After spending plenty of time with the multiplayer-only VR battle royale shooter, here is our full Population: One review. We played on Oculus Quest 2, but it’s crossplay between Quest 1, Quest 2, and PC VR headsets with cross-buy on Rift and Quest.
Out of every game that released in the 2010s, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds probably ranks in the top 5 for me in terms of hours spent. I played a lot of that game when it first debuted in Early Access on PC with a single map and plenty of jankiness to go around. It’s grown a lot in the years since, expanded to consoles, Stadia streaming, and even mobile and is a very different game now. Those first couple of years it was a huge part of my gaming rotation.
In Population: One the setups is extremely familiar. You and your team of two others are dropped down into a map tasked with battling it out until there is only one person (or one team) left standing. Despite what the name would imply, there is no solos game mode — it’s trios only here with just six teams total.
The scope is a far cry from the 150-player lobbies of Call of Duty Warzone, but given the scale of the map and how differently things are perceived in VR, it’s okay. There is a damaging field that closes in, slowly shrinking the map, and you need to quickly search for guns and loot while trying your best to stay alive.
Matches are pretty quick and since you’re able to move so quickly and cover great distances in a matter of seconds with the wingsuit the play area feels smaller than it is without sacrificing map diversity.
More so than any other VR battle royale I’ve played, they’ve done a good job here of making each region of the map feel particularly unique. The graveyard, for example, is littered with tombstones and has plenty of cover points. It’s also the most reliable place to get good loot, in my opinion. The giant tower in the middle of the map can be seen from anywhere and the outcroppings of cities an other regions all have a personality of their own.
I just wish things were a bit more dynamic. There is only the one map and after enough matches you’ve really seen it all. Each game is always different thanks to the variability of where you land and where everyone else lands, but the map is very static. Some events that could pop up and change the layout or create hot zones to draw people in would be great, if not full-on map alterations of some kind. We’ve been told those sorts of things are planned but there are no details right now.
As expected, there are microtransactions in Population: One, just like basically every other battle royale game, but it’s all optional. Some of it is earned in-game and some of it appears to be exclusive to microtransaction purchases, although it’s worth emphasizing they don’t alter gameplay at all. All of this stuff is in the form of cosmetics like costumes and skins. They will keep adding more stuff over time and are planning seasonal-style events.
I don’t think I’ll ever spend near as many hours in Population: One as I did PUBG, but it’s got a similar appeal. Just like PUBG, it wasn’t the first battle royale game for its platform — H1Z1 and others preceded PUBG some people forget — but it definitely put the format on the map for the general public. I think Population: One has that kind of staying power for VR.
The main reason is how polished and smooth gameplay feels and just how effective its new twists on the format are at delivering fresh, exciting moments consistently. It’s able to maintain a breezy pace thanks to three key features: you can climb anything, you can glide through the air, and you can build walls and cover on the fly.
Obviously the “building” mechanic is lifted straight out of Fortnite and the “climbing” mechanic has been in several other VR shooters, such as Zero Caliber and Virtual Battlegrounds. But when you combine them together, alongside gliding, it creates a frantic playground of verticality and constant movement that makes everything feel more dynamic and unpredictable.
You’ve got your usual assortment of weapons like SMGs, Assault Rifles, Shotguns, Snipers, and so on. There isn’t a lot of variation within each gun type though, other than rarity levels denoted by color. But I didn’t notice a major difference between the tiers while playing. On top of that there’s also shield power-ups, bananas and soda cans for health, and grenades.
Combat has enough options for now, but hopefully they continue adding new gear regularly. Reloading is sort of a hybrid between something realistic like in Onward and a more arcade-style system since you only need to mime the actual gun manipulations and exact accuracy with hand placement isn’t needed.
Population: One Review Final Verdict
If you’re looking for a new, addictive VR shooter to sink your teeth into then you can’t go wrong with Population: One. The verticality and freedom of movement is unrivaled and the smooth, snappy gameplay feels fantastic even on the lower-powered Oculus Quest. My only significant gripe is that I wish there was a bit more diversity in content available, but they’ve got an amazing foundation to grow from here. Population: One is definitely the best VR battle royale shooter on the market and will hopefully find a strong audience for quite some time.
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Editor’s Note: A previous version of this review incorrectly stated that no cosmetics were restricted to microtransactions only, which is not the case. The text has been updated.