Farpoint review: In space you’ve never needed a PlayStation VR Aim Controller so badly
Farpoint is a PlayStation VR tale of two halves. On one side it’s an emotionally charged journey of survival, human bonding and, ultimately, acceptance. The other side to Impulse Gear’s tale of planetary abandonment appears to be little more than a linear light-gun game on the surface – albeit an incredibly enjoyable one.
Despite these two diverging halves, Farpoint’s story has the same point of origin. The game opens near one of Jupiter’s moons, where a team of scientists is investigating a strange singularity that seems to inexplicably float in a fixed point in space, spewing seemingly limitless energy, ripe for harvesting. One thing leads to another and you end up on the other side of the anomaly, stranded on an alien world, searching for the two missing scientists and crew who also passed through with you.
It’s here that things split. The tale of the scientists’ fates plays out via cutscenes between levels, as well as some in-level holograms at pivotal points during your single-player journey. It’s testament to Impulse Gear that the mo-capped actors and facial tracking pay off: this has to be one of the best stories told in a VR game. That doesn’t make it perfect, partly because some of the story threads are unresolved by the time the credits roll, but you do actually find yourself caring about the fate of these stranded astronauts.
The more gamey section of Farpoint sees you take up the mantle of the one-man rescue squad as you figure out what fate has befallen the stranded researchers. This plays out as walking down a mostly linear path, shooting things with your gun and occasionally scanning some environmental objects to unfurl further story details.
That may not sound compelling but, in actuality, Farpoint is brilliant fun to play. Thanks to the inclusion of the new PlayStation VR Aim Controller, which was designed by Sony in partnership with Farpoint developer Impulse Gear, firing off weapons on the alien planet feels fantastic. The guns have the same pleasing audio and visual punch as they do in the likes of Halo or Destiny.
Weapon choice is also reasonably diverse. Alt-fire modes on each weapon provide interesting changes to the flow of battle, meaning you’re unlikely to stick with one or two trusty weapons throughout the entire campaign. Impulse Gear also ramps up the enemies speedily, moving from headcrab-like crawlers and venom-spewing critters straight from Tremors to robots and more mysterious foes. You’ll also face off against titanic bosses that feel like something out of Metroid Prime rather than your regular FPS bullet-sponges.
Farpoint review: Aiming steady
Those who find themselves getting a bit queasy playing VR games may want to take Farpoint a little easier than others. Generally I don’t suffer too much from motion sickness in VR, but in the early stages of Farpoint I couldn’t keep going for more than ten or 15 minutes at a time. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem in other VR games, but Impulse Gear has created the first truly AAA VR gaming experience, and some levels take 20-30 minutes to complete.
Thankfully, making proper use of the PlayStation VR Aim Controller helps alleviate the problem. Sony’s oddly shaped arrangement of plastic tubes magically transforms into a realistic-looking weapon when you don your VR headset. By focusing my attention onto it when moving with the Aim Controller’s thumbstick, all my motion sickness melted away. It crept back during some of Farpoint’s more intense sections – mostly because I’d aim one way, look another and run in a different direction – but it was enough to keep me playing without barfing everywhere.
Aside from alleviating VR sickness, the PlayStation VR Aim Controller is the secret to Farpoint’s success. Without it, Farpoint is an enjoyable VR FPS experience, but nothing groundbreaking in the wider world of games. With the Aim Controller, each new shooting gallery you enter into becomes a playground to immerse yourself within.
Admittedly, I spent most of my time playing Farpoint seated. I couldn’t position my camera high enough to let me stand and play comfortably. In the moments I did play while standing, however, I found I couldn’t help but duck and dodge reflexively. You’ll look like a fool playing it, but you can’t see who’s watching you, so who cares, right?
That level of freedom comes from seeing a one-to-one mapped gun in your hands where you’re holding the PlayStation VR Aim Controller. Physically, it looks like a prop from Logan’s Run, but that lightweight design means it’s no more cumbersome to hold than a DualShock 4 controller, and feels just as solid and comfortable too. If you don’t opt for the PlayStation VR Aim Controller Farpoint bundle, you can still play it with a DualShock 4 controller; however, Farpoint’s immersion comes from the marriage of the onscreen gun’s physicality and your in-game actions, so using a DualShock 4 just isn’t quite the same.
Farpoint review: Space buddies
Once you’ve worked your way through Farpoint’s single-player campaign, Impulse Gear has also included a rather enjoyable score-based, co-op mode. On the surface this seems like a cursory addition, giving you four arenas to work your way through, shooting increasingly difficult waves of enemies ripped straight from the single-player game.
When you dive into it, however, co-op is fantastic amounts of fun. It’s brilliant to be able to see a friend in a VR environment and chat to them via the PlayStation VR’s in-built microphone. Audio is crisp and clear; there’s seemingly no lag; and flailing your gun around in front of their face is great fun. The novelty of playing a VR game with a buddy in what feels like a full-body experience will eventually wear off, but for now it’s compelling enough to work as an extra selling point for Farpoint.
Co-op play also includes some features that are mysteriously absent from the single-player game. In single-player mode, if you die you go back right to the beginning of a section – and sometimes that “section” restart point is back at the start of a level. That may not sound too bad, especially as it’s usually only ten minutes or so of play time, but ten minutes of intense VR gaming can be quite tiring. In co-op, checkpoints come every couple of waves and every time you switch arenas, meaning you’re never much further than five minutes away from where you died.
You can also be revived by a partner in co-op, yet in single-player you go back to the last checkpoint. This makes sense on a narrative level, but it would have been nice to be given at least a second chance via a suit life-support system or some such.
Farpoint review: Verdict
With Farpoint, Sony and Impulse Gear have endowed PlayStation VR with its most accomplished game so far. The story doesn’t quite hit the heights of a big-budget, first-party PlayStation game, but because its world feels so convincing in VR it doesn’t have to work so hard.
The game is visually stunning on PS4 Pro and it looks better than anything else for PlayStation VR when played on a standard PS4. Impulse Gear’s attention to detail in its VR world is notable because there’s nothing to criticise – everything just feels right.
Indeed, for those dubious about how well an FPS game can work in VR, Farpoint delivers the answer and it’s resoundingly positive. Yes, its secret weapon is the PlayStation VR Aim Controller, and this does bump up the price of game to £80, but it’s clear that Impulse Gear has put a lot of work into building and refining every facet of Farpoint.
There does remain one issue around Farpoint and, unfortunately, it has nothing to do with how good it is. The chief problem Sony has to overcome is the PlayStation VR Aim Controller’s future. Will people want to invest in another peripheral on top of the PlayStation VR, PlayStation Camera and PlayStation Move controllers, just to play one game? Let’s hope Sony manages to keep the Aim Controller-enabled VR games coming, because Farpoint deserves your attention.