This is Sony’s second E3 showing featuring their PlayStation VR (PSVR) headset. This year’s lineup is a mix of fresh ideas and ones we’ve seen before. They range from a military shooter that makes use of the Aim motion-controlled gun, a side scrolling adventure, competitive dodgeball and psychological horror. Here’s what’s worth getting excited for and what looks like it still needs some time in the oven.
Star Child is one of those VR games that is impossible to convey in something like an E3 press conference. A 2D side scroller/puzzle platformer with 3D elements doesn’t seem like it would be a good fit for VR, but it works wonderfully when you experience it. The game allows you to sit back and see a wider view of the level, or lean in and see all the detail in this gorgeous sci-fi world. As most side-scrollers run left to right, you can physically look to your right to see what lies ahead in the level.
In its current form the VR aspect is just for observation, but it does add that level of immersion that VR often does. The demos was a very small glimpse of things to come. “Star Child” is early in development and will be available for PSVR and non-VR next year.
“The Inpatient” is another chance for Supermassive games to bring the scares in VR. I’ve always believed that horror is at home in VR, and apparently Supermassive agrees after developing games like “Until Dawn: Rush of Blood.”
You play a character from the first-person perspective who is institutionalized and suffering from amnesia. You can choose dialog options to try to unravel the mystery of your past. The gameplay varies from full motion and being able to walk around with the analog sticks on a controller to being on rails if you’re being wheeled down the halls of the hospital strapped to a wheelchair. The final version will have voice recognition so you’ll be able to say your responses rather than choose on-screen prompts. Not enough VR games take advantage of the PlayStation’s built-in microphone. This feature wasn’t included in the demo version, but I’m curious to see how well it works.
According to the dev team, the game is set in the same world as “Until Dawn,” but is its own story. It’s unclear if characters we’ve met in that game will make an appearance. It’s not even clear what time period “The Inpatient” is set, but it looks like it could be the 1950’s or 60’s.
The E3 demo was a bit of a slow burn that ramped up with creepy environments and true jump scares toward the end. Supermassive managed to make a rail shooter creepy in “Rush of Blood,” and it looks like they’re set to succeed once again in “The Inpatient.” Unfortunately, PSVR is your only gateway into “The Inpatient,” there are no plans for a non-VR version.
“Bravo Team” is another game from Supermassive that is tonally different from their other projects. This game takes advantage of the Aim controller that was first introduced with the sci-fi shooter “Farpoint.” “Farpoint” doesn’t just work because of the controller, but because of the exploration. “Bravo Team” doesn’t appear to have that, and relies on movement from cover to cover rather than fully free movement.
This game is a co-op military cover shooter. You’re looking for available cover that allows you to advance your character through a linear level. Once you’re in cover, you pop out, shoot your enemies and advance once it’s safe to do so. The Aim controller works well enough, but a game needs more than just shooting in a VR setting. The game is early, so we’ll see if the final version will be more intriguing. That will take some work in its current state.
Here’s the biggest surprise of from Sony’s VR showing. “Sparc” is an online competitive VR game that plays like high-tech dodgeball. Throwing and catching ball is one of the oldest and most tried and true forms of fun. “Sparc” takes full advantage of the joy that throwing a ball can bring and adds a layer of competition.
Two players are stationary on opposite sides of a long hallway, and each player has their own ball that spawns in front of them. They can grab that ball with move controllers (the game is only playable with Move controllers) and hurl it down the hall at their opponent. While holding your ball, you can generate a shield that can deflect your enemies throw, and send it back to them as your offensive throw. When trying to stay out of the way of an incoming ball, you can dodge, punch it with gauntlets or deflect it with the shield. Whichever player scores the most hits in the time limit wins.
The action plays a little like air hockey. You can choose to bounce your throws off of the walls so the opponent won’t be able to track it by the time it gets close enough to score, or you can try to throw a heater down the middle.
My only concern is having an overpowered turtle approach to the game. A player could score one point early, and then just hold onto their own ball to use the one-hit shield and basically just try to avoid incoming throws without taking any offensive chances. Having timed matches makes that approach appealing and could slow down the action.
If the demo was any indication, “Sparc” could be a PSVR hit. It was certainly the most lively PSVR demo setup in the Sony booth. The two people competing were in headsets next to each other, and the competition was heated.
There is room for competitive VR to grow, and “Sparc” is bringing creative ideas to that scene. I’m looking forward to playing the final version with friends later this year.