Sony’s Farpoint falls just short of being VR’s best FPS yet

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Will we ever get a bonafide Call of Duty, Battlefield, or Halo game in virtual reality? Sony’s latest PlayStation VR game Farpoint is at its most compelling when it responds with a resounding “yes.”

I mean, by golly, we have it now: a VR gun game where you use a joystick to run, aim a gun with your hands, blast bad guys, and feel like a not-sick-at-all badass. Nausea, comfort, and immersion all work in Farpoint‘s favor when the game fires on all cylinders. PSVR owners may feel moved to buy it just to see this long-awaited promise come to fruition. (Farpoint can be purchased with a brand-new PlayStation VR Aim Controller; I also explore just how unnecessary the controller turns out to be—and how good that is for the future of PSVR games.)

But that purchase won’t be met with a full game that merits “legendary” or even “damned good” status. Impulse Gear Studios clearly devoted a lot of resources to nailing the feel of sit-down VR combat, and that focus has left some basic gameplay and plot issues unresolved.

Just trying to kill some bugs

It’s the not-too-distant future, and you, a nameless spaceship pilot, watch a routine expedition go awry. Two researchers get sucked into a wormhole during a spacewalk, and when you chase them, you crash-land upon a seemingly barren planet with traces of humanity. Your researchers have been here. Maybe other people, too.

The planet also happens to be patrolled by monstrous, murderous insects. Conveniently, these bugs hang around stockpiles of old Earth weapons. Thus begins your journey in Farpoint: shoot bugs (and, eventually, other things) while uncovering the mysteries of the researchers’ disappearance.

In some ways, combat follows Halo‘s lead. Players carry up to two guns at a time, and some of these have alternate-fire modes for grenades or rockets. Hide behind cover for long enough to heal. Ammo is infinite, but every weapon requires either reloads or recharges to keep players shooting carefully.

Farpoint‘s differences stem from the peculiarities of VR. Unlike other VR sit-down games, this one accounts for a trackable controller at all times. Aiming is done by waving a controller around, and holding it close to your face to view a helpful laser scope. Squint to aim if you want, or rely on a stream of bullets to help you approximate a shot. (You can play either standing or sitting, so long as the camera is positioned to track the headset and controller.)

The left joystick handles forward, backward, and side-to-side running, and it’s all tuned for comfort. Backward motion is slower than forward, and you can tap a “sprint” button without kicking up any nausea. But the left stick is only part of the equation.

It’s the Crash Bandicoot of first-person shooters.

The right joystick, by default, is disabled. The options screen includes a joystick toggle with a variety of rotation options, and all but one of these is terrible. The “click” option makes players rotate a tiny bit, but only in one direction. A “smooth” option makes the joystick function like in a traditional FPS, but this is the kind of motion that creates a mental disconnect in VR and induces nausea.

A “wide” turn option makes players turn a whopping 60 degrees at a time, at which point the screen blacks out momentarily. The game is not designed for such massive turns. In fact, Farpoint really can work with zero use of the right-stick. Every Farpoint level is built with forward momentum as a priority. You are often guided to walk forward-left or forward-right, which your joystick can manage with little discomfort. But there’s no winding through elaborate corridors. Forward, march. Farpoint is the Crash Bandicoot of first-person shooters.

As a result, Farpoint often feels like an arcade shooter. You can easily sidestep and back up to take cover or find a better vantage point, but Farpoint doesn’t allow for more elaborate maneuvers for the sake of flanking, let alone granular exploration.

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