Virtual reality is supposed to be the next big thing in video games, but we’re still waiting for a singular title to demonstrate the platform’s trailblazing possibilities. Outside of notable exceptions like Resident Evil VII and Robo Recall, the majority of experiences so far have been little more than demo-sized proofs of concept. Impulse Gear’s first VR game, Farpoint, is much more ambitious.
This sci-fi shooter places you in the spacesuit of a pilot flying a routine mission to pick up some scientists studying an energy anomaly near Jupiter. During the boarding process, the anomaly surges, sucking in the scientists and your ship. When you wake up hours later on an unknown planet, you must search for any living crew while fending off the hostile threats of this alien world. From there, the story unfolds largely via holograms you find along the way, and while it won’t win a Nebula Award, the tale is compelling enough to draw you into the next firefight.
VR developers are still trying to solve locomotion, so nearly every game tries a different navigation solution. Farpoint gives you control of one analog stick to let you move forward, backward, and side to side as if you were riding on a camera dolly. The movement is awkward, but I adjusted to it over time. It feels more natural than the teleportation solution favored by other first-person shooters, though it’s higher impact for those prone to simulation sickness.
Farpoint can be played with a standard controller, but it excels with the bundled PlayStation VR Aim controller (which costs an additional $30). This gun-shaped peripheral feels natural and was surprisingly accurate as long as I didn’t move to the boundaries of the tracking area. Its best feature is the holographic sight Impulse Gear programmed into the game; you can quickly switch from staring down the sights to taking a wider view of the environment just by lifting your head slightly.
Your journey through this unknown planet pits you against a variety of arachnids, aliens, and robots. The enemy variety keeps the shooting fresh, but I quickly grew bored of the monotone, largely barren environments. Impulse Gear sprinkles a few boss fights that demand calculated approaches to keep the action fresh, and you gain access to new weaponry as you work your way through the approximately six-hour campaign.
Farpoint feels like a throwback shooter, favoring corridor fights and weapon pickups of yesteryear to the more wide-open affairs and customizable weaponry of modern console games. The game suffers from a few quality of life issues. The poorly designed checkpoint system doesn’t save your progress if you have to turn off your console, instead restarting you at the beginning of the level. You can only pick up ammo for the weapon you are currently holding, which means if you want to restock on rockets for your assault rifle and grenades for your shotgun under-barrel attachment, you need to pull out each one.
As a virtual reality showcase, Farpoint combines many of the more riveting techniques I’ve seen in other VR experiences. You get an incredible sense of scale facing off against towering enemies like a giant queen spider. Smaller arachnids attack by jumping at your head, forcing you to quickly duck if your shot doesn’t turn it into blood mist. Falling rocks and other ambient noises keep your head on a swivel as you prepare for the next threat. Some large-scale battles create an amazing spectacle with laser fire piercing through the air and a cacophony of explosions all around you. Impulse Gear may not bring many new ideas to the table, but I haven't seen many other VR games stitch so many of these moments together.
In addition to the campaign, Farpoint offers some offline challenges to test your mettle and a handful of online cooperative maps as well. These small combat scenarios send waves of enemies to your positions as you advance with a friend through the same boring locales as the campaign. The multiplier-driven scoring system lets you compare your performance to other players, but these modes are little more than diversions.
Farpoint is not the system-selling game the PSVR desperately needs. This competent shooter sews together a few VR thrills and benefits from the excellent PlayStation Aim controller, but the linear design feels dated by comparison to contemporary shooters. Therein lies the rub for virtual reality right now – you can’t innovate with dated concepts, even if they have a sheen of novelty overlaying them.