The transition to Facebook accounts and other complications aside, Oculus Quest 2’s launch proved to be a rare beacon of light in this strange year.
Sony and Microsoft have wrestled with launching new consoles amidst the COVID-19 pandemic; the PS5 and Series X remain incredibly tough to obtain even a month on from release, with huge price tags. Meanwhile, Quest 2 has been widely available since its launch in October, starting at a very reasonable $299. When it comes to hardware, Quest has enjoyed a fantastic ‘console’ launch compared to others.
Sadly, we can’t quite say the same for all the content that’s come with it.
Facebook had an exciting line-up of games to reveal alongside Quest 2, and many of them are now available and do live up to their promise. The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners was an excellent port and a key launch title, whereas Population: One has enjoyed a healthy online launch. There’s also been a strong focus on the Japanese market with releases like Altdeus and an encouraging number of great experiential pieces like Spheres and Wolves in the Walls.
But some of the headset’s tentpole titles for the holiday season have come up short, at least in terms of communication, with launches that haven’t been as transparent as they should be.
The first offender was the November launch of Star Wars: Tales From The Galaxy’s Edge. This was ILMxLAB’s anticipated return to the famous franchise that shipped, if you can believe it, pretty much exactly a year after the final installment of Vader Immortal. The collection of adventures is certainly polished and delivers some satisfying moments for Star Wars fans but we also noted in our review that it felt unfinished, with its 3 – 4 hour campaign teasing something bigger.
Sure enough, there’s a ‘part 2’ set to arrive for Tales next year, though mention of it is sparse. This wasn’t clearly communicated as an episodic release as with Vader Immortal – the official web page tells players they can jump back into the universe ‘starting November 19th’ but there’s no explicit mention of the second part. The only reference we can find to it is in an Oculus Blog post.
The same is true of this week’s launch of Jurassic World Aftermath. Upload wasn’t supplied with review code in advance for the Oculus Studios-published project, even though YouTuber content creators were. Again, the $25 title arrives without any mention on its store page that a second part for the 3 – 4 hour experience is on the way in 2021. The DLC was only referenced in a Mashable interview.
Rushing projects that need more work to get them out in time for the holidays is nothing new (ask CD Projekt Red’s leaders). In fact, it’s not that these ‘Part 1’ releases are bad themselves — in fact initial reactions to Jurassic World seem quite positive — but the communication about what consumers are getting when they lay down $25 for a game isn’t clear. People will be unwrapping Quest 2s on Christmas Day, downloading a new Star Wars game and very possibly finishing it all that day, only to then learn the other half of the game isn’t ready yet. That’s not the best first impression to be setting to new customers, even if the upcoming DLC is released for free. We haven’t seen express confirmation they’ll be premium releases but, if they are, that’s another matter entirely.
As with the Quest port of Onward earlier this year (which was, coincidentally, another launch that suffered from a lack of communication) this suggests Facebook’s decision not to allow Early Access titles onto the platform can be bended when it sees fit. It’s also a strange pattern you can find traces of elsewhere. Last week’s launch of Warhammer 40K: Battle Sister comes with a cooperative multiplayer component listed in its menu that, when clicked, tells you it’s coming in 2021. More understandable are the titles that clearly could have used more time for optimization; the recent launch of Cyan’s Myst VR remake is fully complete and highly enjoyable, but we noted the visuals didn’t feel particularly optimized for the platform. Meanwhile on PC, Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond’s launch was troubled by incredibly demanding PC specifications for a game that we didn’t feel especially raised the bar for VR fidelity.
Exactly where to place the blame for these decisions isn’t completely clear. Facebook will no doubt have had deals in place for exclusive rights to these titles, but it’s not the sole publisher – Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge is published by Disney Electronic Content and Jurassic World is of course tied to Universal. But multiple developer sources over the past two years have indicated to us that Facebook has more say on not just if but when a game can launch on Quest compared to other platforms. Were these games always planned as two-part launches? Or have developers been pushed to finish at least a portion of the content to get it out for the Christmas rush?
Either way, the key issue here is the concerning lack of transparency about what you’re getting for your money. Tales From The Galaxy’s Edge might become the epic, 5+ hour Star Wars adventure so many fans are hoping for in 2021, but there’s very little to warn you that it’s not there yet in its initial form. Jurassic Park might be a very decent adventure right now, but it seems only a portion of the experience developer Coatsink envisions, and the game’s own messaging fails to alert people to that.
Let’s hope these are isolated cases in a troubled Christmas period, then, because VR needs better.