Population: One is releasing later this month and we’ve already gone hands-on with this high-flying VR battle royale game. We played three full matches with developers last month on Oculus Quest 2 and have our complete impressions, plus a gameplay video, for you to check out. Population: One is hitting Quest and PC VR with crossplay on October 22nd.
Population: One – VR Battle Royale
I’ve played a lot of battle royale games. From the big hitters like Fortnite, PUBG, and Call of Duty Warzone, to the more obscure such as Ring of Elysium and Darwin Project, down to new releases shaking up the genre like Spellbreak. Generally speaking, I really, really enjoy battle royale games.
Until now there really hasn’t been a definitive VR battle royale game that was actually polished. I’ve played quite a lot of Stand Out and it’s a mostly passable imitation of PUBG, but it’s so janky and unpolished it’s hard to recommend. Rec Room’s Rec Royale is a fun diversion, Virtual Battlegrounds does a decent job expanding on the Stand Out formula, and we’ve seen a couple others but nothing really jumps out as a de factor battle royale VR game. But from what I’ve played, Population: One has the polish and gameplay to finally stick the landing.
Remarkably, Population: One hasn’t changed a whole lot in the past two years. I first got the chance to play the game all the way back at CES 2019 on an HTC Vive Pro, but last month when I tried it on an Oculus Quest it played even better than I remembered.
The team tells me that they were actually prepping for launch on PC VR when I saw it last, but then when the Quest was announced that changed everything. They’ve spent the last two years working almost entirely on optimization for the Quest port and getting it to be as good and pain-free as possible. That goes a long way for VR.
For the demo Jamie, Ian, and I all joined into the game using our Oculus Quest 2 headsets. I’ve been told it will be fully crossplay between the Quest platform and all PC VR headsets. Since the game is six teams of three (18 total players) the three of us got to be on a team together. We played three matches and got third, second, and second — so first place still eludes us. Granted, maybe we will fare better once we’re not facing off against teams of developers.
Unlike most battle royale games, you’re not joining the same plane or flying bus to jump out as it flies over the map. Instead, you start on the edge of the map at a giant launch bay and can either jump off manually and glide down using your wingsuit, or pick a launch pod and eject into the sky until it lands or even jump out midflight.
Surprisingly, the wingsuit feels fantastic. All you have to do to use it is stretch your arms out to either side like wings while in the air and hold them there to glide towards the ground.
Once you land it becomes the typical mad dash for loot. I love how quick and easy it is to loot and how fluid controls feel. The looting process is actually very streamlined here since you don’t need to worry about weapon attachments at all. Instead, weapons are tiered and ranked based on quality similar to Fortnite.
Since the map is quite large (it’s a full square kilometer) you probably won’t see any other people immediately unless you specifically try and chase someone down. That’s a lot of space for 18 people split into six tiny groups. Thankfully, you don’t have to wait long though.
Eventually the zone will telegraph where it’s going next with a white safe zone barrier on the map and visibly in the world. Just like other battle royale games, getting stuck in the danger zone outside the safe zone will slowly kill you over time.
The building system works well, even if it is very basic. While playing you’ll come across a vague “resource” item that you can collect and you can then expend these resources to create walls as shown below.
They’re all built on a grid so they’re easy to connect but all you can make are walls and floors/ceilings — so just box-type structures. There are no stairs or anything like that, but since you can climb any surface they’re not really needed. Clinging onto the edge of a wall and peeking over the top to shoot is a good strategy.
One thing that I think could have used some more attention is the UI. Generally speaking it’s all very flat and plain. Numbers are in a large, obnoxious font and things like your health bar and ping icons are extremely large and bright. It helps make sure you don’t miss information, but it really takes you out of things when elements of the interface feel like they’re ripped from a mobile game and aren’t integrated into the world at all.
Onward is a very different type of shooter, but it does an excellent job of requiring realistic, immersive actions to deduce information. Population: One could have put health and armor info on a wrist watch or required you to pull the map out from your backpack. Instead, it’s lots of floating UI elements that are very clearly not designed with VR in mind. It makes me wonder if there are eventually plans to bring this to non-VR platforms.
The other note along the same lines is that long-range scoped weapons like snipers force your view into a full-screen mode that is just a giant black box with the scope as a circle in the middle. You don’t actually aim down the scope with a zoomed window like in a lot of other VR shooters.
Other than that though everything feels and plays great. The developers told me about plans for a progression system, battle pass system for unlocking new cosmetics, and ongoing support with map changes, seasonal events, and more. On paper, it sounds like the kind of VR game that’s worth returning to again and again. Hopefully it can live up to that potential.
Population: One (official website) releases on October 22nd for the Oculus Quest platform and PC VR headsets for $29.99. There will be full crossplay but there is no crossbuy between the Quest and Rift versions.
Let us know what you think of the game down in the comments below!