One of the major problems facing virtual reality is something most games take for granted -- movement. In first-person shooters, players sprint around a map, running and gunning while dodging bullets and laser fire.
If they do the same feats in VR, they will be reaching for a trash bin to toss their cookies. The problem comes from a dissonance, in which players' eyes tell the brain they're moving, but the body at rest relays a different feeling.
Developers have created a few ways to handle this. High Voltage lets players teleport to other bodies in "Damaged Core," while Survios came up with a novel concept of moving one's arms in "Sprint Vector" to simulate running. It's a gesture that's close enough to running that players can endure high-speed movements.
For "Farpoint," Impulse Gear uses a peripheral and level design to solve the motion-sickness issue. The project is the first game to use the PlayStation VR Aim Controller, a device that looks like a bundle of PVC pipes duct-taped together. Despite the simplistic look, the peripheral works flawlessly with VR, and it's as important to "Farpoint" as the plastic guitar was to "Guitar Hero." The controller makes the game.
The device has a way of cementing players into the VR world. Holding the controller feels like handling one of the game's five weapons -- assault rifle, shotgun, plasma rifle, spike cannon and sniper rifle. The gun reacts with one-to-one movement, meaning that if players swing the gun around a wall, they can fire blind. If they peek around the corner, they can target a sniper atop a bridge.
But the feature that amplifies the immersion is the ability to look down the iron sights of a rifle and use it to blast aliens accurately, from a distance. The whole process feels perfect, with the force feedback in the controls. In addition, some weapons have secondary ammo that players will rely on during tougher encounters. This adds a strategy to combat that has the potential to be great.
For its first attempt at a VR shooter, Impulse Gear does a better job than most developers. The freedom to approach gunfights from new angles and the depth of each battle make combat feel unshackled. There's a boundless improvisation to blasting away aliens and robots. Players can play hide-and-seek with them. They can tag them from around corners.
On the other hand, the level design and enemy intelligence is rudimentary, partly because of the design. Players run around with an analog stick embedded in the Aim control, but the movement is restrictive, limited to just four straight-line directions. Still, this linear level design and streamlined control further reduces the possibility that players will experience any queasiness.
When battles get hectic and players are weaving around rocks for cover, the fact that the battlefield is narrow improves the ability to focus on the enemies in front. During frenetic combat, "Farpoint" would have been better served if the fighting were slower and more tactical. The speed can be too much for some players.
Also holding "Farpoint" back is its story. Players take on the role of a nameless pilot who is heading to a space station when a wormhole opens and sucks everyone inside. They land on a strange planet 800,000 light years from Earth.
Most of the story follows the pilot as he retraces the steps of two survivors -- Eva Tyson and Grant Moon. The plan is to meet up with them and find a way to escape the alien world, but nothing is as it seems in a plot that is surprising, but feels schizophrenic at times. There's no real flow, as the campaign reveals what happens to Eva and Grant.
Despite the drawbacks, "Farpoint" is one of the rare VR games that feels like a full-fledged console title. It doesn't play like a tech demo or an arcade game. This project will suck in players with the gameplay and VR -- and keep them enthralled while they get their virtual-reality sea legs.
2 1/2 stars
Platform: PlayStation VR
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