Despite how often we wield guns in games, I would hazard a guess that not many of us regularly do so in real life – that is certainly the case for me anyway. So, it disturbed me that moments after kicking my way out of my escape pod and stumbling for a moment in the alien environment of a new world, my first thought was, "Wow! This assault rifle feels so damn natural in my hands."
I lifted it up, inspected it from multiple angles, and then, pulling the holographic sight up to my eye, I popped a few shots off at nearby flora and fauna. I have used gun peripherals in the past, from filthy Time Crisis arcades to the crappy piece of plastic they include with the latest Cabela’s shooting gallery. But these imitations are laughable when stacked up beside the reality bending experience of holding a fully tracked and animated gun in a VR environment – an experience now offered by Farpoint and the PSVR Aim controller.
Created by new developer Impulse Gear exclusively for the PSVR, Farpoint is Sony’s attempt to prove you can have a AAA experience in VR, and to an extent, it actually has done so. The PSVR aim controller launched with Farpoint, and the game was built from the ground up with the controller in mind. It can be played with Move controllers, but far and away the best way to play is with the Aim. Farpoint offers a breadth of content, including a roughly six-hour narrative-focussed first-person shooter campaign. Not to get you too excited, but the game offers the faintest whiffs of Half-Life 2 in its focus on character, and in the way it paces out narrative beats between shooting sections.
Following a team of astronauts as they investigate a gravitational anomaly in our solar system, Farpoint begins when your space station is sucked through the anomaly and onto a planet in another part of the universe. As the pilot, you are fighting your way through threats and exploring the mysteries of this world as you search for two missing astronauts from your ship.
The premise of Farpoint is cliché, but the game contains a compelling story and characters. I enjoyed its gunplay a lot, but what really pulled me through to the end was finding caches of video and holographic records left by the astronauts and following the development of their story and relationship in this harsh and strange world. I really appreciated the emphasis on believable characters and pathos, and the way the astronauts dealt with struggles in realistic ways.
The motion capture is particularly impressive, highlighted by the fact that due to the VR, you can get inches from a character’s face and look them right in the eye during a heartfelt moment. Impulse Gear enhanced this further by using clever devices to portray the narrative moment to moment. For instance, as you explore the world you can unlock holographic representations of how the astronauts interacted with that same area. It’s a fun mechanic to be able to walk alongside them in VR and look at the things they point out and interact with.
These sections are great for pushing the story forward, but the real meat and potatoes of the narrative comes from caches of video you find from the astronauts HAB unit. These videos show key moments in the astronauts’ experience from the perspective of cameras you would naturally find around, such as on a computer monitor. Impulse Gear was smart with how they positioned action around the cameras, allowing you to catch the emotions on faces and body language at the most effective moment.
Impulse Gear gets that the best storytelling comes from showing, not telling, and uses VR to lean into that principle. In a particularly tense argument between the astronauts, one of them leans on the desk, his face close to the camera's placement, and the pain and fear in his facial expression says more than words could have in that moment.
Unfortunately, after six hours of taking you on a real rollercoaster of a story, the game abruptly ends just as you think the climax is ramping up. It's hard to tell if Impulse needed to cut development short, or if it thinks the end is a good cliff-hanger for Farpoint 2 (Even Far-er point?) Regardless, it really took the wind out of the sails of what I thought was shaping up to not only be a great narrative for VR, but a great game narrative in general.
Fortunately, Farpoint has a lot to offer outside the narrative. Gunplay itself is great, and the Aim controller is integral to the satisfaction here, offering the best peripheral experience I have ever had. Moving the controller in the real world has a 1:1 response in-game, and feels as natural as breathing. Want to shoot something? Point the piece of plastic you are holding in that direction and pull the trigger. Firing from the hip works well at first, but as the enemies become more numerous and complex, you need to bring the gun up to your shoulder and aim down the sights.
I found the sights the most revelatory part of using the aim, because it’s not just a case of bringing the controller to your face. To make accurate shots, you literally need to close one eye, scope down the sights and control your breathing to steady the sway. Eventually, the real challenge to be overcome is the low resolution of the PSVR headset. If there are a lot of particle effects onscreen, it can quickly become impossible to line up shots properly – especially enemies are far away.
The resolution affects other aspects of the game in this way, like when you are appreciating a beautifully designed vista, but keep getting distracted by the rough edges of it. Farpoint is a PlayStation exclusive, so we won’t see it on Vive or Oculus – a real shame, because this could have been a next-level immersive experience on more powerful hardware.
Enemy design is fairly generic, but the combinations you find them in and the strategies required to defeat them keep things interesting throughout. The most common enemies are spiderlike creatures who attack in close proximity. In these sections, accuracy takes a back seat as you fend off charging, leaping spiders. Shooting them in corridors is fun, and when you enter arena areas and have to fight off waves of the buggers, things get really intense and challenging.
I particularly enjoyed the sense of scale these enemies provide. It is thrilling to unload rounds at galloping spider beasts twice your size as you scream like Schwarzenegger taking on Predator. Then there's their boss… I can only imagine how stupid I must have looked, my head thrown back and mouth hanging open as I regarded this creature looming over me.
Beyond the campaign, Farpoint offers a co-operative wave-based mode. In theory, this would be awesome when played with friends. However, I don’t know how many folks have friends with PSVR, this game, and the Aim controller. I had to play alone – which is far too hard – or with strangers, which is pointless without communication. Who wants to have a stranger’s voice in their ear while in VR?
Farpoint is the best realised and executed VR experience I have played – one that gives me hope that we have just begun to scratch the surface of what can be achieved in the medium. It’s unfortunate that the ending of the game and the resolution of the PSVR hold it back, but regardless, it's an enjoyable shooter with a great story.