Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission – Review

It’s silent out in space, I’m squeezed into the cockpit of a T-65 X-Wing Starfighter and my only company is a little red Astromech Droid who seems to feel the isolation as much as I do. Something has gone wrong, wherever we are, the fleet is somewhere else… Then in a sudden eruption of light and noise, rebel ships drop out of hyperspace around me. A Rebel Blockade Runner glides above, and I know I am back in the Star Wars Universe.

 

 

In reality I am playing the absurdly titled Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission, a label that has obviously been passed through every marketing department at EA, Sony, LucasArts, and Disney, with each being allowed to shove another word in somewhere. Ostensibly a tie in to Rogue One, opening this month, we all know what the X-Wing VR Mission exists for. Sony needs to sell the VR headset and Star Wars is a bankable property these days. Throw in a dash of nostalgia and the promise that you’ll really feel like you’re flying an X-Wing, and the game sells itself. As a bonus, it’s free to anyone who already owned Star Wars Battlefront.

 

Star Wars VR mission At-AT

 

The mission itself is another short, guided experience that slots neatly between the more arcade style shooting of Call of Duty’s Jackal Mission, and the non-interactive, scripted experiences of Playstation VR Worlds. It’s narrative driven and totally focused on giving the player an authentic Star Wars adventure. While you have the freedom to roam around and check out classic ships from whatever angle you like, the mission progresses under a very tight set of circumstances that take you from navigating asteroids, to escorting a damaged ship, and finally to taking on a Star Destroyer. By the end you’ll enjoy a lot of authentic Star Wars moments along with a fully voiced and well written cast of peers, culminating in the familiar end music while you check your scores.

The ties to Rogue One are minimal, with one character from the film making his first appearance here, as well as a new ship, but for the most part this is about a rag-tag, anonymous flight of Rebel pilots doing what they do best. The story, such as it is, works well enough for the length of the mission, and creates a good sense of a wider conflict going on while the pilots themselves have good chemistry, with both voice actors representing the male and female player avatar doing an amazing job of capturing the player’s inner enthusiasm.

 

X-Wing Vr cockpit

 

Gameplay is pretty strong too. This is just a first person equivalent of Battlefront’s third person dogfighting, but it works really well; gunning down Tie Fighters feels appropriately challenging but never impossible, and just flying around is a smooth and satisfying experience. During the asteroid sequence, weaving in and out of the belt is awe inspiring, as giant rocks threaten to crush your ship at any moment. Battlefront’s flight controls wouldn’t seem up to the challenge, but you always feel in control of the craft, even if your manoeuvrability options are limited. Everything is kept simple so you can focus on watching your squadmates duck and weave while sharing Rebel banter. It’s a nice atmosphere throughout.

 

VR cockpit Blockade Runner

 

Attention to detail seals the deal though, with every button in the X-Wing’s cockpit accurate and interactive, every ship you fly past looking practically film perfect. It draws you in so perfectly, even in places you don’t expect. The mission opens with an X-Wing sat in a VR hanger room surrounded by white space, should you speak during these scenes, the VR headset mic will take your voice and add an echo to the room’s ambient noise. Just one of the little ways the developers have tried to move your further into the game’s world, and utterly stunning the first time you hear it. So much of making VR work is about this little illusions that blur the line between your game and the real world, so every time you experience a new one, it’s a real pleasure.

 

Red Leader in X-Wing Vr mission

 

If there are problems with the X-Wing VR Mission (besides the title) it’s more about the climate it has launched into. As much as I enjoyed the mission on its own merits, there’s still a feeling that this is too little to really sell anyone on a unit. It’s certainly fun, but it still requires a PS4, VR, Camera, and copy of Star Wars Battlefront to get through the door. It’s asking an awful lot for 20 minutes of gameplay. Worse still, if you own the VR, this is probably the third free (ish) cockpit shooting demo you’ve played in the last few months. With EVE Valkyrie’s demo and the Call of Duty Jackal Mission filling the same niché. X-Wing is the best of the lot, but it’s still an experience we’ve had a lot of right now, with only EVE Valkyrie offering a full length (though very pricey) title if you want it. What the X-Wing VR mission did the most was convince me we need a real VR Rogue Squadron game. This really feels like a mission straight out of Rogue Leader, with its jump in controls, and focus on set pieces and authentic feel, but as soon as you begin, it ends. If it had launched standalone alongside the headset, this would be the standout VR launch title, as it is, it feels like just one more all-t00-brief proof of concept, with nowhere to go once you’re sold on the idea.

 

Fighting a Star Destroyer in VR

 

At the end of the day though, the content is so good while it lasts that it just shines through those concerns. So far it’s the only piece of VR software that I’ve found myself returning to over and over again just to live in its world, and unlike some VR launch titles, it screams effort from the moment you put the headset on. Short lived or not, this is the kind of game VR was made for.

9/10

All Amazing – The Amazing Spider-Man #3: Review

This is part 3 of my quest to read and review every issue of The Amazing Spider-Man from start to finish, the first two issues were hit and miss, but this time we’re introduced to a really famous foe.


