The Rise of the Reboot of the Planet of the Apes is in full force right now, and we've been treated to a trilogy of monkey business that has given the franchise a new tone of seriousness, away from the rubber masks and the "damn dirty apes" of old. Now we've been given a VR game to tie into the universe, called Crisis on the Planet of the Apes, a game we've been bananas to try, which is exactly what we did when we donned our VR headset to get into the monkey mindset.
At first, we were given a very brief tutorial on the basic mechanics while story snippets were shown on screen. Basically, the Move controllers act as your ape hands and you move by looking at a pre-determined placement - a silhouette of where you're going - and moving your arms as if you're running (or like us, it may just mean waving them around like a skier, which also seems to work). Then you can grab things like ledges and pipes in the world, indicated by a blue outline, to move yourself around and climb. Thus the game mostly revolves around the Move buttons, and it's all relatively straightforward.
The premise is that you - an ape - are being taken to a detention facility overseen by Dr. Eva Devon, who is trying to develop a cure for Simian Flu. If you'll remember from the films, Simian Flu is posing a pretty big threat to the human race, so this comes at the expense of the rights of apes, who are now being treated horribly. As you can imagine though, soon after your incarceration you escape from your confines with the help of a friend and set about trying to flee the entire compound.
Tracking became an issue right from the start. Sometimes when you're looking at the silhouette of where you need to go it takes a while before you're actually allowed to move there, and the same applies to when you're moving from cover to cover; it becomes a bit of an ordeal where you're flailing your arms to move and trying to get your head in just the right position to activate the movement. The climbing, while a lot of fun, was also plagued by these issues, as you'll need to often swivel about as you move between handholds and pipes, which becomes a real problem if you need to grab them and they're high up.
We should say here that we've rarely had issues with tracking before, and normally you wouldn't have to reach so far below, above, and to the side of your play space, but the setup here means you'll need to make use of the entire area around you, and you'll often be working on the fringes of that space, and that has implications. For example, it was very frustrating when we accidentally dropped our assault rifle on the floor upon first receiving it, because we just knew that the Move controllers wouldn't be detected that low down.
Things can be done in a smaller room with perseverance, but our message is that you really need a lot of space for this game, which means a meticulously positioned camera, a ton of floor space, and a lot of distance away from the screen so the camera can detect your entire body at all times. It's not always frustrating though, and there are moments where it's really fun to explore the world the studio has created, especially when you're moving fluidly, climbing, or moving in and out of cover while firing at hostiles.
Just when things are looking up, then comes the lack of polish. The whole game isn't particularly great in the visual department, which we can forgive when it comes to the world of VR, but there were other areas that broke our immersion. There's a doorway early on that people were just clipping through despite the door being closed, for example, and multiple times during our travels we fell through the floor or even to places we shouldn't be, which considering there's no free movement means you have to restart the section all over again. These made the experience that bit more frustrating, as you can imagine.
That said, tonally the game was very impressive. It made us really feel like an ape in this world where apes are treated like dirt, and even though everything was bathed in darkness, rain, and mist, there was a nice balance between atmospheric bleakness and still being able to see and navigate. In fact, the game very much benefited from its linear nature, allowing a focused and guided experience as we wandered through and gathered resistance against our captors. We developed a relationship with our comrades during this time too, all united in the one cause.
At £11.99 (reduced currently to £8.39 for PS Plus members), the length might be a sticking point for some people though, as it's less than three hours long and delicately rides the fence between a game and an experience. It's not quite as short as something like Batman: Arkham VR, but VR has gotten to the point where games such as Skyrim and Farpoint are offering more substance than this, so for many, this could be a make-or-break factor in deciding whether or not to give it a shot.
Considering how much we felt like we were immersed in the world of the rebooted series, it was a real shame that from a mechanical perspective the game was rather frustrating. For each glimmer of enjoyment, like moving in and out of cover while shooting, there was another frustrating and fiddly moment that had us annoyed. Beyond that we really recommend a huge playing area if you're going to try this one out. If you're playing in a confined space you're going to suffer, and beyond even that the poor visuals and the bugs might put you off. It's not an unplayable mess, but it falls short in areas that matter, which is a damn shame.