Hands-on: Blast disgusting spider aliens in VR with Farpoint

Are you really creeped out by spiders? Were you one of those people who couldn't play Skyrim because the spiders in the game were just too realistic (there are mods to help with that, by the way). Does the idea of monstrous spider aliens of various sizes jumping straight at your face with fangs dripping toxic goo sound terrible to you?

Welcome to Farpoint, a game coming to PlayStation VR that is most definitely NOT compatible with arachnophobia. 

Exploring a brave new world

Here's the official word on what Farpoint is all about: 

"Farpoint is an unnerving VR space adventure set on a hostile alien planet. On a mission to pick up scientists studying an anomaly near Jupiter, a rupture from the anomaly transports the player and scientists to an unknown alien world."

Story details beyond that were scarce in my hands-on time with Farpoint at E3 2016, but this much was clear: 

1. You are exploring an alien planet in some fashion, but...

2. It also seems like you are exploring a holographic/computerized reconstruction of that planet, as progressing to certain points in levels would trigger a computer voice saying something about "data being recovered" and a new portion of the world would be built around you. 

3. You were probably expecting trouble, because you're carrying a weapon (a simple automatic rifle). You also have a chance to pick up a shotgun, rockets, and grenades from your environment, left behind by people we don't see.

4. At one point you see a hologram of someone in a space suit marveling at the world you're exploring and talking to someone you don't see. He comments that gravity isn't constant on this world, and seems unconcerned about possible danger. I'm guessing it might be his mission recording you're exploring in Farpoint, but I could be wrong. 

5. This planet is arid and rocky, with numerous canyons and passageways (which help place barriers on your movement and sort of act like a subtle rails system). 

6. The planet is loaded with HORRIBLE SPIDER CREATURES. 

My god, it's full of spiders

The Farpoint demo did a good job of building tension before the first enemies appeared, and deserves extra credit for establishing a creepy atmosphere in the bright of day, rather than relying on darkness. But it wasn't too long before I was blasting my way through leaping, spider-like enemies.

The first and most common type of foe was about the size of a cat, and came skittering along the ground and walls (or sometimes jumped from rocks overhead). These enemies were easy enough to dispatch with some decent aim, but seeing one leap right for your face in VR is seriously unnerving, and they were a real pain in the later fights when I was concentrating on more dangerous enemies. 

As the demo progressed the enemies got bigger and uglier, and included human-sized beasts that launched projectiles from venom sacks on their backs and heavily armored spiders that burrowed into the ground to approach and required several shotgun blasts to kill. The demo ended with the appearance of a building-size monster I can only assume was a boss, but fortunately I didn't need to try to kill it before everything faded to black. 

PlayStation VR and Aim

I've used PlayStaton VR a few times now, and I still find it to be the most comfortable of the big three VR headsets. It's more plasticy and rigid than the Vive or Oculus, but this comes along with a lighter construction that allows more air to flow around your head. PSVR might not be the most technically impressive headset of the bunch, but it seems like it might be better for marathon sessions. 

I rarely had to worry about anything behind me in Farpoint, which I'm fairly certain was intentional. Turning around quickly to look behind you isn't an easy thing in VR, and I'd wager that Farpoint will function as a soft-rails shooter in which you move down large corridor-shaped areas and fight enemies that approach from the 180 degrees in front of you. Being ambushed from behind would be intense and scary the first time, but it's likely to be more frustrating than fun if it's a common part of the experience. 

I experienced some minor nausea with Farpoint, as I do with nearly every VR game in which you move using an analog stick, rather than teleporting or moving in real life. In Farpoint you aim yourself with your head and move forward and back with the stick on the front handle of the gun, which works fine functionally but can make you feel a little disoriented. I did get used to it during the course of the demo though, and it wasn't nearly as bad as what I've experienced with other VR games.

The Aim gun looks pretty silly (all the PlayStation Move-style controllers with their colorful glowing orbs are laughable) but inside your VR headset all you see is a cool space gun, so who cares what it looks like in real life? The sticks and buttons on the Aim are easy to reach and use and, most importantly, the whole thing is light enough that you can imagine using it for a long time without your arms getting tired.

Shooting was tight and accurate with the Aim, which is essential in a game like this. Whether holding the rifle up high or shooting the shotgun from the hip, the Aim felt agile and responsive in real life and the tracking mostly seemed spot-on in the virtual world (aside from some clipping issues when a part of the gun model would move through my virtual body). I was impressed when I found that the rifle had a scope I could actually use to aim by raising the gun to my headset in a totally natural way, and it seems likely that Farpoint (and games like it) could finally make a compelling case for the return of "light gun" style peripherals. 

While the Vive and Oculus motion controllers work great for one-handed weapons in games like Space Pirate Trainer, they fall flat when attempting to simulate shotguns or rifles. The Aim excels at that, but it remains to be seen if there will be enough games released on the PlayStation and PSVR to justify yet another plastic peripheral puchase. 

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