Virtual reality and first person shooters may seem like a natural fit, but up until now, the results have been fairly constrained. The closest we’ve had to a proper single player FPS experience are the on the rails Until Dawn: Rush of Blood and the shooting galleries like Lethal VR, while RIGS and the more recent Starblood Arena have tackled first person shooting in the form of frantic multiplayer arenas.
Farpoint is the first major release for PlayStation VR looking to bridge that gap. Instead of giving players a series of shooting galleries to blast their way through, Impulse Gear has created something much closer to Call of Duty or Battlefield, albeit with a hard sci-fi angle.
The game opens with its two lead protagonists, Eva Tyson and Grant Moon, embarking upon a mission into the deep space. Things quickly take a turn for the worse as their ship, the Pilgrim, is sucked into a wormhole and breaks up over an uncharted planet. With the crew presumed dead, Farpoint becomes a story of survival, though there are mysteries for the player to uncover.
Instead of actually playing as Tyson or Moon, you take control of the Pilgrim’s pilot who, after failing to escape the wormhole’s clutches, finds himself in the same predicament. Scattered throughout the game are holograms and video logs that drive the story as you pursue these two main characters. Towards the end, Farpoint takes a risky change of direction that, while bold, doesn’t wrap things up in the most succinct way.
Of course, what everyone really wants to know about is the shooting. Farpoint may not have the same budget or presence as some of Sony’s more recent hits, yet they are clearly committed to seeing the game reach its full potential. That’s definitely the impression you get when holding the PlayStation VR Aim controller that launches alongside Farpoint. At a glance it appears fairly modest, sporting a strange, tube-like design with a familiar array of buttons. When donning your VR headset, however, it suddenly becomes a lethal weapon. Aiming feels just as responsive and natural as handling a real gun. The peripheral allows for immersive one-to-one tracking that never faltered or desynchronised during our time with game.
Farpoint can also be played using a DualShock 4, but the effect isn’t any where near as impactful. Despite being almost as accurate, it feels like too much of a step down from the Aim controller, sapping away some of that all important immersion. No matter which of the two you opt for, both allow free character and camera movement via the analogue stick. This makes Farpoint much more familiar than than most PlayStation VR shooter, though actions such as jumping, crouching, and going prone have been removed. Instead, using a combination of the left stick and their own body movements, players will need to use cover organically.
Having five main weapons may not sound like much, but each has its own positives and negatives, depending on the combat scenario. While the assault rifle endures as a proficient all-rounder, the shotgun is better when tackling meatier enemies, with the precision rifle used for long-range encounters. Slightly more exotic is the plasma rifle with its ricocheting rounds and energy shield, and just as interesting is the spike gun, spraying enemies with explosive needles which can be triggered manually.
No matter which weapon you have equipped, they all feel just as intuitive to hold and require a keen eye to shoot with. Firing from the hip is certainly viable though targets further away will need to be tracked using your weapon’s sight or scope. Lining up shots demands an actual degree of skill and timing, making each kill or one-shot suitably rewarding.
Just as important to the game are its enemies. Starting out, you’ll only run into the first of Farpoint’s hostile factions – a horde of chittering, insectoid-like creatures. There’s a small yet succinct variety to them though on one or two occasions it felt as though they were being idly thrown into battles en masse. Thankfully, the moment they start to feel dull, Farpoint chucks in a much more robust sect of aliens and robots to fight against. This immediately changes the flow and pace of firefights, forcing players to use cover more tactically.
This cycle, of shooting down enemies and stumbling upon story beats, lasts for around six or seven hours depending on skill rating. While it would have been nice to have some meandering in between – some puzzle sections, maybe? – the campaign is nicely put together without overstaying its welcome. The only major issue we had during our playthrough was the uneven checkpoint system. With no autosave indicators on-screen it’s hard to tell where you’ll end up after respawning or after switching the game off.
For those wanting more from Farpoint, there are two options. Challenges serve up slightly remixed sections from the campaign with varied enemy groups and a focus on fastest times and high scores. Online co-op offers pretty much the same, but with larger bespoke maps and a higher density of enemies to blast through. The setup allows friends to quickly load into a game, though matchmaking is hampered by having too many adjustable parameters. As we’ve seen in other multiplayer VR titles, the online servers are rarely teeming with players past launch week. Therefore, having some kind of quick match option would be ideal.
With Farpoint, Impulse Gear set out to achieve a goal: to create a traditional first person shooter that works in virtual reality. In that respect, the game is a major success. Although not as fully-featured as its non-VR contemporaries, it captures those essential elements and makes them work in a space that doesn’t require overt tracks or handrails. The joy of cranking headshots and feeling like a real-life space marine is a novelty, but one that will eventually wear off. When it does, Farpoint becomes less remarkable, though its immersive Aim controller gunplay definitely gives it the edge over every other shooter currently available for PlayStation VR.