If you like to immerse yourself in wacky worlds virtual reality can be an unparalleled platform to play on. The only problem is, when new tech arrives it inevitably takes a long time until publishers are willing to invest the necessary time and money to craft something truly incredible, a ‘system seller’ as it were.
After spending a few hours working up a sweat behind the thick lenses of the HTC Vive, I’ve had a good chance to play Fallout 4 VR, Doom VFR and, quite unexpectedly, L.A. Noire VR. All three of these games offer an insight into how more developers might bring their popular games to virtual reality, however I can’t say every title here is a prime example of how to do it correctly.
Let me take you through my ‘heads-on’ experience with each of them.
Firstly, let’s start with L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files (HTC Vive)
I was giddy with excitement when Rockstar decided to remaster this detective game, but I was more surprised to hear that the 6 year old title was being rebuilt, in a limited fashion, to work in VR. How on earth were they going to rebuild an ancient game and implement a feature its original dev team, Team Bondi, didn’t even plan for? With a lot of effort, it seems.
As the name suggests, VR Case Files is not the complete L.A. Noire game. Instead, it’s a small collection of crime cases that have been pulled from the main game, before being plugged together to accommodate virtual reality’s unique and intimate style of gameplay. Whilst the game is obviously first-person there are still some scenes that pull you out to third-person for cinematic effect (which I felt a bit jarring).
In terms of controls Rockstar has tried to keep things intuitive and simple. There are several ways to walk around any given environment, one of which allows you to teleport by pointing where you want to go and another that tasks you with swinging your arms by your side (controllers gripped firmly in your hands) to propel yourself forward. Depending on your vulnerability to motion sickness the former may be a more popular method of transport.
As you’d expect, combing through a crime scene is still paramount and searching for details is easy enough. Simply pick up items and inspect them by reaching out with your hand and grabbing them by squeezing the controller’s trigger. Firing off a shot from your shotgun is equally familiar too, as you hold the weapon with two hands and cock the gun to load another round, before looking down the barrel and taking aim. When you’re not shooting suspects or searching for clues, you can even jump into your patrol car and go for a spin. Did I mention that you can also make doodles in your note pad with a virtual pencil?
Rockstar’s first foray into virtual reality is mostly successful. The only gripe I have is being pulled into a third-person perspective at certain intervals because it ruined the immersion. Here’s hoping more titles in Rockstar’s repertoire get a VR makeover as well.
Secondly I want to talk about DOOM VFR (HTC Vive, PSVR)
Bethesda’s 2016 remake of DOOM was a huge hit, but I would never have expected a VR version of the game. Thankfully, instead of a direct port, Bethesda has remade the game entirely for virtual reality. This is a brilliant move, because the game embraces VR by starting afresh and doesn’t attempt to stick and paste things together into a game that wasn’t originally built to handle it. With a huge roster of guns at your disposal it would be easy to write this off as ‘just another wave shooter’ and a lot of the time you are shooting a lot of enemies, but it’s much more than that. There’s a story campaign to follow, as well as an upgrade system in place, too.
The best part is when you shoot an enemy to weaken them: in the console version when an enemy glows you’d go up and melee them for a gruesome kill, but now when the enemy is glowing and ‘weakened’ you simply teleport onto them and make them burst into a pile of guts. It’s disgusting, satisfying and cool all at the same time.
Lastly, I want to discuss Fallout 4 VR (HTC Vive)
I’ll admit that whilst I love each of Bethesda’s huge open world video games and find them utterly engrossing, I often find it hard to commit the time and attention they deserve. Fallout 4 is a fantastic game filled with activities and I’ve played a surprising amount on the PlayStation 4, but getting face-to-face with its alluring world in VR has been both fun and disappointing.
Unlike L.A. Noire and DOOM, Fallout 4 doesn’t fully embrace virtual reality. You can’t control and interact with your surroundings in a realistic way. For instance, I wanted to pick up a mug and gulp down a hot cup of coffee – a la’ Job Simulator – but I couldn’t. I really wanted to pet my adorable dog companion and scratch him behind the ear, but all I could do is issue commands and stand next to him, without emotion. This is just the way Fallout 4 was built to run and to implement a more interactive set of features would have been a mammoth task for the team, though it doesn’t stop me from wanting to touch and grab its world. Instead I’m consigned to button presses and less interaction than I’m used to in a VR game. You also can’t see your hands and instead see a pair of floating controllers.
Regardless, I am amazed that Bethesda has converted the entirety of Fallout 4 to work in VR. It’s the only triple-A title, to my knowledge, that has been ported ‘in full’ with zero concessions. If you’ve ever wanted to experience the world of Fallout 4 first-hand this is still a brilliant adventure to get stuck into, or if you’ve exhausted yourself playing on console, hop into this HTC Vive exclusive for a fresh take.
I’ve enjoyed the current attempts to port existing triple-A franchises to VR, but there’s still room for improvement. It’s going to be tempting for a lot of developers to cobble something small together based on one of their existing series (Arkham VR is a good example), but I want the likes of Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty and even The Sims to get their own fully-fledged, feature complete versions in virtual reality. Imagine how awesome it would be to play The Sims and design a house by actually standing inside of it?
It won’t be enough to simply take the template of an existing game and shove VR in for the sake of it. A decent amount of effort, time and money will need to be applied. After that, the possibilities are endless.