Before we start, it’s been a wee while since I VR’d (or whatever the correct verb is) so it’s highly possible that what follows may well suffer a little bit from “HOLY SHITBALLS, VR’s amazing” type bias, and perhaps more so because this was also the first Game with which I got my “pew, pew, pew” on via the medium of my PlayStation VR Aim Controller whatsit. That combination undoubtedly added a little som’thin-som’thin to proceedings, so please feel free to factor in your own allowances for my being an excitable man-child who’s easily impressed by waving a plastic gun around with a big old headset strapped to his stupid, fat face.
Even though PlayStation VR’s been out for close to a year now, I think it’s fair to say that titles for it have been a little thin on the ground, and it’s even fairerer to say that full-length titles have been, like, emaciated on the ground. There was the really rather excellent Resident Evil 7, a couple of others, but much of what is available for VR tends to fall into the “brief and mostly experimental” category, more akin to DLC than actual, bona fide Games. For the most part, I’ve been mostly ok with that – especially because jumping into a VR session isn’t quite as simple as just turning your console on and doing a mammoth sitting of regular TV-based Gaming. On the other hand though, I have been itching to find another Game that I could really sink my teeth into over the course of several sessions (like RE 7), and I’ve been waiting for another Game that takes the “Hey, look how cool this particular VR idea is, imagine how great it’ll be when there are full Games that do it” promise and, like, does the full fucking game with it. On a personal note, I’ve also been waiting for some decent FPSing in VR, and precisely because I think it’s a very obvious area in which Virtual Reality could really shine.
I mention this because Farpoint isn’t quite a full length, sink-your-teeth-into-over-several-sessions Game (it’s a step in the right direction, though), but it does build upon some of VR’s promise, offering a Virtual Reality experience that showcases some of the medium’s unique value. Indeed, it comes bundled with the VR Aim Controller, so that’s kind of your first clue that this is, in many ways, a flagship title for the aforementioned “pew, pew, pew” shenanigans. Obviously, that added a degree of pressure to perform (not least because the Gun + Game was a proper ballache to track down, and cost me seventy five fucking quid), but it also meant I was willing to give everything a wee bit of leeway given the fact it was tentatively stepping into uncharted waters.
The first area where this “uncharted waters” element was obvious was that Farpoint, thanks to the VR Aim controller, marries the “moving hands in Game” VR thing with the “moving around in Game” one. Previously, you could have one but not the other, purely because “moving around” was done with a controller (like RE 7), but “moving hands” was done with the wands. Obviously in RE 7 hands were represented, but they moved automatically to where you were aiming/interacting etc; and in games where you were handsy, movement was either “on rails” (like Until Dawn: Rush of Blood) or via teleporting (Batman: Arkham VR). As such, the Aim Controller is a pretty clever bit of kit, with dual thumbsticks directing movement in exactly the same way a controller would, but with the camera also tracking the business end of your gun, so you’re free to move around and aim and, crucially, do both at the same time independently of each other. See, Farpoint’s novelty and challenge is moving and ADSing in concert, and that, right there, makes Farpoint’s VR shooting an altogether more immersive (and impressive) FPS experience. Or it does when it’s not going wonky.
We’ll come back to the wonky thing in a bit, but for now let’s focus on the positive. I’m not going to lie, being “in” game, and moving around was pretty cool, for sure, but first lifting up your Aim Controller and actually freakin’ looking through the sights is absolutely fucking awesome – like, bordering on straight-up magical. To anybody watching, I’m just a stupid looking infant-man with ridiculous headgear and a bizarre looking piece of plastic in his hands, but in Game I’m holding a genuinely great looking Assault Rifle and, lifting it up to my face, I can properly aim down its barrel. Whilst I’m doing that, if I alternate which eye I’ve got closed, my perspective/depth perception changes in exactly the same way it would back in Reality land, and the illusion it all creates is fairly damn convincing. Like with real aiming shenanigans, you’ll need to line your sights up (the one at the front of the barrel with the one at the end) too, so, all told, the experience feels pretty realistic. Once you’ve gone done finished dicking around with that for the best part of an hour, whipping your gun up and saying shit like “go ahead punk…” and “10-4, watch my six…and stay frosty out there” you’ll be ready to start your Farpoint journey for reals…..
