While PlayStation’s Virtual Reality system hasn’t suffered from the same software drought its handheld system, the Vita, experienced; it has been a slow drip of games to say the least. Since Resident Evil 7 launched in January, there hasn’t been much to be hopeful for. What excited me most about SDCC this year was coming home. The con, after parties, and off-sites were the usual sun burn costing fun, but two games released for PSVR the week of the show had me anxious to get home and dust off the VR headset. Now that the popular Superhot VR has made its way to console and Skydance Interactive‘s first VR endeavor is here, we get to put them to the test. Both earn favorable results, but both perfectly demonstrate a big problem with PSVR hardware. Enjoy this 2-for-1 review and Sony editorial.
Developed by: Skydance Interactive
Published by: Skydance Interactive
Available on: HTC VIVE, Oculus, PlayStation VR
Remember the classic Terminator 2 Judgement Day arcade game where players put in quarters to shoot a mounted toy Uzi over all of John Conner’s war. Skydance Interactive have attempted to bring that type of junk food fun and combine it with the joy of piloting a mechanized death machine in Archangel.
Set in a post-apocalyptic America during the year 2089, players choose to play the role of Gabby or Gabriel Walker, codename “Guardian,” who has been selected by the United States Free Forces to lead the resistance against the tyrannical corporation HUMNX, a private conglomerate that governs what is left of a ravaged nation. As you begin the game, you’re given some heavy character motivation to keep you in the pilot’s seat of your giant war machine. Pounding through levels of the game reveals elements of your past to add some depth as well, think of it as Skydance’s version of the rift in Pacific Rim where Charlie Hunnam would share memories with the other Jager pilot. There’s a distinct disconnect though when it comes to character and plot in Archangel. It’s actually thin by comparison when you only care about your character and everything else merely gets you to the next stage but just barely. The story is serviceable but misses the mark on some of its potential in a case of creating a story that only exists to sell gameplay.
As far as actually playing the game goes, it has an arcade style fun factor as you annihilate enemy tanks, planes, and big robot dogs. Thanks to VR there’s more feeling of meatiness sitting in the cockpit of your mech and firing machine guns, missile launchers, and various other weaponry that would take down a small country. When you get to do these things Archangel is short bursts of challenging enjoyment. It does, however, suffer from a few glaring problems which may only be native the PSVR version, but you can not overlook. It’s 2017; when you notice a loading screen is taking too long chances are it’s taking too long. Then it takes quite a bit of time to get through the prologue/tutorial which makes it feel like a chore when all you want to do is get in your guardian and smash things. Even simply dropping players in the middle of the action would have helped story telling pace as a secondary effect. One of the other problems which stuck out to us was the arbitrary checkpoint system. When you’re beaten the game gives you the option of restarting the level or starting at the “last checkpoint”, trouble is there’s no indicator of what that is. Not having a way for you to control when you repair your damaged robot combines with the arbitrary checkpoints to feel a bit archaic. You could defend that last flaw by chalking it up to creating challenging gameplay but it should have been optional to play that way instead of by design.
Demos are like first dates, you’re meeting the fixed up version of someone where you may not notice some major red flags. We played a level of Skydance Interactive’s Archangel before at this year’s E3 in Los Angeles that while obviously hand picked, did represent a good amount of what we got in the full game. Once we spent review time with the game, the flaws a developer will seek you sweep under the rug appear. If Archangel wasn’t a VR title it wouldn’t be better than mediocre, fortunately, Skydance designed this as an experience more than a story driven game giving it a level of thrill that makes up for a lot. Archangel is what old-school arcade shooters can be for VR, mindless fun. On that level, it’s a decent investment if you’re looking for something to justify your VR hardware purchase.
It should also be noted, back in July, it was announced Skydance Interactive would be partnering with Skybound on a Walking Dead VR game. While it is still a long ways away, Archangel does give you some peace of mind knowing Skydance is capable of making a fun to play VR game.
