertextured — and while there are numerous types of zombies and mutants to deal with, each individual member of a type looks disappointingly similar. Brookhaven‘s biggest problem, though, is the fact that they’ve calibrated the Move controller so that the player is supposed to hold it straight up and down, which is a completely unnatural way to wield an imaginary gun – it can be altered in the settings, but doing so is a fiddly and difficult process. On the plus side, the zombies are notably disgusting, and the combination of their decrepit visages and some solid sound design can create genuinely tense moments as they swarm the player.
Batman: Arkham VR
A Batman-themed 3D puzzle game, Arkham VR serves as a prequel to Arkham Knight, establishing Bruce Wayne’s emotional state before going into that game. Although this content is just an hour long, it contains six distinct puzzle setpieces, each drawn from the standard Arkham gameplay modes. Players will find themselves reconstructing crime scenes, using an evidence scanner, and triggering switches with batarangs. All of it is incredibly easy to manage with two move controllers, and across its handful of vignettes, the game does as good – or better – a job of putting players in Batman’s cowl than any of the others ever managed. More than anything else, Arkham VR operates as a proof of concept, and makes a solid case that a full game focusing on Batman’s detective technique (rather than his stalking and fighting skills) could be a truly amazing thing. Arkham VR is a little pricey for the amount of content it offers, but it makes a strong case that VR crime-solving could be an incredible genre.
Ever want to play Galaga in first person? Silly question, I know – who hasn’t dreamed of that? Gunjack is set in the EVE universe, putting the player in the role of a turret-gunner defending a refinery ship from attacks by pirates and rival corporate forces. This could be played with almost any control scheme, but the VR hook is that the targeting sight is locked in the center of the player’s vision, allowing them to track and target enemies by turning their head to follow. A controller handles the shooting and reloading duties, allowing players to focus on the sights and sounds of drone ships streaking past and exploding into pieces. There’s not much depth, just twenty levels of increasingly-cluttered enemy waves to destroy, but the setting is attractive, the sound is immersive, and the gameplay, while utterly basic, is satisfying and responsive.
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood
Rush of Blood wasn’t the first PSVR game I played, but once I was riding the game’s virtual roller coaster, it quickly became the definitive experience experience on the system. Placed on a carnival ride through a series of progressively more traumatic thrill rides, Rush of Blood does an incredible job of creating a real sense of place for the player. The game eases people in by having them dodge left and right to avoid a few obstacles, and before long I found myself holding my breath as the rollercoaster went on long drops, I recoiled as evil clowns swarmed me, and I fired wildly in all directions to hit the scoring stars hung on all of the game’s surfaces. Sony should be promoting this as a system-seller – every person I’ve had take a ride on Rush of Blood‘s roller coaster has been eager to try more.
Check back soon for more in-depth coverage of PSVR and its games on the upcoming Gamecritics Podcast!