Review: Farpoint (PSVR)
Virtual reality is in a very strange place at the moment. Most VR games are either short, mini-game-like “experiences” or side modes tacked on to more traditional games. Very few games are built from the ground up for virtual reality, and even those developed with VR in mind often pale in comparison to regular games. With Farpoint, Sony is hoping to change that paradigm, cutting its teeth on a notoriously difficult VR genre– the first person shooter.
Though Farpoint can technically be played without the newly released PlayStation Aim controller, doing so will result in an experience that’s mediocre and lacking. The reason for that is, in part, due to the strength of the peripheral and how natural it feels when playing the game.
For those that haven’t laid eyes on the Aim, it’s a plastic accessory that vaguely resembles a gun, with a PlayStation Move tracking globe at the end of the barrel. All the components of a standard Dual Shock 4 are crammed into the white frame, including two analog sticks, a D-pad, triggers, and face buttons. In use, the accessory works like a traditional gun, and the PlayStation Camera can track tilt, height, direction, and more. The result is a seamless experience that feels natural and intuitive, even when things get hectic.
Farpoint makes excellent use of the accessory. Bringing up the weapon to eye level to reveal a holographic sight never lost its novelty and the rate and spread of fire was perfectly refined. I was able to not only make small aiming adjustments mid-shot, but swing the weapon wildly as enemies spawned on both sides of my vision. The PlayStation Camera and Aim controller never wavered. Using the Aim controller strips away one barrier of complexity from the shooting game experience, and I found myself much more able to focus on the act of shooting instead of figuring out a complicated control scheme. Being so viscerally connected to a game is incredible.
Because Farpoint was designed from the ground up for virtual reality, it changes the first person shooter formula in a variety of ways. For starters, enemies always appear directly in front of the player in narrow throughways, instead of wide open areas conducive to flanking. This design decision limits the player’s need to turn, thus reducing the possibility of motion sickness. Likewise, enemies almost always march forward, instead of hunkering down behind cover or waiting for the player to walk past, again in an effort to alleviate discomfort.
Speaking of VR sickness, Farpoint excels in providing almost every comfort option available, letting players customize the experience to their level of VR fortitude. One extreme option switches of turning altogether, allowing only forward movement. On the other end of the spectrum is the option to use both the left and right analog sticks for movement and view, though that’s recommended for VR veterans only. Then, there’s the ability to turn on view “snapping,” which eschews slow pans for instantaneous clicks left or right.
But for all the technical things Farpoint gets right, the game stumbles in other aspects. Take the narrative, for example. The game follows three scientists exploring an unlimited energy source in a far off corner of the universe. The energetic space anomaly abruptly explodes, transporting them to an alien planet, inhabited by aggressive bug-like creatures of all shapes and sizes. Apart from a few unique moments, the story is steeped in cliché and travels some well-worn territory. While it works to get the playable character from one side of the planet to the other, it’s forgettable and uninspired.
Much of Farpoint’s variety comes in the form of enemies and enemy behavior. You’ll shoot scurrying bugs, hulking crab creatures, humanoid aliens, and much more. Each of these enemies move in different patterns and feature different weak points, requiring a varied approach from one to the next. Each creature kept me on my toes and had me looking forward to the next enemy type to crawl from behind a boulder.
Farpoint clocks in at only about five or six hours, and it’s not as fully-featured as a modern first-person shooters. There’s a neat online cooperative mode, which allows two players to compete for a high score in four unique arenas, but I can’t see the mode having legs. I would have liked to see some competitive multiplayer thrown in to extend the experience, especially at the price of $50 for the standalone game, and a whopping $80 for the game and PlayStation Aim accessory.
Farpoint is a wholly unique game that every PSVR owner should have in their collection. It brings out the best of virtual reality– the immersion and intuitive gameplay– while avoiding some common pitfalls. The thrill of aiming a physical gun in a virtual, alien world, and having that accessory be tracked almost perfectly, never got old. Farpoint exemplifies the potential of the PlayStation VR.