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Review in progress: Farpoint (PSVR)

Shooter

Farpoint is a sci-fi corridor shooter using VR and gun tracking.  Now before you run away, Farpoint does a lot more than the on-rails shooters and tech demos parading as games that seem to be the bread and butter of VR at the moment.

Wait, where is the score?

So by now, some readers have already jumped to the bottom of page to see the pros and cons after looking at the score. For those people, hello, for people who read a whole review, thanks, but we need to talk about something. VR motion sickness and feeling cooped up. It turns out that even with me trying to play more VR to get used to the sensations, I get motion sickness while playing games. This is not always the case for all games, but when I started Farpoint I had the longest continuous play session in VR ever. I managed to play for two hours and I stopped because I was feeling hot and tired.

My next few escapades were not as lucky. Even with the game having smooth movement and the gun in your hand acting as something to focus on while you move around really helped to keep the feelings at bay, but it didn’t completely stop the onset. Once you get ill, it takes ages to come right and any movement, even 3D graphics on a standard screen, can set you off again.

This is where I encountered my first big frustration with Farpoint. Feeling ill I tried to save my game and quit out. The game popped up a warning message that I would lose all progress in the level if I quit out. So much for all the checkpoints for when I died (which is often by the way, and your health bar is similar to wet paper). For a game on a VR system, something where people can suffer from motion sickness, this feels like a huge feature to be missing. So I left my machine on, hoping to come back later. I never could. So then I had to replay the same section of level, once again noting how my character is almost completely silent, and all the story instead happens through scanned data points in the world that shows you the people that came before you, two scientists that are also stuck on this alien world.

The game popped up a warning message that I would lose all progress in the level if I quit out. So much for all the checkpoints for when I died.

My other frustration is with the health bar of my character. In the early stages when fighting alien spider things you learn what is fatal and how to avoid it, otherwise you end up dying and going back to a checkpoint. For the most part it is easy to avoid or plan for big attacks. It is when you start fighting robot enemies that shoot at you that things get tricky. Having a healthbar that a level 1 character in an RPG would be proud of, enemies turn you into mush as they lob round after round of explosive grenades at or over your cover. A direct hit means death and they are fired in a three-shot spread.

The best way to fight them is from a distance and with the precision rifle in hand. By using a three-round magazine sniper rifle, you need to try make out details in the distance through a small scope and everything just looks too muddy and fuzzy to me. The scope lights up to let you know you are on target, thankfully, but it still feels like we are bumping into the limitations of the resolution of the headset.

This is my rifle, this is my gun

After a while I managed to coax the system into running fine while I sat down and I found a comfy enough position to hold the gun down when not needed, or fire from the hip or iron sights are required. This is where one of the strengths of Farpoint comes into full view: the light gun or Aim Controller. I honestly thought it would be a flimsy piece of plastic that you attach PS Move controllers to, or that I would have to use a move wand and not be sent a gun for review. The gun is pretty lightweight and feels sturdy. It has a ((lithium ion)) battery, just like your controller does, meaning you don’t need to go and find batteries elsewhere. Despite what looks like a pretty odd shape the gun is comfortable to hold and all the buttons you might need are placed in easy-to-reach (and find) places so that you can hit the right button while your eyes are completely covered.

This is where one of the strengths of Farpoint comes into full view: the light gun or Aim Controller.

Walking around on the surface of an alien world with your gun in a relaxed position really is immersive. If you walk into a dark place or hear a noise your gun comes up, often to the hip, swinging from side to side. It felt like second nature with the shotgun at my hip, or slightly raised in front of my body to destroy the alien spider creatures that keep jumping at my face. If you dislike spider type things and the idea of them jumping at your face, then avoid this game. In fact the difference between a spider alien thing jumping at your monitor and the same spider thing jumping at your eyeballs and covering your view in VR is a whole world of difference.

If you hold a gun to your shoulder and look down the sights, a weapon like the assault rifle has a holographic attachment with red dots to help you aim at targets that are further away. If you want to really get into the feel of things you can put the weapon up close to your shoulder and shoot like you are firing a real weapon. It also works if you hold the gun out in front of you, though you probably look pretty daft while you are doing this. When not thinking about how you look while you are busy shooting aliens, it is very easy to get in the swing of things.

Besides having the gun in the game mimicking your actions in great 1:1 fashion, there is something so natural about looking around for cover while falling back, then getting behind something to avoid incoming missile attacks. From here you can peek around cover by tilting your head and body a bit and the feeling that you are behind cover, that something is close by to you offering safety is satisfyingly good

Could the Aim Controller become the future peripheral of choice for VR games involving a gun? It feels like it could be and upcoming titles Arizona Sunshine and Dick Wilde will both work with the new accessory. Will I be able to beat VR motion sickness before that time comes? I hope so, I can’t handle any more weekends coming to a grinding halt as my world spins in on itself.

Not enough cable for this

While Farpoint does a lot with the tools it has at its disposal, there are also several issues that come about because this is a PlayStation VR game. For the gun tracking to work perfectly through the entire range of motion it has to be put close to eye height, above your TV. I don’t know about you but my TV is a slim model, there is no handy surface to put the camera on. Add in a pretty short cable and setting the camera up at eye height, 1,5m to 2m away from you becomes a pretty massive ideal. This is if you want to play the game standing. Standing means that you can look from left to right or follow a pesky alien that tried to get behind you by turning around (luckily the game hardly does this, opting to attack you from the front instead). If you are lazy like me though, you will use the analog stick on the butt of the gun to rotate to keep enemies in front of you so that you don’t have to stand around shooting things. I also dislike standing while playing PSVR because the cable from the headset to the first junction box is shorter than I am tall, so the weight of the box can be felt tugging at your headset the whole time.

As a description of its parts, it doesn’t sound exciting at all. In fact if you took away the VR and the Aim Controller, Farpoint would be destroyed by critics. What it manages to achieve in VR and the way the Aim Controller works is worth paying attention to. If you grew up with games like Time Crisis and House of the Dead at your local arcade, you will feel like a kid again, gun in hand shooting enemies.

At the moment I am stuck in the game, through waves of enemies just turning me into Swiss cheese as well as my stomach rebelling against me at the mere mention of food. I have yet to finish the game, nor try it in co-op so I am not putting a score on it at this time.

Good

  • Gun tracking
  • Aim controller is sturdy and comfortable

Bad

  • No saving mid level
  • Health pool of a naked level 1 caster

Summary

More than a tech demo, but dwarfed by comparisons to established shooter franchises.
If it has the letters RPG in it, I am there. Still battling with balancing trying to play every single game that grabs my interest, getting 100% in a JRPG, and devoting time to my second home in Azeroth.

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