When Sony launched their new, Direct-like video concept, State of Play, a couple of weeks ago quite a few people were surprised (and disappointed) to see PlayStation VR take up a big portion of the stream. Although PlayStation VR has sold more units than its competitors, 4.2 million units reported most recently, it hasn't quite gotten the breakthrough Sony must have hoped for and expected, particularly with their core users. And when last year's E3 conference completely ignored VR, one would be excused for thinking that Sony was about to give up on its pricey accessory. In reality that doesn't seem to be the case as State of Play focused on the platform and just a few days after the presentation, Sony hosted a big event in New York presenting eight upcoming titles. And so we jumped on a plane to see what PlayStation VR has in store for us this spring.
Iron Man VR
The biggest surprise at last week's State of Play was arguably the announcement of Iron Man VR from Washington State-based Camouflaj (République). We got the opportunity to play approximately 20 minutes of it and were able to test out both cinematic and action-oriented sequences from the 5-10 hour game.
Marvel's Iron Man made a strong first impression and Camouflaj is obviously very passionate about the project. The controls are intuitive and well thought out and the fact that you have full control over Iron Man instead of being on-rails is great. In addition to this, we're getting a full, original Iron Man story. One thing that worried us a bit was the risk of motion sickness. During the game's tutorial, we got somewhat nauseous when having to turn around a lot, but Camouflaj is aware of the risk and is working on minimising any inconvenience. Also, it should be noted that we didn't experience any discomfort during the main mission. As mentioned previously, Marvel's Iron Man should come out this year and it may very well turn out to be one of 2019's essential VR games.
Blood & Truth
Blood & Truth embraces classic Hollywood action movies and lets you become the action hero in a shooter that lands somewhere between on-rails and traditional FPS. While it does feel a bit limited when traversing the game world, the production values are top notch and mechanically the demo is well made with a high level of action and some pretty decent set pieces.
Still, we wonder if the game can sustain momentum throughout its entirety since there is a risk of it becoming a bit too shallow. However, if London Studio can deliver a well-told story and varied gameplay with good set pieces, Blood & Truth has the potential to be a highly entertaining shooter when it launches on May 28.
For us, one of the biggest questions prior to the event was whether the VR portion of Concrete Genie was the full game or a separate mode. The game recently resurfaced after a long hiatus with news of VR functionality and at PlayStation's VR Showcase we learned that what we're getting is a separate mode. Or two, to be precise. Concrete Genie VR is about painting and that's basically it. The perspective is third-person instead of first-person and the move controllers are your sketchbook and brush, respectively. As mentioned, the VR mode is divided into two parts. The first is goal oriented and requires you to paint different things in order to advance the proceedings from a 2D wall to a beautiful 3D space. The second is a free paint mode where new painting techniques are unlocked through the main game.
No matter the mode, Concrete Genie's colourful aesthetic shines through and it's actually quite wonderful to relax and paint without a care in the world. The objective-based mode should take between 40 minutes and one hour to complete and Concrete Genie VR does feel a bit like a bonus which means its success will likely rest on the main game. If it succeeds the VR mode will seem like a nice, relaxing change of pace but it won't save the day if Concrete Genie doesn't live up to the expectations. We'll see when the game releases this autumn.
Although being an action hero or Iron Man works wonderfully in VR, the technology has also revealed itself to be a wonderful platform for more tranquil and intimate experiences. Freely messing about in detailed environments is very satisfying due to the scale of VR and the improved perception of depth it offers compared to traditional displays. It's as if exploring gets a whole new dimension, so to speak. Therefore, adventure games are actually a great fit for VR, something that Déraciné showed at least to some degree last year. This year, Ghost Giant from Swedish outfit Zoink (Fe, Flipping Death) might very well be an even better showcase for the beautiful match-up.
You play the titular giant, who enters the anthropomorphic boy Louis' life when he needs it the most. Louis' best friend has moved away and his mother is always out, but in a lonesome moment by the river, he spots you. At first, he gets scared and runs away but soon he realises the comfort and potential in having a giant friend that only he can see.
