PSX 2016 – Farpoint & PSVR Aim Controller Preview – VRShip Troopers (PSVR)
The ground rumbles beneath my feet. The rocky landscape shudders as something big approaches. I hold my gun at the ready, looking down the site, ready to shoot whatever horror approached right in its hideously fleshy maw. Sure enough, a massive bug-like creature bursts from around a corner, spewing a nasty goo all over me. I dodge to the right, peppering it with bullets that aren’t cutting it. Time for more firepower. I reach onto my back and grab the stowed shotgun waiting for a chance to perforate the aberration in front of me. A couple of shots are enough to remove the threat from the equation and I am whisked away to another section of the demo.
If the primary creed of virtual reality is to offer players potentiality mixed with reality on a completely immersive level, then Farpoint is the product of that ideology. At the center of the experience is the PlayStation VR Aim Controller. Sony’s gun peripheral won’t be required to play Farpoint, but it sure makes up a large part of what makes the demo fun to play through. The aim controller is mapped realistically in the game, so my hand placement and positioning of the digital auto rifle I’m using to kill bugs are exactly where they are in real life. Small things add to the depth, such as watching the finger pull the trigger when I did, and my digital knees bending when I crouched in real life. Each little detail steeped me in the moment more and more. I wasn’t on the show floor at PSX anymore. I was on an arid planet, a tasty treat for a bunch of murderous bugs.
The PSVR Aim Controller is loaded with all the buttons and joysticks that I needed to move myself along as well. Farpoint is not on-rails or stuck to individual points. I was free to strafe back and forth as I mowed down the skittering hoard. I could creep forward as fast as I felt comfortable through a dark and threatening cave or near a treacherous precipice. I could back up in fear while firing on an impossibly large bug that teased Farpoint’s scope before closing out the demo. While it may seem like this much free movement would cause some level of VR sickness (see my Robinson: The Journey review for more on this), there are a number of things here that help to mitigate the unease caused by disconnects between the brain and the body.
The main helpful factor is the 1:1 tracking of the Aim Controller, which provides a point of reference to keep your body feeling grounded. Of course, if you opt to use a DualShock 4 this may very well remove the grounding and reintroduce many of the same comfort issues I had with Robinson, but I can’t say for sure. There are quite a few factors at play in each VR game that can all either mesh or clash in perfect storms that prevent or exacerbate VR sickness, so this isn’t my medical or even truly a technical opinion. Rather it’s the observation from someone who has played a lot of VR games. Farpoint would rank quite high on my comfort scale overall when used in conjunction with the PSVR Aim Controller. The Aim Controller is light enough to remain tactile after extended use, but not so flimsy that it feels like a toy. There’s a mass that helps to sell the experience of actually holding a gun in your hands.
As Real as It Gets
Bringing the Aim up over my right shoulder (in a motion of storing/grabbing a weapon off of my back) allowed me to change back to the auto rifle. I aimed down the sights again by literally holding the gun up to my face. I could see the reticule, but something was off, so I squeezed one eye shut as I pulled the trigger. Just like looking down the sights of a real rifle. Nothing was actually wrong, so much that it was so right it went against my traditional gameplay knowledge. Having watched other PSX attendees put the headset on I knew I probably looked a little silly to anyone watching, but it didn’t matter. The experience was in here with me, not out there with them, and I began to approach the demo as a virtual creation of a reality rather than a standard video game. I dropped the gun from my line of vision and pushed the analog stick forward, finally convinced that the cave I just came through was safe. It wasn’t long before I had my eye up to it again.
Shawn Layden has already confirmed that there are multiple titles in development that will support the Aim Controller, but Farpoint is the only one announced at the moment, which is fine because it works great to further offer insight to developers on how to accomplish creation of enveloping experiences that traditional video games just can’t provide. Farpoint has the potential to be seen as a benchmark title for the future of VR development, particularly in the realm of complete and detailed immersion. For 20 years I’ve wanted to experience the awesome terror that Johnny Rico must have felt while fighting the Arachnids in Starship Troopers (while remaining entirely safe myself of course). Farpoint is the closest that I’ve ever gotten, and holding that PlayStation VR Aim Controller makes me feel like the kind of badass that can single handedly take on an entire planet full of bugs while subsequently placing a primal fear in my gut every time something skitters, shrieks, or rumbles.