The Narrative set up for Farpoint is that you, playing here as a Space-y Pilot-ey dude, have been sucked through a wormhole thing, and crash-landed on a strange, undiscovered planet. Upon exiting your ejection pod, you’ll set off in search of the two Science-y people who were sucked through said wormhole mere seconds before you were, and that’s when your ordeal will start. And I say ordeal because of, like, Space Spiders. Indeed – even though you’re not on Mars – if your brain doesn’t think of David Bowie at some point during Farpoint, I’d be very surprised, because this is like Spiders from Mars: The Game. You’ll be given a few spider-free minutes to get accustomed to everything though, and if you’re like me, you’ll find that quite an impressive few minutes. I spent a chunk of them gazing around in slack-jawed wonderment: rock formations stretching as far as the eye can see; gorgeous constellations and nebula hanging in the sky above you. Indeed, whilst this is a barren planet, it still translates into a pretty impressive VR location, visually speaking. There was a definite sense of my “being in the world”, of it being a physical place, and whilst we’re still a bit last-gen in terms of graphics and detail, the added immersion of VR more than made up for that, I think.
Anyways, back to the Narrative. And Spiders. As you set off, you’ll immediately be made aware of what Farpoint will entail: namely, tracking down the “echoes” of the Science-y people and fighting off the various things that be all up in your grille whilst you’re doing that. For the first chunk of the game that’ll be spidery things of increasing size and difficulty. In the middle part it’ll be robot-ey things of increasing size and difficulty, before you’ll eventually come across some Alien-ey things that are decidedly smarter and harder to kill. That’s not a particularly original trajectory – and less so because right at the end you’ll have to, somewhat predictably, deal with them all at the same time – but I think it’s more forgivable here given the “getting to grips with the new toy” element of Farpoint. In between the waves of shit trying to kill you, the story of Farpoint will unfold as you scan the aforementioned “echoes” (leading to extended cut-scenes), and gradually you’ll begin to piece together the story of what happened to those you’re trying to find.
Personally, I quite liked the Story of Farpoint (though I’ll readily admit it might be something of a niche approach) and I liked it precisely because it stopped the Game from becoming just another generic shooter, I think. There’s a distinct hint of psychological Sci-Fi in that there’s an element of tension, mystery and “WTF is actually going on here!?” that’s reminiscent of films like Solaris and Interstellar, and whilst it’s not mind-blowing (or mind-blowingly original), it certainly helps keep things more interesting than they could’ve been. This all culminates in a frantic-finale-with-a-twist which will either leave you feeling cheated or satisfied, depending on how much you bought into the above, I suspect. All told, after my 10ish hours of Farpoint, I felt I’d mostly got a decent chunk of bang-for-my-buck in terms of Story and, like, Shooting (/pun).
There are a few issues with Farpoint though. To start with, I honestly felt like at least a few hours of those 10ish were artificially added on because of a combination of the “Adaptive Difficulty” and decidedly miserly Checkpointing/Saving of Farpoint. On the first thing, there’s no difficulty options in the game, but it claims to adjust automatically to your performance. I have to say, after getting spanked for the eleventy-twelfth time in a particularly grueling boss fight, I was having real trouble believing that claim. Some encounters could be overcome after a few tries – learning patterns, etc – but this fucker was brutal, and if anything, I seemed to be getting worse at it – not better. This – and a few other fights – emphasised the miserly Saving/Checkpointing system too, because there were no checkpoints in the boss fight, and in general Gameplay, dying would often mean taking a mahoosive step back in terms of progression. Those two things working against me in concert meant much of my 10ish hours in Farpoint were re-playing large sections over and over again.