Ghost Giant has a striking, picture bookesque aesthetic, which, furthermore, appears crisper than most Playstation VR titles. It beautifully sets the tone for the calm adventure game Ghost Giant seems to be. Our tasks in the demo revolved around helping Louis enter his granary by taking back the key from a cheeky magpie and help him drive through the woods by clearing obstacles. Nothing in the demo was particularly challenging, but it felt good and if the game can deliver a sweet and touching story, we would love to spend 5-7 hours in Ghost Giant's adorable universe when it releases this month.
Trover Saves The Universe
We're big fans of Justin Roiland so when he creates a VR game tonally close to Rick & Morty, we pay attention. The story, you say? Your dogs have been dognapped by the lunatic Glorkon who has inserted them into his eye sockets and is now using them to destroy the universe. How's that for a plot synopsis? "You" is, in this case, an old guy bound to his chair. He enlists the titular Trover's help (luckily Trover can walk) in order to save the universe - and your dogs, of course. The story might be crazy, but the gameplay sticks close to what works. Trover Saves the Universe is a straight-forward albeit solid action-platformer.
Similarly to Astro Bot: Rescue Mission you control both Trover (with the DS4) and the old guy (primarily with your head). Nothing we encountered in the demo stood out in particular from a gameplay perspective, but Trover's biggest qualities (the game's, that is) are probably to be found in the dialogue, characters and the bizarre world. For the record, it made us laugh at least a few times which doesn't happen all that often in games. Trover Saves the Universe will likely appeal the most to fans of Rick & Morty as the gameplay doesn't seem interesting enough to carry the game alone, but we're still looking forward to chortling through the rest of the story when Squanch Games' title releases on May 31 for PSVR (and normal PS4).
Sony's semi-popular golf series (which is hugely popular in Japan) goes VR on May 21 in a separate release, which doesn't require the latest (and only) release for PS4 from 2017. Compared to that release, the VR edition is a lot lighter content-wise. You get three courses with 18 holes each that can be tackled solo. Tournaments and competitors are not on the table, it seems, but developer Clap Hanz is considering including online features in the future.
You can use both the DS4 and a Move controller as your virtual club. We would recommend the latter as it provides by far the more intuitive controls. In general, we're not always too keen on the Move controllers - for instance, it's really not the best stand-in for a gun - but as a club it's perfect. Everybody's Golf is easy to approach and swinging your club is satisfying, so to speak, but maybe the whole package is just a tad too light on content - especially given the pricing. The foundation for a good experience is there though so maybe it's worth waiting for a price cut or more content.
No Man's Sky: Beyond
Due to a tight schedule, we didn't get the chance to try out No Man's Sky in VR, but we were told that it's the full game and not an extra mode which sounds promising. In addition to this, it's now possible to control the game with the move controllers. Doing so changes movement to a warp-based system where the warp points are chosen freely. We don't know why anyone would want to play the game like this, but now the opportunity is there.
After a disappointing launch, No Man's Sky has done a lot to redeem itself and the upcoming Beyond edition, which includes all updates, online and VR, could very well be what truly unlocks the full potential of this ambitious title.
Five Nights at Freddy's VR: Help Wanted
As was the case with No Man's Sky we didn't get to play around with the murderous animatronics in the upcoming VR edition of the streaming phenomenon Five Nights at Freddy's, which combines existing and new material. We did, however, get to chat a bit with developer Steel Wool's co-founder and lead designer, Jason Topolski, who informed us that the full game has 40 levels and is created in collaboration with the creator of the original mobile game.
While talking to him, we watched another reporter playing through the demo and it was pretty fascinating to hear Topolski explaining how his mistakes could be used the tweak the design in order to improve the game.
Playstation's VR Showcase clearly showed that Sony has far from given up on its pricey accessory. Last year was a hallmark year for the platform giving us gems such as Astro Bot Rescue Mission, Tetris Effect, Beat Saber and Moss, and the titles shown at the showcase make a strong case for the future while also showing the breadth of experiences that work well in VR. Our favourite picks were probably Iron Man VR, Ghost Giant and Trover Saves The Universe. The first is exhilarating, the second touching, and the third is hilarious. Sweat, tears and laughter. A great mix for fans of VR.
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