Dreams Take Flight in Rush VR
Few dreams can rival the ones where we're flying, probably because it's always been our dream to fly. Now the freedom that it entails is at our fingertips with the virtual reality game Rush VR. Newly available on PSVR, is this wingsuit racing game worth taking the leap?
The Binary Mill's game sends players soaring down four mountains in three different modes. Verdant Valley, Frozen Alps, Sunburst Canyon and Misty Mountain feature 20 runs apiece for a total of 80 paths that range from basic downhill trails to expert-level daredevil runs through narrow spaces.
As of this writing, I played offline and sampled the different game modes and several runs on two different maps. Limited time and comfort level (more on that later) prevented a deeper dive though I hope to play more and will update as the opportunity allows. Note online play supports up to 11 friends or random gamers.
In Time Attack, players challenge their ghost time after an initial run. Score Challenge tasks participants with hitting big-point rings and taking big-point risks to maximize their score. And Race mode encourages competitors to race through every ring in order to avoid time penalties on their way to the winner's circle.
Time Attack of course forces players to take even more risks to shave off seconds from their best times. Score Challenge adds an extra layer of strategy by using concentric rings, themselves with rotating high-score targets. Race mode is standard but I found the AI to be competent and fair, i.e. not rubber-band prone at least in the early going.
How players experience the game depends in part on the setup they select. I played both standing and sitting, and used the Move motion controllers (with arms outstretched) and regular controller, respectively. Other options appear to involve turning hands or the analog stick.
Two headset sliders adjust steering sensitivity from low to high and a comfort vignette from off to full. I kept the former on high and the latter on full. There are also typical audio settings plus the opportunity to replay flight or boost tutorials, which have helpful walk-throughs (fly-throughs?) of gameplay mechanics.
To begin, the first run on the Verdant Valley map is unlocked by default. Each subsequent run is unlocked after completing the prior one. The other maps are unlocked with points scored by progressing through each challenge. Wingsuits are also unlocked during gameplay and can be swapped in between runs.
Playing with the Move controllers involves keeping arms outstretched as you soar down the mountain. With the non-inverted setting, raising them lifts players and lowering them dives, while leaning to the right or left turns players. Using the regular controller follows the same basic principles.
Rush VR benefits from strong, responsive controls whether using Move or standard controllers. Standing with outstretched arms helps immerse gamers in the windsuit fantasy but can be tiring over time when adjusting position constantly to hit every ring. Sitting with the regular controller is more comfortable and actually more precise.
The game's runs are well designed to judge by the beginning tracks, and that's testament to the way that either control option syncs well with the action but also to thoughtful design choices. Checkpoints in the form of rings are well placed to allow maneuvering between obstacles and course correction without cheap deaths.
Variables increase as players progress, with gamers threading obstacles like trees, outcroppings, tunnels, buildings and narrow gaps in between cliffs or hillsides, or hugging rock, grass, ski lifts or train tracks, for instance. Also present are elements like planes, hot air balloons, real-time weather like mist or lightning storms, and day or night runs.
Besides allowing easy maneuverability, Rush VR is exceptionally good at producing the sensation of speed. Landscape and obstacles zip past, blades of grass fly up when skirting valley slopes, sheets of water spread out as one flies through waterfalls, and droplets streak across one's vision during a rainstorm.
Red streaks show how close players are to a surface -- and therefore to gaining boost. When the bar is full, pulling the controllers' triggers initiates boost, illustrated as a circular ripple in the air like you might picture a sonic boom. Whether at normal speed or during boost, there is little lag to slow things down.
Part of that can be attributed to a presentation that is limited when judged against today's standards, with low-detail textures, landscape pop-in at a distance, and relatively simplistic design. However, VR games are not renowned for their presentation, and the aesthetic is more stylized than realistic.
The game's audio adds to the experience (though at times it can be repetitive), whether the air rushing past, thunder, birds or planes, etc.; status updates or words of encouragement from your announcer/handler; and audio cues when hitting checkpoint rings or the finish. The upbeat score is suitable accompaniment.
When in between challenges, there are still fun activities to pursue. Players can summon objects to shoot hoops with balls or cans (for a confetti reward), knock down stacked cans, and fire sticky Nerf type projectiles from a toy gun onto any surface including opponents It's all addictive, if mindless, entertainment.
An important consideration I've saved till last depends on individual gamers' physical tolerance for navigation in virtual reality. Unlike some games that have a variety of locomotion options to address every comfort level, games for which speed is a central component have limited alternatives for in-game movement.
For instance, I can play Skyrim VR or Farpoint indefinitely with snap turning and otherwise smooth locomotion. But I can't last more than 60 seconds in Driveclub. Thankfully, I was able to tolerate sampling each challenge, two maps and several runs in Rush VR, though with some discomfort.
Races interestingly had the least discomfort, likely because I was focused on the checkpoints ahead. Time Attack caused the most discomfort due to trying to fly fast, skimming surfaces and making sharper turns. Score Challenge fell in between on the comfort spectrum. So take your physical tolerance for VR into consideration.
Rush VR so far has proved to be a thrilling virtual reality game. It's responsive controls, sensation of speed and arcade like elements make playing fun, though with a few caveats such as tolerance for VR locomotion and a limited presentation by today' standards. All told, it does a good job of making the fantasy of flight a reality for gamers.
Rush VR is priced at $24.99 (U.S.), £19.99 (U.K.) and €24.99 (Europe). There is a 20% discount for PlayStation Plus subscribers the first two weeks of release. The game releases in Asia on December 13. (Note that my impressions are based on a review code for the game.)
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