PlayStation VR Worlds Review

Originally published on Trevor Trove on October 26, 2016

TL; DR(eview) – The collection of former tech demos by London Studios provides a decent bit of variety to make it an adequate pack-in with the PlayStation VR bundle but it might be worth skipping otherwise.

In the Project Morpheus days, members of the games media often discussed many of their first experiences with VR. Many of those experiences came from Sony’s London Studios and have found their way onto this PlayStation VR Worlds title, which comes included in the $500 PlayStation VR Bundle or can be purchases separately if you only opt for the PlayStation VR Headset.

Overall, I wound up feeling like this five-game collection still mostly serves as a proof-of-concept vision for what the future of the technology will hold. There’s one particular standout, a couple middle-of-the-road entries, and a couple of duds that exist more as novel experiences rather than fleshed out games. Given the nature of the collection, I’ll be looking at each of the five games individually.

The London Heist

TL; DR(eview) – The most fleshed out story of the set, The London Heist blends a series of slightly-interactive narrative scenes alongside more action-heavy set pieces.

One of the biggest demos I frequently heard about from the Project Morpheus days were related to London Heist. People would talk about the set pieces that would eventually be incorporated into this game: a diamond theft, and a car chase shoot-out.

The game itself is fun enough but ultimately winds up feeling like the prologue to a larger experience. You play a henchman, being held in a warehouse and questioned about your involvement in heist. The game switches occasionally from this warehouse scene to have you play through other key moments in the story: the initial meet in the pub where you get the details and the aforementioned scenes built around stealing the diamond and the getaway sequence.

The narrative scenes are mostly expositional: standard gang/heist fare. There are occasional moments of interactivity. For example, you can light a partner’s cigar or choose not to and the scene will play out slightly differently either way. With the entire story probably playing out in less than an hour, this interactivity is limited to small things like that so don’t expect Telltale-like “Frank will remember that” callbacks to your actions.

The action sequences are a bit more fun, bringing gunplay into the mix. Using a pair of Move controllers, you’ll be expected to hold your gun in one hand, and insert or reload a clip for ammunition with the other. This motion in and of itself feels quite natural but the inability to reload mid-clip (as we so commonly do in your typically shooters) took more getting used to, especially if I missed the animation of the empty clip falling out. I would occasionally end up pulling the trigger aimlessly a few times before realizing I was out. Aiming itself is probably the trickiest though as (at least in the default setting I played) there is no aim-assist or reticle to indicate just where I’m firing. It’s way more realistic and in-line with the immersion of VR, but it’s also way less fun to shoot at a couch when I think I’m aimed at the guy behind the couch.

In addition to the story, The London Heist has a series of shooting ranges to round out the game. These take the shooting mechanics from the core title and add in shooting gallery standards for players to chase a high score and leaderboards. They’re fun enough but the somewhat finicky controls mean pretty much all of the game’s shooting is trading in the precision we expect from modern shooters for the novelty of VR immersion.

VR Luge

TL; DR(eview) – VR Luge lacks the requisite sense of speed to accompany a title focused on the extreme sport of the downhill luge.

This is probably the weakest title of the set in my eyes. A game controlled entirely by the VR Headset head-tracking, VR Luge basically consists of you racing against the clock downhill, avoiding traffic and other obstacles by tilting your head to steer left or right.

A speedometer supposedly measure how fast you’re traveling but for a immersive experience like VR, I certainly never felt like I was racing downhill at 90 mph. And while hitting obstacles certainly slows your speed (and therefore time on the clock), I never felt a difference between going 60 and going 90.

Combining that with some fuzzy graphical fidelity and imprecise turning from the head-tracking and VR Luge winds up as a firm pass.

Ocean Descent

TL; DR(eview) – Ocean Descent isn’t a game so much as it is a virtual reality experience. Good introductory VR experience to non-gaming guests but not much else.

Ocean Descent is a single scripted experience that lasts about a dozen minutes. You inhabit a rookie diver on a salvage operation, descending deeper and deeper into the ocean, while a voice on the other end of your communications gear gives the faintest hints of world-building.

The movie plays out as written and nothing you do affects the world around you. Using PlayStation VR Headset’s head-tracking, you can look in whatever director you want to but that’s about it.

The underwater world the London Studio has crafted is pretty enough but is somewhat limited by the technology. Pretty much any sequence of ABZÛ from earlier this year puts the underwater world here to shame.

