If there were ever a VR game in which I’ve thought “I must look ridiculous playing this” it’s got to be Hopalong: The Badlands. In this single-player shooter, you’re given a virtual hobby-horse, a toy horse head stuck on a stick that kids would place between their legs to pretend giddy-up with. You then proceed to imitate riding the horse (how much enthusiasm you put into it is at your discretion) to gallop around in VR. It’s pretty ridiculous, to say the least.
But, you know what? It’s also pretty fun.
As gimmicky as it is, Hopalong’s horseback riding lays the foundation for a surprisingly nimble, if ultimately forgettable shooter. You play as a Sheriff hunting down a gang of bandits over the course of 11 levels. You’ll journey through canyons, dive deep into mines and race through settlements as you steer your trusty companion with one and hand return fire with the other using one of several weapons.
Moving is done by flicking your controller up and down to walk forwards. The broader the strokes you make the faster your horse will move, and the direction you point your controller is the direction in which you’ll travel. It takes a little getting used to but it wasn’t long before I found myself falling in love with bounding around the game’s levels, which fuse tight corridors with more open set-pieces. Circling around enemies or simply keeping your head down and charging forward feels fluid, with a kind of natural intuition that most VR shooters long for.
It sets up some grin-inducing shootouts, too. As the name implies, Hopalong has a spring to its step, and you’ll need to keep moving in order to stay alive, lest you been bombarded with dynamite, mounted-gun fire and pick-axe wielding maniacs. Combat quickly becomes frantic, fuelled by the satisfying thrill of pulling off a well-aimed headshot from across a river as you race along its banks, or the last minute pull of a shotgun trigger before an enemy sword reaches your throat.
As intuitive as the movement can be, though, it’s not perfect. Weapons, of which there are a few, can only be cycled through in real-time, causing real frustration as you hunt for the right tool for the job in the middle of a fire fight. If you’re on PSVR or using a 180 degree Oculus setup, you’ll also struggle with wanting to instinctively shoot an enemy that runs past you but coming up against the tracking limitations. The game’s quick turn option is somewhat sluggish, taking some of the pace out of combat, and making some of the already-maddening difficulty spikes even moreso.
There’s also no escaping the fact that, innovative movement aside, Hopalong is a pretty basic and barebones shooter from a design standpoint. You move from A to B, shooting enemies that wait for you at set points without ever really engaging much thought. You’ll often find the AI sending bad guys running into walls or even getting grenadiers to accidentally bomb themselves. In fact, you can often just run past areas, and in those tougher battles that’s actually what I prefer to do. It was either that or risk repeating the last 10 – 20 minutes of the level I was on.
A valiant attempt to mix things up is made by introducing claustrophobic missions in mines and a few boss battles (there’s also a tedious level set in a dark maze really wants to stop the fun). You can see From The Future trying to populate the levels it’s built with the kind of variety you’d expect of a modern shooter, but they ultimately don’t disguise the fact that this is another VR FPS you can see through in roughly two hours.
Hopalong: The Badlands is a cheerful VR shooter with a great locomotion mechanic and a few hours of flawed fun to support it. Whilst navigating the wild west is an intuitive joy, simplistic design and frustrating difficulty spikes mean it’s easily forgotten soon after the credits roll.