If you’ve been reading my editorials or following my Twitter account over the past few weeks, you’ll know that I’ve been growing concerned about PlayStation VR of late. Sony’s headset is arguably the most important in year one of VR, and an E3 showing in which some of its games used stick-based locomotion and made people sick really started to worry me. Add to that the underwhelming PlayStation Move controller and I’d begun to wonder if PS VR might end up doing more harm than good.
But then I played Farpoint.
I was voicing many of my concerns to a friend as I queued up to try this upcoming PS VR exclusive first-person shooter at Develop: Brighton today. When I pulled off the headset about 10 minutes later, though, I had a big grin on my face, feeling a little embarrassed about my previous rant. Impulse Gear’s upcoming shooter showed so much promise that it restored my faith in the entire platform in the space of a few minutes.
If you didn’t already know, Farpoint is played with the Aim Controller, an impressive new gun-shaped device that looks a little like – but definitely isn’t really – the PlayStation Move Sharpshooter peripheral. You have that same glowing orb to be tracked, with two grips to hold like an assault rifle. The grips share the traditional PlayStation 4 buttons, with an analog stick on each and a trigger fitted onto the back one. Somewhat ironically the kit is better kitted out than a pair of Move controllers. That said, you use those sticks to actually walk in Farpoint, which means I faced one of my biggest pet peeves – artificial locomotion.
And, sure enough, I rolled my eyes in the opening few moments of the demo, where I trekked up a slope on a Mars-like alien planet. This type of movement doesn’t make me sick like it does for others, but I’m just not convinced by holding forward on a stick and watching the camera move forward anymore. It feels fake and, most importantly, unimmersive.
But where Farpoint really started to win me over was in its firefights. This new planet you’re discovering is plagued with a rather vicious group of insectoid aliens that could have marched straight out of a Starship Troopers movie. Some of them scatter around rocks before leaping at you, some of them spit yellow globs of acid that you can blast out of the air, and some burrow deep underground and carve a path towards you like some sort of terrifying land shark.
You’ll first be armed with a machine gun, fitted with a sight. It’s reassuringly chunky to fire, aided by the controller’s vibration. It’s tempting to simply hold out the controller in front of you and fire from the hip – that’s what most people in front of me did – but I actually found the best results came from really leaning into the sights, just like when you hold the aim button in any modern FPS. A reticule appears when you line up with an enemy, giving you a much better chance of hitting them.
The blend of realistic aiming and juggling enemy types was enough to distract me from the fact I was moving with the sticks. I’d naturally lean out of the way when one enemy sprayed a torrent of acid at me, not even knowing if it would actually help me avoid damage. In one area I balanced trading fire with a few ground-based bugs and trying to get the right trajectory to blast some enemies that were further away with a grenade. I was completely in the moment; desperately glancing from side to side for signs of threats, letting off short controlled bursts so as not to lose my cool, and steadily backing away to give myself some space.
It was some of the most compelling FPS gameplay I’ve yet experienced in VR.
In fact, I became so immersed in the game I kept wondering why I couldn’t feel the virtual butt of my rifle on my collar bone when I moved the controller up to take aim. Fully aware a lot of people were watching me, I would walk forward with a shotgun, holding it in cinematic poses that made me feel like a Colonial Marine. Later on, I would rejoice in the carnage as I blew a larger enemy to pieces with a well-aimed rocket, and his remains scattered about my feet. I even stopped to marvel at a pool of alien blood I had spilled that realistically trickled down a cliff face.
I want to discover a lot more about Farpoint. For starters, I want to know all about the design. It’s not an on-rails shooter, for example, but it certainly felt like it was taking its cues from one. I was walking in a straight line for the entirety of the demo, and the demo assistant even told me not to bother turning around to face enemies that slip past me as they’d circle back in front. That feels like an easy fix to keep the experience comfortable, but I’ll admit it has me concerned that Farpoint might never reach the frantic heights of The Brookhaven Experiment, in which you have to practically dare yourself to turn around and discover monsters swarming in from behind.
I’m also eager to learn more about Sony and Impulse Gear’s plans for distributing the gun controller. Ideally, I’d like to see it released with Farpoint, bundled at the price of a full retail game — the extra peripheral perhaps excusing a shorter campaign length. Sony really needs to get this thing into people’s hands, maybe even taking a loss on it to ensure it does, in order to open up the VR FPS genre to other developers.
Most of all, though, I just want Farpoint to prove me wrong about how capable a device PlayStation VR really is. 10 minutes were enough to convince me there might be a future for stick-based movement in VR.
Let’s see what a whole campaign can do.