Originally published on GameInformer.com November 15, 2017, at 01:00 PM.
Selected for Blog Herding -- The Best Blogs of the Community, 11/16/17.
3,887 views as of June 4, 2018.
Update 6/4/18: Select screenshots from this pictorial appear at bottom.
Playstation VR Demo Disc 2 released last week and I had to share my experience with The Persistence and Moss, two upcoming virtual reality games that are very different but very promising. The former is a survival horror game by Firesprite that is set in space aboard a craft called The Persistence. The latter is Polyarc's first title, an action-adventure puzzle game with platforming elements that's set in a fantasy world of mice, snakes and other creatures.
The setup for The Persistence is somewhat standard sci-fi/horror storytelling: An accident during a major experiment at the site of a collapsing star plunges a science vessel into an emergency. Survivors are woken by ship computer IRIS to save the vessel, but only one at a time. I'm not sure of the explanation, but it does provide a basis for the single player gameplay that interestingly finds gamers waking as a new crew member in a different area after each death.
I knew a little about this game prior to playing the demo, but did not expect to encounter the procedurally generated setting, which does a good job of subverting your expectations when you respawn. From your room to the adjoining areas, placement of pickups, and location of enemies, this feature -- though contrived -- is a welcome element that keeps gameplay fresh. You learn to pay close attention to digital wall maps (above) in order to reorient yourself.
Regarding orientation, locomotion involves a combination of teleportation and standard movement. Teleportation is accomplished with help from the PSVR headset, which does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to gameplay in general. A kind of reticule in the center of your vision acts as a marker for teleportation, targeting foes and interacting with the environment. For the most part, just point with the headset and click a DualShock 4 controller button.
You can also move in different directions with one analog stick and turn with the other. I do tend to rely on standard movement to get around, so the constant reminders to teleport are helpful if annoying, as it can aid in avoiding environmental hazards or outmaneuvering foes. Exploration involves collecting pickups, fabricating items, operating controls and fighting enemies.
Pickups can be found on various surfaces or in compartments operated by green icons. In both cases interaction only requires halting your gaze on it for a few seconds, then pickups will be collected or compartments (or doors) opened. However, if a compartment's icon turns red, you need to stop, otherwise the malfunctioning object will explode. Pickups generally include fab chips (for item fabrication), stem cells (reportedly to upgrade your character) and health packs.
Items dispensed at fabrication machines generally take the form of weapons or objects that can otherwise assist with combat. The .50 cal. Stormfury and .22 cal. Needle (see select screens above) come in handy against foes, as the former is effective for fatal headshots and the latter for punishing bursts. The downside is that they have very limited use given their sparse ammo.
If I recall, attacks are mapped to the R2 button, while item/weapon selection is available by holding down R1. While choosing an item/weapon, time is helpfully slowed to a near crawl. Targeting with the headset is surprisingly effective against single foes, but when attacked by multiple enemies keeping steady can be a challenge.
A variety of other items provide effective single-use fun, and can eliminate multiple foes. The Droid Sphere above is one such example, as it releases several bots to hunt down and subdue enemies. This works well at range, especially as a counter keeps you updated on the number of droids remaining. Once the counter winds down, you can go in and mop up.
The Gravity Bomb above is another helpful projectile that can take out more than one target at once. It reportedly creates a local black hole, but unlike in other games such as The Darkness, this one doesn't pull enemies in to the phenomenon. Instead, I believe the description said that it crushes or otherwise destroys organic matter. Either way, it clears your path.
When shorn of ranged weaponry and forced into close combat, gamers have two actions to combat the vessel's nasties. A defensive move with the left hand either protects with a momentary shield or distracts/immobilizes with its seeming electric charge. I'm honestly not sure which, but it doesn't appear to deplete too quickly if at all, and without need for recharge that I could tell in my limited demo. So spamming it in a pinch does help.
It also helps open a window to use your default stem cell harvester in your right hand, which not only incapacitates your foe at least momentarily but also absorbs their stem cells presumably to upgrade one's character later. Standard enemies can take as few hits as one to defeat, whereas tougher ones like the demo's boss require multiple attacks.
Taken together, the demo for The Persistence is entertaining and its controls are responsive. The unusual use of the headset to target items, compartments/doors and foes is well implemented, though might flounder in chaotic combat. Due to this, I hope that Move controllers (or even the Aim controller, if close quarters combat can be intuitively tied to its controls) are an option.
The procedurally generated settings are a great feature that help keep the journey exciting. That said, I did notice some standard elements in certain settings, such as personal items including family photos or children's drawings, that are repeated. Of course it would be a challenge to always have different items. At least I hope that the narrative, including perhaps crew member correspondence, will be strong, as that's missing from the demo.
The presentation is very good for PSVR. On the standard PS4, environments and character models are not highly detailed/realistic, but they are nonetheless believable and certainly impressive for PSVR. The overall design is creative, appealing and immersive, animations and particle effects are fluid, and combat is fun. For a demo, especially, this is a solid introduction and has me excited for the final product.
Moss is an equally entertaining though significantly different experience. The single player action-adventure puzzle game incorporates first- and third-person gameplay in a consistent fantasy world. Players act as a kind of omnipresent companion to the mouse hero Quill, interacting with the environment to remove obstacles in her path. But despite scripted moments, gamers will also control Quill as she navigates each setting and fends off enemies.
Quill is an adorable mouse who at times will motion to your omnipresent character in recognition, gratitude or assistance, but she is a formidable combatant that uses her blade to slice through foes. In this case, kinds of mechanical scarabs challenge her in an arena type setting. Her jump, which is important in platforming, can help her avoid or attack. And swift swings can quickly dispel enemies. Demo combat is not deep or complicated, but it's still satisfying.
Platforming is an important element of gameplay and is well implemented. Like combat, traversal in this demo is not complicated when controlling Quill. She can leap gaps and climb ledges. What depth there is involves environmental puzzles requiring the player's character to solve. Actions can involve pulling, pushing, lifting or turning objects, which is accomplished by targeting the object, holding down L1 and R1 (if I recall), and moving it as necessary.
Then, gamers can move Quill past the obstacle and proceed to the next setting. Puzzles can be simple and include environmental cues to tip one off to the necessary action. Or they can be more complicated and involve a few moving parts (see below). Regardless, they are well implemented in each setting, interaction is intuitive and seamless, and interacting with both the environment and Quill in these scenarios is entertaining and immersive.
Some puzzles will involve several elements. They might require moving an object (sometimes repeatedly), moving Quill at different times, and controlling a character other than Quill, such as a mechanical scarab, to operate weight plates or other devices. Using the DualShock 4 controller, such manipulation proved relatively deft and satisfying.
Moss, to judge by the demo, reminds me of a fave PSVR game Wayward Skies. Both require the player's manipulation of the environment to help the main character's journey, and control of the main character at other times. But Moss has a very different atmosphere and design, and the overall concept is well implemented for a cohesive experience across settings, puzzles and combat.
This type of game is well suited to VR and Polyarc appears to have crafted a unique fantasy world with an appealing main character and inherently fun gameplay. That is why, despite a short demo, I am looking forward to returning to this storybook setting and immersing myself in this entertaining creation.
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