The Amazing Spider-Man #3

In the first couple of issues of Amazing Spider-Man, we’ve really seen Peter Parker take shape from a slightly goofy, classic nerd archetype to more of the wise-cracking, down trodden hero we’ve come to know and love. Issue 3 actually takes a lot of the ideas Stan Lee and Steve Ditko have been working through, and puts them together into the first really great book of the run. It’s probably as good as anything we’ll see for the next few years too, and most of this success is down to Doctor Octopus.

Spider-Man fights crime

As the book opens we find a more confident Spider-Man taking down cheap thugs with ease. In keeping with Parker’s penchant for bringing his biggest problems down on himself, he starts to wish he could actually go up against a villain with a bit more oomph, which kicks off Doc’ Ock’s origin story.

He’s pretty complete here too; a brilliant scientist who conducts research on nuclear power with the aid of four robotic arms, he goes mad after an accident damages his brain and fuses the arms to his body. He becomes fixated on using his new appendages to finish his research, holding a hospital full of staff hostage while he does it.

Otto Octavius is a goofy concept for a character but he’s pure gold here. They enjoy the fun of the character completely, but there’s a sadness to him too; his brilliance is completely destroyed by his madness and power but he still isn’t driven by greed or self interest. He wants to complete his work. Spidey doesn’t fall short in the drama too, and after getting soundly thrashed by Octavius the first time they fight, we see the first of Peter Parker’s many doubting moments. He’s convinced he can’t defeat Doctor Octopus, until Johnny Storm gives a pep talk to the local school and Peter decides to get back on the horse. We also see a little of the classic Parker genius, as he synthesises a new chemical to help him out by fusing Doc’ Ock’s arms together. It doesn’t go quite to plan, but he’s already using that scientific genius to get the job done.

Doc Ock and Spider-Man's first fight

The story is full of tropes we’d revisit in this book for years to come, but it pulls it off so earnestly here it’s hard not to like it. Peter’s on-again, off-again, love affair with his crimefighting career begins here, but we also believe his pain. He really hasn’t fought a villain like this before, and when he loses there’s nobody he can turn to for support. Octavius himself is something new for the book too. Sure, after the accident he gets a little cliche, but there’s never any question of his brilliance, or his capabilities. The Vulture, the Tinkerer, and The Chameleon were all great villains, but they were usually brought down by some failing or underestimating of the hero. Doctor Octopus isn’t like that, he’s a passionate scientist and a strategic thinker. He isn’t beaten until Spider-Man ups his game.

Peter’s personal life takes a back seat here again, although we do see some more of Jameson and Aunt May. The cast of supporting characters is being reinforced bit by bit, but the book is definitely taking a back seat to the villains. It’s rare to see an early run of a book so full of familiar faces, with every major villain faced so far still a player in the current Marvel universe.  This is a good era for the company, and it’s not hard to see why. They really set up a tone and stuck to it. No wonder forty years later, Sam Raimi didn’t see the need to change much.

Peter Parker inspired by Human Torch's speech

Probably my favourite feature of these early books is Spider-Man as the growing hero. This isn’t a perfect, generic, costumed avenger archetype. It’s a character who is new to the job, knows he isn’t one of the big fish yet, and makes mistakes. He beats The Human Torch to the punch in the story, but he makes it clear he’s still a minor player compared to the Fantastic Four, and that’s something that will stick with Spider-Man as the years go by. It’s something DC have got wrong over and over with Batman, insisting that because he’s a major player on store shelves, he needs to be a top-dog in the DCU continuity too, and it’s so much less interesting than a character who’s popular in fiction, but less well liked in his own reality.

These books continue to be fantastic, and hopefully it’s as good next time when we meet The Sandman!

Why I Bought Vanilla Destiny, and Why I Don’t Regret it.

I was never really sold on Destiny.

It’s a personal thing, I guess; I never loved online shooters. I play ’em today, sure, Battlefront, Overwatch… Destiny, but it’s a pretty recent development. Online games only started to resonate with me when they adopted more narrative and structural elements the modes fresh, and I was pretty behind the times. I can play a few rounds of Deathmatch but it was only Battlefront’s Walker Assault mode last year that sold me on the concept. (Say what you like about the lack of a campaign but when those AT-ATs drop, you really feel the Star Wars.) Overwatch does the same, putting gameplay front and centre but building narrative into the environment; multiplayer shooters really upped their game while I wasn’t looking.

Destiny Moon Horizon

When it launched most folks kept describing Destiny was “an MMO… sort of.” So I skipped it; as time went on however, it never fully fell off my radar. The game was starting to sound pretty good too, my buddy (and podcast co-host) Jon would entice me with stories of a complex but subtly told narrative, story based events and online matches seamlessly integrated into an MMO style structure, and shooting that was somewhere between Halo and Borderlands.

I wanted in, but I hit my next hurdle.

