E3 2017 is a less than a month away and we’ll likely see evidence at that time on whether or not Sony continues to support PlayStation VR in a strong meaningful way. In the meantime, one of PSVR’s most highly anticipated titles and peripherals just released, making an attempt to finally prove that traditional ambulatory first person shooters not only have a place in virtual reality, but excel on the platform when given a proper chance.
A shuttle pilot tasked with bringing back a couple of researchers is pulled into an an anomaly near Jupiter, stranding them on an alien planet. Separated from the rest of the crew, your task is to seek out survivors, and not get yourself killed by the hostile creatures on the planet’s surface. There’s a pretty good sci-fi, space faring story that evokes a lot of emotion and humanity, but it’s distinctly separate from the Starship Troopers-esque action sequences where you’ll be firing your weapon at bugs and other such threats in a dusty canyon.
It’s this on again off again nature of the story and the action that shows the pacing problems with Farpoint’s narrative. Modern gaming has largely done a great job of weaving the two together, but Farpoint sets you as the observer, watching a story unfold that barely involves the player character at all. The gunplay is halted by semi frequent updates from your suit AI, decryptions of holo recordings showing a surprisingly human story taking place away from you, away from the bugs, and away from the hail of virtual bullets.
The ending is relatively easy to guess early on, but there are a couple of twists and turns that really would have made for a great film. I just wish that my player character would have had more of a central involvement given the immersive nature of VR. Why immerse me in a world just to have me observe the story second hand? In some ways I understand what they were trying to do, having the nameless pilot quite literally be you discovering this story as he moves through the alien world, but modern games have done a much better job of integrating this kind of story than Farpoint’s execution shows.
This Is My Rifle
As PlayStation VR’s initial attempt at a true first-person shooter experience in VR, Farpoint sets the stage for the future of the platform. Aim in hand, I set out to find a way to survive this expansive barren wasteland, truly immersed in every aspect. Stepping out of my escape pod, I could only marvel at just how vast and empty this planet seemed. Normally saying a game is empty is a bad thing, but Farpoint instills a sense of loneliness in the player by highlighting just how far from home they really — virtually — are.
Raising my arm with the Aim controller in hand, I looked at my shadow and waved. My shadow waved his gun back. I crouched. My shadow crouched. I squeezed the trigger. My virtual finger pulled the trigger and fired off a few shots. I raised my left hand to look down at my wrist holding the stock of the gun. There was my health display. All of these little details help translate your own actions into the game world so that you feel truly there, no matter what you are doing.
The first moments that the spider-like creatures made attempts at my face were terrifying. Realization that I’m not alone, but it’s not the company I would hope for is set to the soundtrack of my auto rifle firing off rounds every which way in an attempt to make it a few more steps forward. Soon the spiders give way to bigger bugs and more dangerous threats, but with the increased difficulty comes a relief from the tension in favor of frustration.
With bigger threats come a variety of guns to use, the initial auto rifle and shotgun making way for a precision rifle, alien plasma rifle, and spike gun. I opted to keep using the initial three weapons though. As much as I wanted to like them, the alien guns never felt like they really had the impact, accuracy, or power that the first guns did. Even the precision rifle was disappointing by not having the scope zoom in, and far away enemies in VR are very difficult to see given the current graphical fidelity that the platform offers. It was a minor annoyance that continually manifested as enemies could seem to hit me from far away, but I couldn’t get a proper bead on their distant pixels.
As immersed I was in everything, some dated game design became quickly apparent. Spiders only jump at your face from the front, so if you physically move and dodge out of the way (an extremely satisfying thing to do), the spider will come scurrying up from behind you to get within your view and try again. Every enemy has a limited and predictable pattern of movement and attack that becomes second nature to exploit right up until the end, and with the difficulty spike in the latter third of the game, exploiting these blatant game design anachronisms becomes necessary to survive.
Ready, Aim, Fire!
Best played standing up, Farpoint with the Aim controller is the definitive way to play and is a next level virtual reality experience. We have a separate review of the Aim controller itself, but rest assured that it really cemented the immersion, being able to feel the weight and shape of a gun in your hand while holding one in game. The Aim controller elevates Farpoint to something that it would not be without it, enabling you to physically hide behind objects and blind fire around them, as well as look directly down the sites instead of using the L2 button to get a precision aim like traditional game require. It’s all part of that full immersion VR is going for.
Farpoint doesn’t require the Aim to play, but it is wholly a better experience with it. Raising a DualShock 4 to your eye to look down the scope just doesn’t have the same feel as an actual gun shaped object, and if the light bar gets obscured from view by turning too far to the side (as Farpoint often sees you doing), all gun tracking using the DualShock 4 goes out the window. It’s clear that Farpoint was designed with the Aim in mind from the very beginning, and using a DualShock 4 is markedly worse experience.
While the campaign can be completed in about five hours, there’s a cooperative horde mode that you can play online, as well as challenge modes that task you with getting through each of the missions quickly and efficiently for point chasing. This replayability means that your Aim controller won’t just be used for a five hour story and then forgotten in a corner to collect dust. There are multiple reasons to come back to Farpoint’s desolate planet.
Farpoint is a long awaited title for PSVR, and one that does as many things right as it does wrong. It’s as revolutionary as it is dated, being a necessary forward step in the evolution of virtual reality, but ultimately a game that will be as forgotten as any console’s launch titles. The gunplay and story are both good experiences, but decidedly separate from one another. Farpoint is best experienced with the Aim controller, ending up as a game that highlights the amazingly immersive capabilities of this new peripheral while never really making a strong mark for itself.
Farpoint review copy provided by publisher. Reviewed on PSVR. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.