How Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission renewed my excitement for PS VR.
My first impression of PlayStation VR was mostly positive. The initial glut of games and experiences were intriguing, if not completely fulfilling. Some titles, such as Batman Arkham VR, Rez Infinite and Wayward Sky, were impressive enough to suggest that virtual reality was a welcome and potentially revolutionary addition to the videogame landscape.
That said, the physical drain of using the headset makes me feel that – in its current form – VR will remain a supplementary gaming platform rather than become the new norm. It’s was almost always a relief to remove the headset, no matter how impressive I find any particular game and although many titles don’t make me feel nauseous, a significant number do.
The result is that I now approach new virtual reality experiences with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. That’s hardly an ideal scenario, and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.
So congratulations to Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission for being the most comfortable, yet exciting, VR game I have experienced by some distance.
X-Wing VR Mission arrives quite late to the space-shooter party. Each VR platform is already host to a number of games that imitate the classic Star Wars dogfight. These include EVE: Valkyrie, the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare VR mission and – to some extent – Scavenger from PS VR Worlds. In each of these games the experience of flying through space was enough to send me running – or crawling – to the bathroom. However, Criterion and Dice – the co-developers of X-Wing VR Mission – have managed to create a game that, for me at least, is smooth and pain free.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why X-Wing VR Mission is so different but Criterion have clearly used a range of techniques to reduce that sense of discomfort. The first is a subtle learning curve that slowly acclimates the player into moving in a three-dimensional space. In the game’s opening scenes the action is fairly static, there’s little to do other than fly in a straight line towards a checkpoint. However, as the game progresses the player is gradually required to stretch themselves with increasingly sophisticated manoeuvres, a trip through an asteroid field makes for the perfect training ground. By the time the shackles come off, chasing down enemy TIE Fighters is second nature. In comparison, Sony’s Scavenger throws the player into space all too quickly with a dizzying scene that is spectacular but extremely disorienting.
X-Wing VR Mission has the advantage here, of course. Its opening can afford to be slightly mundane from a game-play perspective because, well, it’s Star Wars. Although you’re just flying from point-A to point-B, it matters little when the rebel fleet exits hyperspace around you and a thousand childhood dreams come true.
The ingrained memory of how Star Wars looks and feels also plays into the experience. We’ve been watching X-Wings on screen for 40 years now, so we know how a these ships move. That knowledge does some of the heavy lifting in terms making the player comfortable, as does the shape of the ship itself. The long nose of an X-Wing acts as an anchor on the field of view, an ever present horizon that helps communicate your position within the wider environment.
And however cynical you might be about the Star Wars franchise, there’s no denying that it has a certain magic, particularly if you grew up with the original trilogy. In one jaw-dropping moment an Imperial Star Destroyer enters the screen from above. The scene is always perfectly framed because the game discretely takes control to ensure that you are in the right place at the right time. In most games this kind of hand-holding would be jarring, but here – in the void of space where it’s difficult to perceive when that guidance takes over – it works beautifully and the result almost brought a tear to my eye.
That emotional resonance plays a huge part in making X-Wing VR Mission a success. Not only is it a finely crafted piece of fantasy fulfilment, it’s also a perfect example of how subtlety of control combined and an invisible, non-intrusive guiding hand can work wonders. The result is a virtual reality experience of the highest calibre that is thrilling, emotionally affecting and, most importantly, kind on the stomach. X-Wing VR Mission is proof that the problem of comfort in VR is firmly down to how well a game is developed and optimised.