It may only be a few years old but VR already shares one common trait with traditional videogames: its movie tie-ins tend to be a little lackluster. Free experiences for movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming have underwhelmed and The Martian VR didn’t impress at $20. But it shouldn’t be like this, should it? VR is all about wish fulfillment; surely stepping into the shoes of our favorite characters should be empowering and memorable.
While far from perfect, Crisis on the Planet of the Apes VR gets closer to those ideals than a lot of other games.
Apes is a tie-in to the recent cinematic trilogy from the famed franchise, and the debut VR game from FoxNext. You play as one of the new breed of intelligent apes that’s captured and detained at a testing facility. Together with a group of primate pals, you’ll attempt to escape the facility by clambering over obstacles and shooting anyone that gets in your way. It might sound a little derivative but, in its best moments, FoxNext demonstrates a strong grasp on what makes VR tick.
Aspects of the locomotion, for example, channel some of the most immersive movement systems seen in VR so far. Namely, the climbing mechanics seen in games like To The Top and The Climb are put to great use here. Early on, you’ll start scaling walls and swinging across pipes to avoid detection. It works as well as it ever has in these instances (and gives you a decent workout), but it really shines when Apes mixes it with cover-based shooting. During any battle you’re able to grab onto the side of cover and use it to hoist yourself up for quick shots or drop below tables and desks for safer vantage points. It makes for an initially refreshing, agile shooter.
That said, movement has its issues. On the ground, you use arm-swing locomotion to walk in a straight line to pre-determined spots. Swinging your arms to simulate an ape walking on its knuckles is a neat touch, but the controls are janky and the ability to freely roam around some areas is sorely missed.
It’s easy to overlook these issues early on, though, thanks to some standout moments. Apes includes several memorable instances that elicit genuine emotion, like a pang of panic as you’re lined up for branding like a horse, or the dread of staring down the barrel of a gun held by someone with appalling anger issues. There’s even hints of some deeper, more fascinating ideas, like communicating with other apes through body movement and distracting guards by beating your chest though these moments never scratch below the surface. That’s a real shame, as they initially suggest the game is onto something special.
Instead, it quickly dives into its more chaotic shooter segment which, yes, has its charms. Whether you’re using a shotgun or assault rifle, weapon handling has a satisfying heft to it and there were a handful of times enemies got the drop on me, appearing in unexpected spots. Again, it never manages to fuse the platforming elements with the action to make for something truly unique, but it’s perfectly serviceable.
But the action quickly wears out its welcome. Even with the cover mechanics, Apes can’t mask the same structure we’ve seen in so many VR shooters: enemies run to specific spots, you shoot them, a few more might come in, you kill them too, and then you’re allowed to move to the next location. The cover mechanic isn’t enough to separate the shootouts from the rest of the VR pack. The game lasted me just over 60 minutes and, by that time, I’d had more than enough of the combat.
It doesn’t help that you’re mainly battling through drab environments. Planet of the Apes’ recent run in the cinema featured lush forests and amazing ape-made complexes, so it’s disappointing that you’re only weaving through a sea of brown rubble here, even if textures are crisp. Combining that with the endless drone of a helicopter that hangs over the second half of the game and taking off your headset at the end feels like a breath of fresh air.
Repetitive finale aside, Crisis on the Planet of the Apes VR is a surprisingly likable movie tie-in with several great ideas behind it. Its best ideas are underdeveloped but still manage to make a mark (sometimes literally), making for an experience that’s a step above the standard tie-in fare.
Crisis on the Planet of the Apes is available now on PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive for $9.99 (discounted price, standard RRP$14.99). Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.