The climactic moment of the experience comes when a shark attacks the cage you’re in but the overall lack of interactivity with the world robs the moment of some of its potential impact.

There are two other “experiences” tacked on but both of these are nothing more than fragments of the whole parsed out with the vocal tracks removed.

Ultimately, the entire experience works as an introduction to VR for non-gamers (hence why I would rank it above VR Luge) but if you’re looking for something with more depth (walked right into that one), look elsewhere.

Scavenger’s Odyssey

TL; DR(eview) Like The London Heist, Scavenger’s Odyssey is a fun enough VR shooter. It would be a woefully disappointing first-person shooter on a console, but the novelty of VR adds a little something.

Scavenger’s Odyssey has you playing as an alien in the cockpit of a mechanized suit. The only game in the set controlled with a DualShock 4 controller, you move the mech with one analog stick, control the camera with the other, and use your head to aim your weapons. The shoulder buttons and triggers allow you to jump the mech around the environment, fire your laser weapons, and whip out an electrified lash/grapple hook.

The story, like The London Heist, is mostly basic tropes of the genre (in this case science-fiction obviously) and sees you scavenging asteroids and wrecked vessels in outer space. Meanwhile, you got someone on the other end of your communications device telling you where to go, while a mysterious otherworldly being occasionally pops directly into your mind to be enigmatic and talk about what’s really drawing you to this location.

Most of the gameplay consists of running around or jumping from space rock to space rock, occasionally shooting swarms of space bugs or bigger space creatures. Fun enough but ultimately forgettable. I also found it to be a very dark game and had trouble seeing what I was supposed to be shooting at in my headset.

Danger Ball

TL; DR(eview) – Sometimes the simplest games wind up the best and most-focused. First-person Pong mixed with a hint of Tron.

The easy standout from this collection, Danger Ball effectively plays like first-person Pong, where you control a paddle using nothing more than the PlayStation VR Helmet’s head-tracking in a trio of game modes: Tournament Play, Score Attack, and Quickplay. Outside of the immediate scope of the playing field, you can look around to see that you are playing in one large well-lit sphere (think Final Fantasy X Blitzball without the water) among many above and below you.

Both Tournament Play and Quickplay will have you facing off against random computer opponents in first-to-five competitions. The difference is Quickplay will be a single match while Tournament Play will pit you against five rounds of opponents, and then a sixth opponent that will embody each of the first five opponents for each of the five points you need to score to win. Every opponent you face off against has a special move. Dupe for example can duplicate the ball meaning you’ll need to deflect both back at it to prevent your opponent from scoring.

While you aren’t able to use any of the skills of your opponents, you are able to flick your head to the side as you connect and put some spin on the ball, curving it as it makes its way to the other barrier. Or you can lean into the ball as you connect (as if you were heading a soccer ball) in order to give it a little extra power.

The Score Attack mode trades in an opponent for a wall of assorted points blocks that you’ll need to aim for in order to build up your score and multiplier. Using three “lives,” your goal is to get the highest score possible. Sequential scores increase your multiple, which then drops if you hit a part of the back wall that is unmarked. And the continuous back and forth means the volley is regularly increasing in speed, giving you less time to react and respond accordingly.

All told, the simplicity of the game, combined with the variety of opponents and game modes, easily made this the most enjoyable game to just hop in and out of for a few matches, giving it far more replayability than the other titles.

Final Thoughts

A noteworthy inclusion in discussing PlayStation VR Worlds is that, regardless of how I find the quality of the overall package, there is no arguing the team at London Studio put a lot of care into its presentation. The main menu screen places you in the center of a temple as a ball of light comes toward you. Once in the room, it bounces around a series of statues transforming the ball and the environment to reflect the game that the statue represents. As the ball reaches the shark statue, for example, it turns into an orb of water and an underwater effect fills the temple.

In addition to each of the core game experiences above there are a number of challenges included in most titles (Ocean Descent is limited to just “playing” through each of the three offerings). The challenges themselves range in difficulty from simply playing through a part of a game to defeating all enemies in a section of The London Heist with just one clip of ammunition. As challenges are completed, the statues in the game lobby are upgraded from their base stone, to bronze, then silver, and finally gold for 100% of challenges completed. This provides a nice in-game reward (in addition to the PlayStation Trophies) and an extra bit of content to fill out the game but it’s probably not engaging enough to keep me coming back to the title.

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