Sony has been on something of a roll with its PSVR titles this year, with the excellent Starblood Arena setting high standards for immersion and overall quality. Yet Farpoint, developed by San Francisco-based indie Impulse Gear, matches it on just about every level – and may even exceed it.
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While both games are shooters, there are significant differences in approach. Starblood Arena goes for the competitive model, akin to Overwatch, while Farpoint opts for something more in the Halo mold. Like Microsoft’s iconic franchise, this is very much a rapid-fire monster shooter with a story hook to keep players’ attentions through the campaign, while being far more immersive.
From the start, players are treated to a 360° treat for the eyes. Opening scenes, where you’re drawn into a breathtaking but terrifying wormhole-type event while on docking approach to a colossal space station, give way to a distant, unknown alien world filled with vast mountains, glowing caves, and strange terrain. Farpoint delivers spectacle at every stage, dazzling players before leaving them to hold their own against the natives – aggressive insectoid creatures of disturbing sizes and ferocity.
Sony / Impact Gear
You’re left to enjoy the sights thanks to a UI that’s wisely been visually stripped-back. There’s no HUD and no menus beyond the pause screen. Farpoint places you in a grounded, weighty world, where your reflexes and observations are more important than distracting visual data. Audio plays an important role too, with Impact Gear crafting a brilliant sound sphere around you that masterfully builds tension. The skittering of chitinous legs from above or behind you soon become a source of fear, and you’ll find yourself turning with a jolt when you realise something is coming up behind you.
Narratively, Farpoint tells its story in an almost epistolary fashion. After surviving the crash, you’re left to follow the trail of other survivors, notably researchers Dr Moon and Dr Tyson. Scanning and reconstructing holographic records or discovering their POV recordings pieces together the aftermath of the strange celestial event that transported you across the Universe, and the fate of the station’s crew. It proves an unexpectedly complex tale, buoyed by solid performances from the voice cast conveying the panic and desperation of being so isolated.
Farpoint’s strengths aren’t solely down to how well it builds its world though – a good chunk of its appeal is the PS VR Aim Controller and how it impacts and improves play mechanics. While you can play Farpoint with a regular controller, it’s drastically improved by using the new tool. Aesthetically, it’s far from Sony’s sexiest peripheral: a dull white parallelogram of plastic tubing with a conspicuous tracking orb at the front. Thankfully, it’s a joy to use; its cylindrical grips and symmetrical button layout making it ambidextrous and comfortable and justifying the additional price point.
Sony / Impact Gear
All of the control inputs from the familiar DualShock 4 pad are remapped onto the Aim Controller, giving a full range of features down to clickable thumbsticks and a tiny touchpad. It also has built-in rumble, providing a satisfying and surprisingly realistic recoil to firing each weapon. Held two-handed, the controller proves intuitive to use, with all buttons and triggers within a thumb’s reach. Accurate motion tracking has you picking out bugs with precision almost immediately, no matter where they’re attacking you from, while your forward motion feels naturally governed by the front thumbstick. It really is a revolution in shooter controls.
In-game, the clunky real-world Aim Controller is replaced with a virtual skin of whichever gun you currently have equipped. Unlike many FPS games, where you may settle on one or two weapons you favour, here there’s incentive to switch things up. Certain guns work better on specific enemies or have secondary fire functions unique to that model, while physical tricks make them genuinely fun to swap between.
It may not look like much, but the Aim Controller is a joy to use
The default rifle, which offers infinite ammo but overheats if you’re generous on the trigger, has a working sight scope. Bring the physical controller up to your eye level and you’re literally looking down its target. It’s such a simple, subtle effect, but it’s incredibly engaging, rooting you deeper into Farpoint’s world. Then there’s the shotgun, which you reload the chamber of by cocking the gun vertically like you’re in a Tarantino film. Each weapon has its own quirks, made possible by a combination of VR’s immersion and the Aim Controller’s motion controls.
Farpoint isn’t flawless though and shows telltale signs of its developers still trying to nail down exactly how a first-person shooter in VR should work. Despite the scope of the surroundings, you don’t have much freedom to explore, with the onward thrust of the game feeling relatively on-rails. Similarly, the appearance of enemies comes at specific points in your progression, making some sections feel like predictable shooting galleries.
Sony / Impact Gear
Movement itself is weirdly truncated, too, with the default locked to head controls through the PSVR headset. This means you only move forwards, or side-step left or right, based on where you’re looking and pointing your gun. It feels blocky and unnatural, in contrast to how it’s probably intended to feel. Thankfully, this can be changed in settings, letting the rear thumbstick on the Aim Controller move your body’s orientation – better enabling dodging and improving physical movement – and leaving your head motion to take in surroundings and watch for alien attackers.
Quibbles aside, Farpoint is a delight. It doesn’t hold the player’s hand as so many of this first generation of VR games do, guiding them through scripted encounters. Instead, it offers authentic, often challenging gameplay that is enhanced by VR rather than using it as a gimmick. It isn’t afraid to let you fail either, forcing you to improve – and with four co-op missions to battle through with a friend, there’s somewhere to put the skills you’ll learn in the single player campaign to use, too.
In a sector where all too many games feel like demos, Farpoint offers a complete, robust, and truly impressive experience. Coupled with the Aim Controller, this is a compelling argument for Sony’s virtual reality vision.