50 Days Of PlayStation VR #27: An Exclusive First Look At Windlands Running On PS4

by Jamie Feltham • September 16th, 2016

28 days until the launch of the PS VR! We’re counting down to the release of Sony’s VR headset on October 13th by highlighting one game a day for its anticipated release. Today we’re leaping from cliffs and swinging through treetops with the PS VR version of Psytec Games’ Windlands.

We didn’t end up ever actually reviewing Windlands when it first launched alongside the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive earlier this year, but we’ve always held it in pretty high regard. Psytec Games’ first-person adventure featured on our recent refresh of the nine best games available for the Oculus Rift, and our own Joe Durbin has personally crowned it his all-time favorite VR game. It’s very exciting to hear, then, that Windlands will be one of the many titles gracing PlayStation VR on launch day, October 13th.

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But one does not simply port a game to PS VR. As well all know, Sony’s little machine packs enough punch to power some pretty impressive experiences, but it still pales in comparison to the beefy machines that power the Rift and Vive. No one knows that better than Psytec; the company’s put a huge amount of work into the new version of the game taking months to go back through the original adventure and optimize it by baking maps.

Baking essentially takes some of the load off of a game as it’s running. With lighting, it replaces some of the real-time, dynamic effects essentially by memorizing and then replicating them. A surface will still shine in the sunlight, but only because the game knows to show a light-colored texture in this case and not actually carry out the complicated process of lighting the scene in real-time.

“The process of fully baking maps the size of Windlands is a big task,” Psytec Games’ Jon Hibbins told Upload. “We have had a dedicated team working on the world, and I think you’ll agree the results are stunning. Not only does this take Windlands graphically to a higher place, but the performance boost is significant.” Have a look for yourself with the exclusive screenshots dotted about the article; they’re all taken from the build that will be releasing on Sony’s platform in just a few weeks’ time.

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Indeed, I was struck by just how sharp the PS4/PS VR version of the game looked. As I emerged from the tutorial level’s first building and out into one of many sweeping vistas, I was surprised at how well the game held together as well. The draw distance was excellent, the colors sharp and vivid, and the scale just as staggering as ever. It was virtually identical to the Rift version I would play just a few moments later – which also included the baking – and it ran at a rock solid 90fps without so much as a hiccup.

That meant I had a completely comfortable time leaping around Windland’s majestic landscapes with a DualShock 4. The game has you scouring these scenes, gathering collectibles and fighting bosses. It’s biggest hook, though, is quite literally a hook. Or two. In the first level you’ll get a pair of grappling hooks that fire off with a press of right and left shoulder buttons respectively. Depending on the difficulty, you can either fire these at anything or just the multiple bushes dotted around each level and swing around, with the hooks firing off where you’re aiming with your head.

Even for someone that’s played the game on Rift, swinging around on PS VR is still a massive thrill, and remains surprisingly vomit-free. The head-tracked controls are intuitive and responsive, and getting a good rhythm is still one of the biggest thrills I’ve experienced inside a headset.

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Support for the PS Move controllers isn’t planned right now — a shame considering how well the game works with motion controls — but Psytec will listen to feedback post-release and, if there’s demand for it, who knows what could happen.

It’s a huge relief that Windlands does run so well on PS VR, because it could be actually be filling a very important gap in the headset’s current lineup. If you look at what’s coming to the device at first there’s plenty of multiplayer games, party experiences and shorter demos, but very few full, story-driven single player experiences. There isn’t much for gamers to really sink their teeth into when they’re done showing off PS VR to friends and family or don’t want to hop online, other than Robinson.

That means that Windlands really has the chance to get the recognition it deserves when it comes to a whole new range of players, many of which will be hoping to have experiences comparable to something like a story-driven first-person shooter. It’s a game that should be talked about and, hopefully, once PS VR gamers have had their fun with EVE: Valkyrie, Batman, and RIGS, they’ll turn their attention to this.

But don’t just take my word for it; the PS VR version of Windlands will be on display at EGX in the UK next week. The PC versions of Windlands will be updated in the next few weeks with these visual enhancements and they’ll be in the PlayStation 4 edition from the word go.

50 DAYS OF PS VR COUNTDOWN

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