One and a half hours is not a long time to make an educated determination about the quality of a video game, but in the case of the No Man’s Sky Beyond update and the virtual reality mode it adds to the game, it was enough to make some key observations.
The update released yesterday actually implements broad and significant changes to the base game, going great lengths to help realize the original vision of developer Hello Games. But the new VR element is the one addition that I was most interested in and, frankly, concerned about.
My main concern was navigation. I can exist in PSVR games indefinitely, provided locomotion settings are diverse and user friendly. On the ground. Flying in VR presents challenges for me similar to driving, where smooth turns in a static setting can induce nausea.
I presumed – like in Eve: Valkyrie, War Thunder, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown – that flying low above a planet’s surface would be too uncomfortable (high-altitude or space flight isn’t an issue, unless nearby mountains, space stations, etc.), and worried how flight controls might influence ground navigation.
As it turns out, those fears were unfounded. For some reason, flight in Beyond’s VR mode is not nauseating to me, provided I’m not doing sharp turns, barrel rolls, etc. Perhaps it’s due to the concentration required for the control scheme or some other explanation.
Likewise, flight controls are different from ground navigation options, so I’m not restricted to smooth turning when hiking alien terrain. I haven’t attempted driving yet, so we’ll see how that plays out. But being able to select my preferred smooth locomotion with snap turns is a tremendous blessing.
That said, flight controls are not perfect using the Move motion controllers. This is my preferred method in PSVR, as using the DualShock controller for me defeats the purpose of playing in VR. Still, too often in PSVR games one has to initially fight using these controllers and their cumbersome button layout.
For Beyond, players control a simulated flight stick and throttle combination with right and left hands/Move controllers, respectively. Holding one’s right hand in place and controlling for roll, pitch and yaw can be awkward. The throttle is pretty straight forward and stays in place.
The learning curve reminds me of Skyrim VR, one of my favorite VR games. The accomplishment of effectively porting the regular huge 3D game into virtual reality is impressive, but the Move controllers don’t make the transition easy and require lots of practice to pull it off effortlessly.
But it’s possible. And the level of immersion in getting inside your cockpit, throttling up and maneuvering one’s spacecraft while soaring above an alien landscape is deep and rewarding. Landing is still as easy as pressing a button. The one caveat is caustic storms that inexplicably create near whiteout conditions.
Ground navigation is a welcome relief as diverse options allow for comfortable traversal (including teleportation if that’s your preference). Plus I’m happy to report that the jetpack works well in virtual reality, firing up with the press of a button and enabling precise jumps by simply looking at where you want to land.
The player’s interaction with most things is a little peculiar, as you select an item then pull back with the controller to quickly perform an action. But it works. Likewise, reaching over your right shoulder equips the blaster/mining tool, whereas reaching to the left of the visor and pressing a button activates your analyzer.
There are also option menus that pop up when reaching for your left glove with your right or when reaching for the tool in your right glove with your left. So theoretically I know how to activate those even if I still haven’t figured out how everything works.
Menus, in fact, are another important distinction. In Beyond’s virtual reality, they are well implemented and reasonably user friendly, as opposed to in Skyrim VR, for instance, where they can appear sideways to the player’s vision or otherwise obscured by the environment or distance.
When hovering over an item in a menu, a separate menu might appear with respective action items to select from. This level of detail and VR control takes some getting used to but with practice is perfectly manageable. I haven’t navigated all menu options but so far so good.
One area I’m still learning is the blaster/mining tool configuration and control. Selecting which tool and which ammo, for instance, is still a mystery to the chagrin of myself and creatures I might accidentally shoot/blow up! I appreciate the depth of control, though it’s too early to know if it’s ever too cumbersome.
To the extent there are caveats about gameplay in virtual reality, and there certainly are given the sheer breadth and depth of options ported into this mode, any issues likely have more to do with the design of the Move motion controllers than the game, as is the case with Skyrim VR. The DualShock likely overcomes such issues but at the expense of immersion.
Note that I haven’t attempted fleet maneuvers, space combat, multiplayer, etc. Still, my brief exposure to No Man’s Sky Beyond update in virtual reality has left me satisfied, excited, a little apprehensive about how much I have yet to learn control-wise, but ultimately enthusiastic about the opportunities ahead.
Hello Games deserves our appreciation for the level of commitment they’ve demonstrated to the game and more importantly to fans. I haven’t even scraped the surface of Beyond, but I know its VR component is something I will eagerly play for a long time to come. It makes the great beyond accessible in a welcome and entertaining way.
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