7/10– Archangel is an average video game augmented by a fun VR experience that’s mired by some hard to ignore issues.
SUPERHOT VR (PSVR)
Developed by: Superhot Team
Published by: Superhot Team
Available on: HTC VIVE, Oculus, PlayStation VR
Everyone on HTC has been telling me how great Superhot VR is, now that it’s on the PlayStation VR I can tell you, it’s awesome. From the moment you start the game, you’ll be plunged into a warped Max Headroom style virtual death trap.
Superhot VR is training to become Jack Reacher, John Wick, or James Bond. Players are thrust into a danger room like untextured world where you’ll be attacked by bright red polygon formed enemies from all sides. Fists, knives, guns; if this were a situation where time follows the normal rules of physics, you wouldn’t stand a chance. Fortunately, in this world time only moves as you do. Standing still allows you to take in the scene to plan your best course of action. Once you decide if you’re going to go Jack Reacher or Jackie Chan, moving your hands, body, and head starts time. Everything moving in this manner creates an illusion that you’re thinking and reacting at superhuman speeds like a certain scarlet speedster or you’re Karnak from the Inhumans.
Pulling off sweet moves like snatching a gun from an enemy’s hand and shooting them with it or catching a gun out of the air makes you feel like Wesley Snipes in Blade or Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man or Wesley Snipes in his everyday life. For all your prowess, you’re far from invincible in this virtual world. It only takes one hit from a bullet, blade or fist to take you down while also having to avoid environmental hazards like a swinging beam, falling helicopter, or only having a stripper pole to take cover behind.
Superhot VR on PSVR suffers from some hardware limitations. Because the system’s only sensor is the PlayStation camera, it’s very limiting as far as the player’s range of motion. For example throwing a ninja star using the motion control can feel clunky if not timed perfectly. Objects on the floor are more of a struggle to pick up than they should be due to the camera’s small field of vision. I’ve never tried the game on the more tech heavy PC VR systems but those that have, tell me they’re able to move at least 3 feet in each direction before encountering any VR barriers.
Despite its hardware fences, Superhot VR is a step in the right direction on the promise of VR. The game puts you in a human limitation defying experience comic book fans have been waiting to get. This is as close as you can come to seeing the world through Barry Allen’s eyes and it’s a good a reason to make the VR leap for PlayStation owners.
9/10 Superhot VR is a super badass making training simulator within an unorthodox cyber punk world. Even by being handcuffed from first-gen VR hardware, it’s a fun experience that will make you believe you look cool while the rest of the world sees you like a crazy person with an ice bucket strapped to your head.
After reviewing both of these titles, two glaring problems with PlayStation VR hardware stood out. While the headset itself succeeds on being a sleek user-friendly plug and play style device; its supporting hardware desperately needs to catch up. The PlayStation Move controllers, which avatar the player’s hands in many games, are bulky and much too heavy in comparison to the rival Oculus lightweight, ergonomic, and compact touch controllers. Even sporting a thumb stick for future games to solve the issue of movement in VR. Seriously, try holding PlayStation Move controllers. Getting over the fact they look like what the Japanese probably see as a more efficient butt dildo, they’re not comfortable to hold and weigh more than they should. You could play a game like Archangel with the standard game controller but the move controllers do add a bit more immersion despite their flaws. The biggest issue with them was how tired a player’s hands will get holding them up and aiming all over the screen. It makes it unfeasible to play Archangel for more than 30min at most before having to put it down. Part of the reason PSVR is less expensive compared to its competition is the use of already existing peripherals, but this also makes it a slave to out of date specs. The PS camera which acts as the VR’s depth and movement sensor has a field of vision like a baseball strike zone. You can’t go too high and you can’t go too low. As demonstrated by Superhot VR, my hands would disappear before they touch anything I reach for on the floor. Where PC VR hardware uses multiple sensors to build a bigger box, Sony’s single camera only allows players a 2.5D plane of movement. With VR games evolving, PlayStation needs to make sure all aspects of its hardware can port over quality games being developed on other platforms.