PlayStation VR launched last October without a true “killer app.” While games like PlayStation VR Worlds and Batman: Arkham VR helped to introduce players to the headset’s impressive technology, the experiences pale in comparison to standard PlayStation 4 games.
Farpoint, a first-person shooter from developer Impulse Gear, aims to deliver a PlayStation VR game that stands toe-to-toe with traditional science-fiction shooters, while offering an entirely new way to play, thanks to a new gun-shaped controller, the PlayStation VR Aim, which comes bundled with the physical version of the game.
The results are mostly successful: Farpoint’s tight shooting makes a great case for the Aim and PSVR as a destination for future virtual shooting. Unfortunately, that cannot make up Farpoint’s lack of plot and reliance on sci-fi tropes, which drag down the overall experience. While it excels technically, too much of Farpoint feels “good for PSVR” rather than genuinely thrilling.
Farpoint wastes no time introducing you to its hostile desert-filled alien planet. After a mission to research a radiation anomaly near Jupiter goes haywire, the crew of the Pilgrim exploration vessel, including the player character, whose simply known as “the pilot,” are sucked through a wormhole and left stranded. With his ship destroyed and its crew separated, the pilot ventures into a world filled with bugs, robots, and giant space-spiders.
Even with enemies quickly swarming you, and little time to learn the game’s intricacies before blasting away, the game is incredibly easy to pick up. When using the Aim controller, the basic mechanics become literal pointing and shooting. By lining up the Aim controller with your headset, you can quickly look down the weapon’s holographic sights and take aim at a target. Pulling the trigger delivers a healthy dose of rumble with the bullets to help you forget it isn’t real. Before too long, you’ll go from lining up each shot to firing from the hip with impressive accuracy.
The same can’t be said for Farpoint’s movement. By default, you control your physical movement — walking forward, backward, and strafing side-to-side — with an analog stick on the Aim’s front handle, while controlling your field-of-view by turning your head. You look and aim around environments in order to turn. It sounds intuitive, but leads to situations where, since you aren’t actually moving your feet, you’ll be twisting around in satanic yoga poses just trying to look behind you. There is a setting that offloads turning your body to the Aim’s second analog stick. This kind of movement qualifies as an “advanced” VR maneuver. Like quickly turning 180 degrees, there are some motions that people new to VR simply should not try, so Farpoint’s ideal controls won’t be paletteable for everyone. We encountered some “VR sweats” and nausea early in our playthrough as we learned to adjust.
While you can play Farpoint without the Aim Controller, which might be tempting given that the game is cheaper without it, the game is an absolute nightmare on a standard DualShock 4 controller. Instead of adapting the game to allow for more traditional dual-stick aiming, the layout is largely the same when using a regular gamepad. You still must actually hold the controller in front of your face like a “gamer” in a stock photo shoot, lining up each shot before lowering it and figuring out where you’re standing. Beyond being uncomfortable and silly, it isn’t suited for the game’s considerable difficulty. Most enemies move too quickly for you to line up a shot from the controller’s natural position in your lap.
Stranger in a familiar land
For a game built around exploring a mysterious planet, Farpoint’s world doesn’t feels especially fresh or compelling. Much of the game takes place in a desert littered with flaming debris. It fits the game’s dreary tone, but also punctuates its general lack of variety. Though the game only lasts a few hours, its locations and battles all start to bleed together into a single, long-running shooting gallery.
For a game built around exploring a mysterious planet, Farpoint’s world isn’t particularly unique.
Through the game’s opening hours, the only enemies you’ll encounter are vicious, quick-moving space bugs. While they make for a great introduction to the game’s unorthodox control scheme, the enemies look and feel generic. Many movies and games with similarly bland critters, such as Starship Troopers and the Earth Defense Force franchise, prop up their cliché premises with humor and personality, but Farpoint stays silent on the issue. The ridiculousness of mowing down waves of spiders or literally “popping” bugs armed with goo-sacs is apparently lost on the pilot, who isn’t one for cracking jokes – in fact, he isn’t really one for talking at all. He speaks so infrequently throughout Farpoint’s five-hour campaign that it’s easy to forget he’s even there.
The game does have an interesting narrative, but it is completely divorced from your gameplay. As you make your way across the mystery planet, you encounter holographic diary entries from your two lost companions, Grant and Eva. Their separate, occasional story injects character and plot into a game that would otherwise feel completely hollow. That said, even that story takes a little too much influence from a few recent science-fiction films. Outside of these diaries, the pilot’s moment-to-moment story is entirely predictable. The game’s biggest twist, taken wholesale from one of a recent sci-fi film, doesn’t help make his mission seem worthwhile.
Farpoint is at its best when it throws narrative to the wind and just lets you blast through waves of enemies as fast as you can. The chances to do this in the campaign are plentiful, but they don’t compare to the game’s excellent “challenge” mode, which focuses exclusively on the game’s primary strength — fast, immersive shooting.
Functioning like a sort of Time Crisis clone, you’re forced to quickly fight through time-limited zones, racking up a high score and attempt to reach the next checkpoint. Like the campaign, the levels all kind of bleed together, but each challange mixes the various enemy factions together, presenting a wider array of challanges. Fighting tooth-and-nail to beat your score is exhilarating enoygh to keep you coming back to Farpoint well after you’ve put the campaign behind you, especially if Impulse Gear supports the game with new post-launch maps and challanges.
Farpoint offers a two-player cooperative version of challenge mode, though it isn’t quite as fun. Instead of racing through each area, partners must defeat every enemy and unlock a shielded door that will allow them to advance. While technically sound, it feels bland compared to the intensity of the single-player challenges.
Had it been developed as a traditional first-person shooter, Farpoint would have been overlooked immediately – its bland world and cherry-picked plot points just don’t separate it from the pack. But when coupled with PlayStation VR and the Aim controller, it’s a thrilling shooter that will give PS VR-owners a good reason to put on their headsets.
Is there a better alternative?
No. Farpoint’s campaign offers the best shooting on PSVR, and even with its story issues feel more complete than much of what we’ve seen on PlayStation VR so far.
How long will it last?
We completed the Farpoint campaign in about five hours. The cooperative and “challenge” modes will likely add a few more.
Should you buy it?
Only if you purchase the bundle with the PlayStation VR Aim controller. Without it, Farpoint is a frustrating slog.