I was talking to a friend the other night about VR fatigue, and how some of the initial wonder had washed away. The best VR is still incredible, but there are some apps that just don’t pull me in the way they used to. In response, he reminded me that any VR software, no matter how big or small, is something of a miracle. The ability to pull a lump of plastic over your eyes and see anything that even remotely feels like it is really there is something we should not take for granted.
These were wise words indeed, and I carried me with them when I went to see nDreams the next day.
Fittingly, I was there to see Perfect, the new relaxation app from The Assembly [Review: 7/10] developers, made in partnership with a Brighton-based studio, Near Light. It’s a spiritual successor to Perfect Beach, nDreams’ virtual paradise that was one of the first apps for the Innovator Edition of Gear VR. It’s a piece that hones in on that core thrill of VR; taking you to another place and making you feel like you’re really there. The result is a back-to-basics VR experience.
“[Perfect Beach] did really well in terms of the reception and sales, and we were like “Wow, we’re onto something there”,” Studio Marketing Manager Ben Finch tells me as we sit down to see the piece. “The thing that we found is people weren’t just looking as it as a relaxation experience but also an accessible way to show [VR] to your Mum, your Dad, your Grandma.”
Perfect, then, wants to do the same but for high-end VR headsets. It’s important to remember that this isn’t something those of us dedicated enough to actually buy a VR headset will want for ourselves. Instead, nDreams is hoping it’s something you’ll pick up to show others, hence its release just ahead of the first holiday season in which Rifts, Vives and PS VRs will travel from home to home to be put on the heads of first-time audiences. It’s a pretty shrewd move on nDreams’ part.
The piece features three locations, each with three areas to explore and day and nighttime variations to see. One is a snowy woodland, another gives sweeping views of a mountain range, and the final is another tropical beach. Using motion controls, you’ll be able to interact with certain items like pebbles and snow balls, turn on music (or access your Spotify songs on PS4) and if you study the environments closely enough you’ll spot easter eggs both big and small.
Thanks to the help of Near Light, each location is visually arresting. “There’s a lot of stuff in VR that’s moving away from photorealism for all the obvious technical reasons,” co-founder Ben Hebb states. “But I think this was an opportunity as, because we can control the environment so much more, what we were trying to do was see how far we could technically, creatively, visually push it in terms of trying to realize as high as possible quality.”
Perfect is far from photorealistic — not that I think Hebb was claiming it was — but its vistas are indeed striking and inviting. The winter woodland is a peaceful scene, with fluffy drops of snow, silently floating towards the ground as a calm wind quietly howls in the distance. The beach is a vibrant shrine to the sun, with colors bursting from its cool blue ocean and yellow sands. Finally, the mountain range, stands as the most impressive scene, taking you from the side of a lake to the dizzying peak of a cliff where you can see a hot air balloon slowly rising in the distance.
“Everything’s timed to not happen immediately.” Hebb says when I noticed the balloon. “So it’s that sort of, someone may see it and then it’s that “Oh, have you seen that?” “No I haven’t seen that.” And they try and go back and check it out.”
Some of these bonuses can be initiated by the player, too. Throwing stones at a tree might cause coconuts to tumble to the ground, for example. You can also experiment with your surroundings, lighting logs on a campfire, trying to skim rocks on the surface of the water or just batting them out to sea with a piece of wood.
It’s all suitably lovely, but I can’t help but wonder if there really is the market for Perfect that nDreams thinks there is, especially with stiff competition in the relaxation space from Cubicle Ninjas’ soothing Guided Meditation VR. “There’s a lot environments, it’s got a lot of content, but the quality’s not always consistent,” Finch says of that product. “So one of the things we wanted to do was that quality versus quantity thing.”
Rather than making “five times the environments”, nDreams and Near Light instead focused on polishing the three they already have. It means that Perfect is an experience that you could see all of in less than five minutes if you were to ignore the easter eggs, but the developers have tried to build something people will want to spend much longer in.
So, would I show Perfect to my family this Christmas? Quite possibly; it removes the complexities of game mechanics to make for an accessible experience that’s great (no, I won’t make the pun) for less tech-savvy audiences. If you haven’t got anyone like that in your life, then this is not the app you’re looking for.
Perfect is releasing tomorrow on PS VR in the US, December 16th on PC and December 20th on PS VR in EU for $9.99/£7.99, with a 20% launch discount planned for Steam.