GameCentral gets its headset on and peers into VR’s latest releases, from the sublime WipEout Omega Collection to the risible Out Of Ammo.
The first time you try VR it’s a revelation, much like your maiden voyage on a Super Nintendo after years of NES, or the dizzying jump to polygons after a lifetime of sprites. However, as with any expensive new hardware it takes time to build a critical mass of players, and Sony’s recent price drop to £260 is going to help that process, as is WipEout Omega Collection’s VR update, which is every bit as good as you’ve heard. It turns out VR games can be polished as well as immersive, but are the lower budget releases really as depressingly awful as they look?
Blasters Of The Universe for PSVR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, £11.99 (Archiact)
Your antagonist in Blasters Of The Universe is an early 90s movie nerd-style king of the arcades, who sends waves of video game henchmen after you whilst explaining that he’s ‘not lonely’ between bouts of smack talk. To defend yourself you’ve got an energy shield and a gun, both with a multiplicity of upgrade options from self-filling magazines to a broad range of ammunition and muzzle styles, all of which also change the appearance of your cartoonish weapon as well as its performance. Your body is impervious to incoming fire but your head isn’t, and you protect it by using your shield or ducking out of the way, inadvertently providing a bit of exercise. It’s great fun, the refined and challenging shooting mechanics and enormous assortment of gun configurations proving highly entertaining.
StarDrone VR for PSVR, £6.49 (Beatshapers)
Some VR games are almost unimaginable on a flat screen – by contrast StarDrone is quite clearly a 2D title that’s been lightly retooled for VR. In it you swing a ball around strategically positioned poles to collect stars and avoid hazards in a game that could just as easily use a joypad to choose which pole to swing around, rather than pointing with your head. Despite its non-essential relationship with the medium, it’s a pleasant enough experience and a lot more polished than many VR-only titles, somewhere between arcade and puzzle action, although you’d be hard pressed to get too excited about it.
Ultrawings for PSVR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, £17.99 (Bit Planet Games)
Ultrawings is aiming to be like Nintendo classic, Pilotwings but in virtual reality. A laudable goal that developer Bit Planet goes a long way towards fulfilling. Starting off flying a slow and steady ultralight you earn your way to faster, more thrilling rides whilst concurrently learning the ways of take-off, landing, and mid-air manoeuvres. You’ll also be renewing your ‘VR legs’, because without the training of its earlier missions and more sedate craft, the stunt plane is enough to nauseate even VR veterans. As it is, by the time you’re pulling off barrel rolls and loops, you’ll be more than capable of loving every minute of it. The balloon popping sub-game isn’t up to much, but the rest of Ultrawings is a dream come true for fans of Nintendo’s charming slice of amateur aviation.
Apex Construct for PSVR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, £24.99 (Fast Travel Games)
Armed with an upgradeable bow and arrow, and pitted against an army of robots, your job is to unravel whatever has turned our world into a twisted jumble of smashed buildings populated by android dogs that want to kill you. What emerges is well intentioned but clunky, its movement by teleport often landing you awkwardly too close or far away from doors and handles, while the business of firing your bow regularly gets in the way of the headset, making your view waver. Getting killed because of unwieldy controls is nobody’s idea of a good time, and Apex Construct rubs salt into those wounds by removing un-banked experience points every time you die. Although not all bad, its sense of adventure and investigation is marred by eternally clumsy motion and combat.
Out Of Ammo for PSVR, Vive and Oculus Rift, £11.99 (Zen Studios)
Out Of Ammo looks like a half-hearted Minecraft clone with its blocky graphics and flat textures, but that’s as close as it gets to the exuberant creativity of Mojang’s game. What you get instead is a mixture of first person shooter and real-time strategy; supply crates providing defensive structures, which you then staff with a stream of soldier, and the ability to jump into the boots of your men providing the shooter component. However, from its practically unexplained control system to the fact that reloading your gun involves punching yourself in the gut with a controller, it doesn’t so much lack finesse, as lack almost everything you think of as a game. There isn’t even a win condition, you just keep battering back identikit waves of badly drawn enemies in small, bland maps until one overwhelms you. It’s the video game equivalent of clinical depression.
VRFC: Virtual Reality Football Club for PSVR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, £10.99 (Cherry Pop Games)
Also dispensing unplanned exercise is VRFC, which has you waving the controllers up and down in time with your player’s feet to walk and run. Tilt to move right or left and use buttons to pass and shoot, which all sounds simple enough but turns out to be a bit hit-or-miss in practice. You’ll also need to find people to play with, which is especially important here because unlike most online games that encourage a sense of every man for himself, you’ll need to work as a team, getting into space and passing rather than simply running towards the ball and blindly shooting in the rough direction of the goal. Even though it offers cross-platform play finding those teammates can be a tricky, but once you’re up and running both sides are at least equally hamstrung by the control set-up.
WipEout Omega Collection for PSVR, £23.99 – VR update free (Sony Interactive Entertainment)
Released with practically no fanfare from Sony, the PSVR update for WipEout Omega Collection is nothing short of mind-blowing. Instead of watching hover racing on TV, you’re in the cockpit, and the feeling of careering round its gorgeously rendered neon-lit tracks with their vertiginous plunges, loops, and banks is the most exhilarating experience currently available in VR. Although each racing team has its own flight characteristics, there’s not much visual difference from the driver’s seat, but it’s a minor quibble. This will plaster a permanent grin onto the face of even the most jaded gamer. PSVR desperately needs a killer app and WipEout Omega Collection is the shot of AAA it’s been lacking. Thrilling, deep and with plenty of content, this is what PlayStation VR owners have been waiting for.
Crisis On The Planet Of The Apes for PSVR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, £11.99 (FoxNext)
Set between Rise of and Dawn of The Planet of The Apes, you’re an ape escaping the slightly evil clutches of humanity. Achieving freedom involves a dispiriting, entirely linear mixture of ambling between pre-determined points by waving the controllers, climbing up clearly marked routes, and gunplay so weak it makes you pine for the relative precision of Bravo Team. The cover mechanics during shootouts are reasonably functional, but the rest is a hodgepodge of ungainly controls and movement artificially slowed to prevent seasickness in newer players. The apes look pleasantly simian, and it’s nice observing conversations from behind the small visible portion of your hairy forearms, but these are small beacons of light in an otherwise unremittingly bleak landscape.
Cold Iron for PSVR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, £15.99 (Catch & Release)
Given the genre’s propensity for gun slinging, and its popularity in film and TV, it’s surprising that there aren’t more games devoted to being a cowboy. This particular Stetson simulator is purely focused on duelling and takes place across a succession of one-on-one gunfights to the death, your draw speed and shooting accuracy tested in a range of inventive ways. The low-key narration and sparsely surreal graphics play well in this uncluttered game of brinkmanship, dexterity, and puzzle solving. Its challenge certainly isn’t for the faint hearted though.
By Nick Gillett