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Fallout 4 VR is huge, technically impressive, and gimmicky

S.P.E.C.I.A.L. edition

Featured post fallout-4-vr

Fallout 4 VR is almost exactly what the phrase ‘Fallout 4 VR’ implies. Which is to say, the entirety of Fallout 4 rendered in giant-scale gogglevision. It’s funny – for some time there was this expectation that VR needed a full-fat mainstream game to truly get its wings, but now that’s finally happened, it just feels like the most normal thing in the world.

Fallout 4 VR is a significant technical achievement, but I’m not talking about the underlying, pratfall-prone Creation Engine there. I’m talking about the fact that this is entirety of Fallout 4 (review) from a new perspective, a whole wasteland to bodily traverse, with motion-controlled shooting (or physical punching), a Pipboy interface that activates by raising your wrist and the option for full, pad-style analogue movement.

There’s something almost casual about the whole shebang – it’s just there, the entire game, and it just works, NBD. Even though it was almost certainly an enormous deal to get a game of this relative size and complexity working in virtual reality.

At the same time, it’s hard to shake a feeling that I’m playing the world’s most expensive gimmick. It’s Fallout 4, but more awkward and cumbersome to play! Hooray? Sure, it’s nice, I guess, to watch the world burn at life-size proportions, splatting radroaches into the ground offers a certain amount of catharsis and the whole raise arm to boggle at Pipboy thing makes me wish we had something quite that joyfully ridiculous instead of smartphones.

But, when I move from F4VR to F4, I breathe a sigh of relief. Though F4VR does offer an almost-full suite of controls and options thereof – i.e. it isn’t mandatory to use the hobbled likes of teleport-based movement – the combination of trailing headcables, Wii-esque controllers and limited buttons and bodily movement does make it a bit of a pain in the bum. There’s always something hindering the straightforward act of going over there and doing the thing.

To fire it up for an hour or two nosing curiously around a familiar (and, for some, beloved) scorched earth is one thing, but it’s very hard to imagine all but the staunchest VR preacher ‘finishing’ Fallout 4 in this form. Once the initial awe – already somewhat minimal if you’re a long-term goggle-jockey – has worn off, it’s just a bit of a faff, really. More involved interface stuff like crafting threatened to make me gnaw my own virtual hands off.

fallout-4-vr-2

This being Fallout 4 rather than a new Fallout made from the ground up in VR, a lot of the interactions are essentially menu-based rather than physical. You don’t reach out to slap a door open button, for instance, but raise your wand and click a text option to do it. In other words, you’re regularly checking your own actions, going against the psychical intuition that a VR world encourages. All told, I never felt at home with the controls, and wished I could just play it on a gamepad instead – or could just sit with a mouse and keyboard, in front of a nice, crisp monitor.

Speaking of how it looks – well, it’s Fallout 4 in VR. In other words, outside of 3D wraparound-o-vision, it looks like Fallout 4 but lower-resolution. There was some initial hoo-ha about it looking extremely blurry for many players, which I was lucky enough to not suffer from, but in any case there is now a fix. It’s definitely decent as VR games go, without too much very obvious hobbling, but for me, it was the intrinsic limitations of both VR and Fallout 4 that kept it from looking truly jaw-dropping.

Inherently fuzzy, weird Harryhausen animations, dodgy textures and plasticine people here and there – again, exactly what I expected Fallout 4 in VR to look like. In other words, not really dramatic enough to make me want to play the game in this way, hampered by the busywork of controls, instead of the sharper and more fluid desktop version. I’ll also note that the element of slapstick involved in a VR version of Fallout 4 only throws into sharper relief quite how dumb it is compared to Fallouts past (including 3) – i.e. this is almost exclusively an RPG about killing things. But maybe that’s more appropriate for the slap-happy world of virtual reality anyway.

Much more positively, I found that the full movement controls didn’t incite the expected sea-sickness. It uses a binocular effect when you move, in order to mitigate the brain-breaking effect of character movement and flesh movement not being in sync, and this both saved my lunch and looked surprisingly non-disruptive in practice. If you have an iron constitution, you can turn this effect off completely, or if you have a hair-trigger stomach, you can use the teleport-based controls that are less natural but avoid the lurching effect. They’ve really done the work in this regard, and it’s turned out well.

All told, this is an impressively seamless transition from screen to gogs, and belated proof that there are most certainly not impassable roadblocks to getting big-boy games running well on a facebox. Whether it’s actually worth it at this point in the technology’s lifecycle is another matter entirely. It’s grand to see The Commonwealth at this sort of scale, and I did have a greater appreciation of just how much have Bethesda built when I saw it from this all-encompassing perspective, but when I think of playing dozens of hours of Fallout 4 this way, I only feel tired.

Fallout 4 VR is out now, via Steam, supporting HTC Vive only (though it can be made to work on Rift).

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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