There’s a common fantasy of wanting the ability to soar through the air, high above the streets, forests and hills until it’s just you and the clouds. Psytec’s Windlands is a VR game that kind of lets you experience that while navigating through floating ruins in an effort to learn the history of a people long gone following a disaster. You don’t quite fly in the game, using grappling hooks instead to traverse the environments, but it is probably the closest you’ll get to experiencing the sensation unless you go skydiving or can actually fly.
One thing you need to be aware of is that Windlands is a game where you need to have VR legs. There are some comfort options available, like making turning more staggered instead of smooth, and having a virtual cage around you to make it seem you aren’t quite free, but even with those active Windlands is a game you need to ease into. My first go I had to stop after ten minutes, while the second I managed around twenty. After a few short sessions I could play for a lot longer but the queasiness did re-appear later on.
There are three difficulty modes available in Windlands, split between easy, normal, and hard, The latter two make it so your grappling hooks only latch onto bushes and tree leaves while easy lets you grab any surface. While normal and hard are the more challenging options, easy makes Windlands a lot more fun to play through.
I tried the game on normal for a while but either kept missing a grab point and dying, or stopping to make sure I could make a jump. On the other hand when playing with easy mode Windlands felt much more open, allowing for plenty of deviation and exploration of the ruins which is required if you want to get all the collectibles within. Easy mode is definitely recommended when you first start.
There are three environments to explore, these being Jungle, City, and Sky, with each one having a few crystals to collect. You’ll start in Jungle and you’ll need to get a couple of the crystals to unlock City, and then follow a similar pattern there to open the Sky gateway. As you collect the crystals you’ll learn a bit more about the people that used to inhabit the world, but the story isn’t really that important here. You’ll instead be more focused on getting a handle on traversing the world instead.
The crystals also unlock challenge arenas where you must get through a course as quick as possible. In these you will only be able to latch onto greenery, even if you do play on easy mode, so it is advisable to get to grips with the game in normal difficulty before trying them. Before you begin you’ll see a global leaderboard with times from other players.
In Windlands you have two grapple hooks with each mapped to a trigger button. The way a lot of the paths are laid out mean you’ll alternate between the two while swinging along, using the momentum to bridge gaps as they get wider. If you look around it does feel like you are in the air, with ever increasing speeds helping to add to that atmosphere.
However it will take a lot to navigate the courses expertly, meaning that smooth runs are few and far between. You aim where you’re going to fire a hook through head tracking and at various points you’ll have to turn quickly to find somewhere to land.
Movement on the ground is quite fast too and it may be an idea to tone down some of the sensitivity. You go from standing still to sprinting in a matter of seconds, and while it fits Windlands’ overall tone of momentum it can catch you off guard. You also don’t come to a complete stop straight away, instead moving in the travelling direction a little further just as if you were running in reality. Here again those who are more prone to motion sickness may feel some negative effects.
Windlands does look beautiful even though its landscapes appear a bit basic at first. The way they’re rendered gives the world a unique look though, with plenty of bright colours everywhere you look. There are some genuinely impressive moments, particularly those involving the giant titans that move around the environments when woken.
Windlands is a decent VR experience boasting a unique type of movement. The issue is that those prone to motion sickness are unlikely to be able to play this for more than a few minutes even with comfort settings, at least at first. It’s also a bit bizarre that the higher difficulties restrict movement, making easy mode the best way to experience Windlands. There isn’t a lot of content but there is replayability value should you wish to beat run times. The story isn’t too important, outdone by the game’s visual design and music. Windlands captures the essence of soaring through the air, but sadly it simply won’t be for everyone.
Version Tested: PS4