Video Games Review: Farpoint (2017, PSVR) isn’t PSVR’s killer app, but represents a significant step forward

PSVR currently finds itself at a crossroads. Prior to launch, it seemed like Sony had everything they needed to absolutely crush their competition in the VR space — it had a price point that couldn’t be beat, an army of third-party developer talent curated over decades and a PS4 install base that is the envy of other hardware manufacturers. Six months down the road, however, and no must-play, killer app has materialised. That was, at least, until Farpoint appeared on the horizon. Sony’s marketing painted a rosy picture, insisting to anyone who would listen that this was it — PSVR’s killer app was coming. Unsurprisingly, that isn’t quite true.

Farpoint‘s story revolves around a trio of scientists who are stranded on an alien planet after a quest to discover an endless energy source goes horribly wrong. Your character, a new arrival, is seperated from the other two scientists before even really getting a chance to meet during an unexpected cosmic anomaly.  All three of you crash land on the same alien planet. Dusting himself off and shouldering a machine gun, your character embarks on a long walk, hoping to track the scientists down. He pieces together what has become of them through numerous video logs and taking a thoroughly unscientific approach to dealing with the local fauna.

All that stands between you and a perfectly enjoyable walking tour of this uncharted alien world is the seemingly endless parade of alien insects who are unhappy about your unannounced arrival. This is where Farpoint brings in its main gimmick, the PlayStation Aim Controller. Upon initial inspection, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s little more than a piece of moulded white pipe with a PlayStation Move nub on the end but the Aim Controller goes a lot deeper than that. Every button from the DualShock 4 is represented on the peripheral, including joysticks. You move the PlayStation Aim Controller around in front of your PlayStation Camera, it tracks the movement and allows you to shoot accurately. And it is pretty accurate.

The implementation of the Aim Controller is the game’s true highlight for me. This lump of plastic pretending to be a gun provided a litany of tiny, deeply satisfying discoveries. Lifting the gun to look down the iron sights revealed a laser targeting system. I caught myself tilting my head and closing one eye to better look down this sight. In VR. I mean, neat. Another nice touch is the way the Aim Controller’s nondescript shape allows it be chameleonic, morphing from machine gun, to shotgun, to whatever else it needs to be on command.  To swap between your weapons, you lift the gun one-handed over your shoulder as though putting it on your back in a mirror of shooter protagonists throughout the history of the medium. When you bring it to bear again, it will be a completely different weapon.

That aspect — the tactile, immersive aspect — is both Farpoint‘s strongest suit and its cleverest trick. It’s surprising how easy it is for Farpoint to pull you in. If a game could exude self-confidence, it would be this one. The thing is, the moment you take the VR trappings out of Farpoint, what you are left with is a shooter of rather average ambition. It doesn’t really do anything from a gameplay perspective you haven’t seen before, its enemies aren’t particularly bright or wildly varied and the level design following the game’s rollicking introduction feels like an especially sedate wander down a long hallway.

There are other bright spots — visually, the game is a treat for the eyes even through the PSVR’s blurry HUD and the two scientists you are tracking, played by Ike Amadi and *harp music* Laura Bailey, have a great rapport for instance — but by the time the credits rolled I felt a bit relieved that I could take the headset off. Farpoint, perhaps constrained by the limitations of the first-generation VR system it calls home, feels like a good example of style over substance. In terms of immersion and the implementation of its novel controls, Farpoint swings for the fences. Almost everywhere else, it seems quite content to rest on its laurels. It’s not the VR killer app that many are waiting patiently for, but it does represent a significant stride in the right direction.

Score: 6.0 out of 10
Highlights: Beautiful; Aim Controller extremely novel; *harp music* Laura Bailey
Lowlights: Beyond VR, nothing you haven’t seen before
Developer: Impulse Gear
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation VR
Available: Now

Reviewed on a PlayStation Pro running a PlayStation VR headset and using a PlayStation Aim Controller.