Now, I’m not a big fan of miserly Checkpointing anyway, but it was more of a ballache considering two things. The first is that it’s much more of an issue in VR because playing is way more physically demanding (and disorientating) than regular Gaming is, and not being able to manually Save and/or Exit (and having to wait until you’ve reached a definite Checkpoint before doing so) is genuinely quite problematic. Taking regular breaks is medically recommended (by fucking Doctors and everything) so a manual Saving option’s a must, and, conversely, forcing people to keep playing until they’ve reached an arbitrary checkpoint is bordering on dick move, all things considered. I don’t have issues with motion sickness and suchlike, but I often came out of Farpoint with a headache precisely because I’d felt I had to play through to the end of a level because that was the only place I was confident would be a proper Save/checkpoint.
The second reason is the whole “wonky” thing I mentioned waaaaay back at the start of this beast. Tracking has a tendency to go walkabout quite regularly in VR, and some games have a tendency for it to do so more than others. Often re-aligning is as simple as holding the options button, and in most games it’s not a huge problem because it’s a) easy to adjust, and b) there are plenty of opportunities to re-adjust in your “downtime”. Farpoint tracking goes for a wander regularly, requires pausing the game to re-align shit, features points where there are waves and waves of enemies and, crucially, requires the tracking to be spot-on if you’re to stand any chance of succeeding. That’s a lot of ducks to line-up, and I was often acutely aware during extended fights that my arms were contorting into increasingly bizarre (and uncomfortable) positions to mitigate the tracking issues. At times I was holding my gun sideways like a gangsta, at others my arms had become crossed, and there were times when the tip of my gun was pointing up or down to keep my sights aligned. Even worse, when you do pause and re-centre stuff, it still requires a bit of experimentation to figure out how things are working afterwards. That’s not great in the middle of a massive wave of Spidery shit trying to kill you, obviously, and that bit of experimentation time usually meant death.
Now, take that and add it to the aforementioned Saving/Checkpointing thing, and imagine how fucking infuriating it is having to repeatedly go back twenty minutes in the game purely because your tracking’s gone irredeemably Wonky right at the end of that encounter. Like, bad guy number 297 of 300!! I don’t blame Impulse Gear for the tracking issues – not least because theirs is essentially the first Game to utilise the new toy…..BUT precisely because it is the first Game with that new toy, their decisions to not have a difficulty option, not have a manual Save option and have ludicrously stingy checkpoints falls somewhere between bizarre and “what the actual fucking fuck were you thinking!?“. What’s more, it meant some sections of a Game I was otherwise enjoying were pretty damn unpleasant, actually left me feeling physically quite exhausted – and there were times I was very close to fucking the whole thing of entirely.
I didn’t though, and despite those issues I’ve just been whinging about, I mostly enjoyed Farpoint and, indeed, there’s a lot to like about it. By the end I’d enjoyed the Story, shot a lot of shit, played with a decent selection of quite cool weaponry, and I’d got to do it all waving a new toy around. As an introduction to that new toy, Farpoint was pretty decent, and as a glimpse of what that toy could do in the future, it made me genuinely quite excited. We’re not quite at full-on CoD type FPSing in VR yet, but Farpoint was a decent example of how a solid story, immersive world and some fast, frenetic shooting could all combine to make VR a truly compelling experience. It’s hard to do justice to quite how impressive being “in” a world is, and explain how much more believable that world is when your brain’s being tricked into thinking it’s holding, aiming and shooting a real weapon, but a) it is and, b) Farpoint does it all rather well. Moreover, because Farpoint has a few bonus/arcade-y options included too, it’ll be the place I continue to go when I want to get my “pew, pew, pew” on. With my new toy. Because I’m an excitable man-child who’s easily impressed by waving a plastic gun around with a big old headset strapped to his stupid, fat face.
TL; DR – I’m an excitable man-child who’s easily impressed by waving a plastic gun around with a big old headset strapped to his stupid, fat face. See also; Pew, pew, pew!!