Reality Bytes: The Star Wars VRoliday Special
Star Waaaaars. It's VR Star Wars. Yes VR Star Wars. VR Star Waaaaars!
Of the various corporatised fictional universes out there, Star Wars is the one I'm most emotionally invested in. But my affection for George Lucas' brain-baby is less about the stories and characters, and more about the general vibe of the galaxy itself. I love its retro-futurist junkpunk style, the rusty spaceships, dusty planets, and fusty aliens. That's why I've more fondness for games like Dark Forces and KotOR than any of the films or TV shows, as they let me poke around locations like Tatooine and Ord Mantell at my own pace.
Hence, the idea of being properly, immerse in Star Wars, to be physically surrounded by it and able to touch it, is probably my ultimate VR fantasy. Sod the imaginatively inert virtual spaces of Horizon Worlds, if Mark Zuckerberg really wanted to sell the Metaverse to me, he'd build the whole thing out in Mos Eisely chic, and let me run my own virtual cantina selling NFT space-drinks to legless bounty hunters and idiot Web3 prospectors.
Sadly, Meta hasn't reached the level of delusion required to build a VR Star Wars: Galaxies yet. But the galaxy far, far away can be experienced in VR in more fragmentary form. And since there's a big new Star War in the form of Jedi Survivor [Rick's column was supposed to be out last month but it went into my junk folder and I didn't see it, Rick is not to blame - ed.], now seems an opportune time to explore the franchise's interactive Outer Rim. So sit down beside me and lock in the auxiliary power as we make the jump to Hyp-VR space.
Star Wars: Vader Immortal Episodes 1-3
Developed by LucasFilm's own ILMxLAB, the Vader Immortal trilogy tells an overarching story with you playing a force-sensitive smuggler taken captive by the Dark Lord of the Sith in his fortress on the planet Mustafar. Escaping Vader's clutches, you spend the rest of the game slowly unlocking your force potential while playing cat-and-mouse with Luke's deadbeat dad.
As both a VR experience and a Star Wars game, Vader Immortal is aggressively fine. The story is decent, lodged in that perennially useful gap between episodes 3 and 4. It's also penned by David S. Goyer, aka the man who wrote the story (not the script) for Christopher Nolan's superhero epic The Dark Knight. Centring a VR game around getting up close and personal with Vader is a great idea, and he is thrillingly intimidating in this. As a game, though, Vader Immortal is very much a VR theme park ride, with you wandering between climbing sequences, staged lightsaber battles, and stormtrooper shooting galleries. Compared to your flatscreen jedi experiences, it's very basic. But it does work as a VR jedi experience, and provides enough of that fantasy to make it worth investigating.
Indeed, Vader Immortal shows its true strength not in the story, but in its "Jedi Dojo" mode, which lets you wield the game's combat abilities more freely by fighting waves of enemies. There are three variants of the Jedi Dojo across the trilogy, and Episode 3's is by far the best. It lets you fight stormtroopers and wield a whole bunch of lightsabers, including multiple sabers and Kylo Ren's crossguard saber. It's a great little VR sandbox, and makes Episode 3 worth picking up even if you're not that interested in experiencing the whole story.
Star Wars: Tales From The Galaxy's Edge
ILMxLAB followed up Vader Immortal's jedi rollercoaster with a game based on an actual theme park attraction. Tales From The Galaxy's Edge starts oddly similarly to Vader Immortal, with you being forced to land your spaceship on an alien planet by a malevolent entity. Instead of fiery Mustafar, however, it's dusty Batuu, and instead of being hunted by the Emperor's right hand, you're hunted by a lovely bunch of chaps known as the Guavian Death Gang.
Tales From The Galaxy's Edge is both more and less of a game than Vader Immortal. Its combat is more open-ended, like a standard FPS, and it has more substantial secondary mechanics, like an elaborate multitool you use for puzzling. But the story it tells is more fragmentary than the Vader trilogy, split between your own adventures with that pesky Death Gang, and the yarns spun by the Black Spire Outpost's best bartender, Seezleslak. Which see you step into the shoes of a Bounty Hunter and a Jedi in training. They're fun aside, but it nonetheless feels like Galaxy's Edge lacks something.
That's because vanilla Galaxy's Edge literally only tells half the story, which is continued in the Last Call DLC. This adds a second chunk to your own adventure on Batuu, and adds a couple of extra Seezleslak stories, including one where you play as a stormtrooper. It essentially doubles the length of the base game, and allows its ideas greater room to breathe.
Star Wars: Squadrons
Squadrons is my favourite game to emerge from EA's shaky handling of the Star Wars license. Whereas every other EA Star Wars game felt like Sensible Business, Squadrons is a true passion project, an earnest attempt to bring back the glory days of Totally Games' X-Wing series of combat simulators.
As a flatscreen experience Squadrons is decent, but doesn't quite recapture the magic of games like TIE Fighter and X-Wing Alliance. But Squadrons can one thing those ageing combat simulators couldn't, and that's physically place you inside the cockpit of a Star Wars spaceship. In VR, Squadrons its transcendent, letting you experience the scale and spectacle of Star Wars space battle like never before. Cruising through a rebel fleet and being able to appreciate the true size of the different spaceships is fantastic. And when the fighting kicks off, oh man. Charging headlong at a Star Destroyer as its green lasers ping off your shields, watching it grow in your vision until its massive bulk is passing overhead, it's possibly the most thrilling VR experience I've ever had.
The VR has a more practical purpose too, giving you a greater awareness over what's going on around you. With VR, you can track the trajectory of enemy ships by eye, watching TIE fighters through the canopy of your X-Wing's cockpit as you try to bring your weapons to bear on them. As VR experiences go, I'd rank Squadrons below only Superhot and Half-Life Alyx in terms of the device giving me an experience I've always wanted.
Non-canon Star Wars VR
Given the widespread appeal of wielding a VR lightsaber, there have been several attempts to make it happen outside of Disney's industrial content farm. None of these are official Star Wars VR titles, but they might be worth a look if the above three games fail to sate your appetite.
First up is The Outer Rim, an impressive total conversion mod for VR hack 'n' slash Blade & Sorcery. This mod adds blasters, Stormtroopers, Star Wars-y fighting themed around Mos Eisely and Knights of the Old Republic's Ebon Hawk, and, of course, a ton of lightsabers. There's no structure to any of this - Blade & Sorcery is about making your own fun - but so long as you don't mind your lightsaber combat being a lot bloodier than normal, this is a pretty entertaining Star Wars sandbox.
Perhaps the ultimate Star Wars VR experience, however, is Jedi Outcast VR, a standalone VR port created by Team Beef. This completely reworks the control functionality of Jedi Outcast to function with VR, letting you get properly hands on with the best lightsaber combat system ever created for a game. Team Beef's VR mod is an impressive conversion. Not only does it feature fully functional controls for lightsaber combat, it also adapts all the ranged weapons for use in VR, and adds VR functionality for menus and things like selecting force powers. Accessing it is a tad tricky, however. You'll need a copy of the game, either a Meta Quest 2 or a Pico 4, and a subscription to Team Beefs Patreon. Team Beef is planning to extent support to other headsets farther down the line.