By Alec Meer on August 5th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.
I’m three columns into this series of Oculus Rift round-ups, and it’s telling that so far I haven’t covered anything that would fit the formalist description of a game. No, I’m not getting involved in anyone’s tiresome war about Proteus or Gone Home, but sticking to a more universal whipping boy – the first-gen Oculus’ issues with readable text, usable HUDs and motion sickness. Clearly VR still being the wild west plays a major role in keeping devs from making large-scale games for it, as does there being a limited install base for now, but the real problem is getting any of this stuff past experiment status. Let’s look at some of the games which try to regardless.
First-person grappling hook platformer (sort of) Windlands understands that the first step that must be taken for any gen-1 Oculus game is to remove all trace of HUD. This means there’s not much in the way of objective, but there’s also no impediment to just getting on with bouncing around a vaguely Minecraftsome rural landscape, replete with wall-jumping, rope-swinging and teleportation. Strange and sad to think that, where this a full-scale game, those three transport abilities would be trickled out and metered. Here, they’re there from the off. The camera’s controlled by your head – which also plays a functional role in teleportation, as you gaze at a particular spot to then lob your beacon at it – and after a time you’re flicking your skull around as you bounce and swing merrily across the treetops. It’s not quite Spider-Man, but it’s certainly spiderish. And now I’m just thinking “Mirror’s Edge 2 on Oculus Rift DK2? Yummy, yes please.”
Anyway, let’s not undersell Windlands: while it might not have the high concept of many VR experiments, it works hard to get the mechanics of movement and interaction right.
You might have heard of this, if you’re one of those indie scene hipsters. A combination of official support and mods results in what might just be one of the most essential Oculus Rift experiences, even though there’s no way my poor eyes could stand to run City 17’s entire gauntlet this way. The first section, the train station and the initial foray into the city, is a true mind-blower though. It doubles down on the importance of Viktor Antonov’s archtitectural contribution – the part-gutted, part-gleaming fusion of Eastern European decay and monolithic otherness towers over and oppresses the player. The video billboards of Doctor Breen’s faux-pleasantries are now as vast as they were intended to be, making them less Minority Report and more a sinister symbol of one man’s god complex. VR is going to work best in games where the world-building is meticulous, and Half-Life 2 remains a landmark in that respect.
Shooting mens is just about shooty-possible too, but only if you’ve got Half-Life 2 programmed into your muscle memory. Which weapon follows which on the mouse wheel, what 0 zero HEV armour looks like through prescription-grade beer goggles, that sort of thing. You can do it, but you’re going to pratfall, Gordon. Nevertheless, other than Elite: Dangerous this for my money remains the essential Oculus endeavour.
OK, I haven’t actually played this one yet, and a spontaneous tidy-up yesterday saw me foolishly pile every one of the several dozen cables in sight into a box and now I don’t have the will to disentangle the three wires necessary to connect up my Rift (I’ll do it before the next column, honest), but Crashed Lander is very much on the list. Space exploration! Shouts to Space Taxi and QWOP! Landscapes which recall Morrowind’s mushroomy bits! Looks like this!
Similar case with this one, but a great many people have told me this is one of those games where post-release Rift support. You may already be familiar with Richard Perrin’s wondrous and esoteric exploration-puzzler Kairo (John rather liked it), but last year he dropped an update into the Steam version of the game. No fuss, no mess, full support, it’s all right there in settings.
Buuuuut if I’m honest, I’m waiting for the DK2 before I go too deep any of this. Mine’s due to arrive in September, so I’m counting the days and eyeing my DK1 with grumpy suspicion until that point, which is why this fortnight’s column is perhaps a little less spirited than previously. I know I’m going to get hands and knackered eyeballs on by what most accounts is a huge step forwards for VR in a matter of weeks, and using the DK1 one now feels like the last few days of staying in a bedsit before I get the keys to my own house. Soon! Soon. I can’t wait.