Despite the headset coming to market three years ago, the landscape of PlayStation VR still feels like a wild west of strange ideas whose merits are often hard to predict from the outside looking in. With new games virtually sneaking onto the platform each week, it’s easy to overlook some novel uses of the tech. One of the latest examples is Stardust Odyssey, an arcadey sci-fi game with a premise that appears to be the first of its kind. Stardust Odyssey won’t be the killer app that gets a VR headset on the holiday wishlist of the uninitiated, but with a unique setting and reliable motion controls, it’s a game that VR diehards should still consider taking a look at.
Stardust Odyssey is eye-catching thanks to a setting that mashes up Silk Road-era bartering convoys with a sci-fi future where gaseous creatures and robot guardians protect the nomadic travelers from thieves such as yourself. The aesthetic clash of the Chinese-Mediterranean trade route and its old-world goods of pottery and leather juxtapose cleverly with futuristic staples like flying vehicles and automatons. It’s this sort of risky setting that feels so decisively at home on VR, where game devs regularly dare to test-drive concepts even more niche than your average indie game.
After a predictable story sequence delivers a helpful tutorial and puts you behind the figurative eight ball, you and those allied with you with begin a mission to prevent the game’s Big Bad, the Alchemist, from maneuvering his cliche power grab. The story in Stardust Odyssey is a forgivable afterthought due to some all-tell, no-show dialogue that rightfully feels it has to explain its unique world early and often. Thankfully, as an arcade-like experience at its core, the writing doesn’t overstay its welcome, and mostly gets out of your way and lets you enjoy its better parts.
Stardust Odyssey is really a first-person shooter at its core, but it strikes a balance between action and strategic exploration that it never feels like the kind of FPS you’d think of when you hear the classification. As an infiltrator of this Neo-Silk Road, you’re meant to steal goods off every ship you can in an apparent end-justifies-the-means chase for the Alchemist. Not every ship has something to offer, and those that do vary greatly in what kind of payout you pilfer. As the traffic jam of floating boat-like ships moves forward through each level, you’re meant to hide in plain sight and even stealthily draft others in order to sneak past patrolling guardians, robot protectors out to destroy thieving ships like yours.
Every level of Stardust Odyssey takes place from the seat of a strange cockpit, decked in gold and bronze which immediately feels alien in its design. Even your hands in VR are replaced by gilded hooks, a constant reminder of Stardust’s allure as an unfamiliar land. The game offers a steady progression of new tools to use in your travels, which you’ll need to upgrade your offensive and defensive capabilities. It’s meant to invite replays of old levels too, as newer ones are only unlocked as you discover ethers, of which there are five on each level, and to gather more gold for upgrades. Later levels need you to find nearly all ethers, so there’s some tedium in replaying moments you’ve already played on a collectible hunt.
As an infiltrator, you’re able to sneak past many would-be combat scenarios with smart traversal through traffic, but not all combat can be avoided, and in those times, the game’s quieted stealth segments swiftly evaporate to usher in hectic, fast-paced shooting sequences. It’s here, even as the VR controls are so superbly reliable across the entire game, that the cluttered UI literally gets in your way. With goods that are onboarded and deposited in your face, the game’s steering wheel always prominently featured, and plenty of levers and buttons to operate as you progress, there’s already a very busy interface to contend with. Thus, when combat erupts and you’ve got to dash from button to lever and so on, enemies can feel insurmountable to no credit of their own — though later bosses are certainly formidable anyway, exacerbating this issue.
There’s just a mess of stuff to literally look past in front of you, and if this scenario existed in the real-world I’d expect few such thieves to ever be good at their jobs. It’s like trying to push through the paparazzi when you’re Ariana Grande after a break-up. It’s unfortunate, because otherwise Stardust Odyssey controls as smoothly as anything I’ve played in VR, and it offers a level of precision the gameplay demands, but the UI betrays those merits and spoils a lot of the fun anyway.
Stardust Odyssey Review Final Verdict:
With a lackluster story, an obstructive UI experience, and a niche concept, Stardust Odyssey isn’t this holiday’s killer app, but it remains something of a standout for VR deep-divers due to a first-of-its-kind setting and solid movement controls that feel floaty and fun just as they’re meant to. Add that to the game’s risk-reward stealth gameplay, and Stardust Odyssey is a flawed game, but not one that shouldn’t be bartered for.
Final Score: 3/5 Stars | Pretty Good
Stardust Odyssey will be available starting December 3rd exclusively for PSVR at the price of $26.99.
This review was conducted on a PSVR using two PS Move controllers. You can read more about the new five-star scoring policy here.