By the time I was really interested, The Taken King expansion was out; it looked great, but the changes it made to the game were considered sweeping and transformative. Word was it just wasn’t worth getting the game without it, and bundles including The Taken King replaced the main game on the PSN store; the price went back to a full RRP game. Used copies were cheaper, of course, but I’d still be without the DLC and the word was The Taken King updates had actually taken the radical step of removing content from vanilla players all together. I was stuck.

I’d like to remind you of something you don’t see in gaming press that often. Games are expensive, often unreasonably so. I have my channel, my podcast, and my blog; I play a lot of games, but I’m not an industry insider. I buy the vast majority of my games, and I’m living on a youtuber’s budget. Truth is, DLC or otherwise, I couldn’t jump in on the budget The Taken King wanted. I skipped it, and as they have continued releasing expansions regularly enough to keep a bundle on the store at new-game price, Destiny’s business model has kept me from ever being able to buy the game in the form they want me to. As much as I was interested, I can’t justify paying £60 for a game I might not like.

The Tower in Destiny

So I went to a used game store and bought a vanilla disc for £5. I figured DLC be damned, the tiny demo was long gone from the store, and whatever content was still there would give me something to go it. It was one of the best gaming decisions I ever made. If you haven’t played it, I think you should do the same.

I like Destiny. I don’t know how much I’d be liking it if I paid full price, but I’m enjoying the base game immensely. In fact, it might be the most fun I’ve had with a multiplayer game in years, and I’m playing it completely solo, totally out of date, and happily from my DLC free disc. This isn’t going to be a path that would work for everybody, if you’re primarily in it for the multiplayer you’ll be disappointed. Most other players are higher level than me, and I’m locked out of a good two thirds of the content, but what I can do is play through the same story new players did back in the day, and get a feel for it without putting down a huge sum of money. I can still jump in with other players if I want to, and despite the fact that the DLC I’m locked off from is right there on the map, I don’t feel like I’m getting a crippled experience. I’m playing through a lot of the early missions again with a friend now, and we”re both experience the same surprised satisfaction. Destiny’s standalone disc is dirt cheap because they’ve done such a great job sell the DLC that nobody wants it, and yet there’s a full fat, big budget game in here that is still perfectly playable.

I still have issues with Destiny, I think the pricing model creates a situation where new players and old players both lose, I think the removal of content people paid for through updates is pretty crummy, and I think the hyping up of the DLC as essential (to the point of removing cheaper, older, base copies from sale) is quite misleading, but this is the surrounding business and doesn’t change the fact that the original package is actually great.

If I were putting the game out, at this point I’d probably just make the vanilla game free and get new players on board. As cheap as  used copies are, it couldn’t hurt, and the model works. I’m already seriously considering the DLC some time in the new year, and I’m a lot more positive about Destiny 2.

 

VR Works, and I’m as surprised as anyone about that.

PSVR Shark AttackBefore I bought my Playstation VR I had one burning question about the tech l that I just couldn’t find an answer to. I’d scour reviews, watch play throughs, read previews, everything, but they were really sparse on details relating to my specific question…

Does VR Really Work?

The problem is this means a different things to different people. Does the 3D look real? Is the head tracking responsive? Are the games fun? All little pieces of the experience that come together for the final effect. What I wanted to know was more than that. I wanted to know if the fundamental promise of VR, that you will feel like you’re actually their in the game, was hype or reality.

This is a claim I’ve been skeptical of since 3D TV spectacularly failed to impress me and flopped completely in the games market, but the hype has been very similar. You will feel like the game is really there in the living room with you. With 3D I didn’t, and so I put off diving in to the VR for the longest time because of that. I even made a little video about why I was pretty sure VR wasn’t going to be the next big thing, citing the discomfort and artifice of 3D displays as a major concern. I still stand by a lot I said in that video, VR is expensive and cumbersome and won’t be replacing the TV any time soon.

The big question still remained, however. In ideal circumstances, if you could afford one of the damn things and fired up the right game, were the promises true? It seemed the only way to find out was to actually try one out myself. (And since I refuse to pay GAME just to demo a unit, there was only one way to get my hands on one.) I scoured my shelves for long unplayed games and took a wheelbarrow of old discs down to my local Trade-In store and exchanged it all for a PSVR headset.

 

And I’m so glad I did.

If you’re like me, and you found the same questions so completely unanswered by the press coverage of VR, let me help you out. The basic promise of VR is, at least by this headset, fulfilled. When the game is right and the headset is set up correctly you genuinely feel like you exist inside the game. It is effective, exciting, and one of the first genuinely new developments in how games are played for years.

PSVR London Heist GameI don’t want to get too carried away here, VR still has a lot of hurdles for the typical consumer. The resolution is low, the headset are bulky, the cables are a pain; it’ll all work much better when they become wireless, but right now it’s crazy how well the tech works on limited technology. Results vary from game to game. Invasion, a short cartoon in VR, was the first piece of software I booted up and when the credits rolled I was already contemplating packing the bits up and taking it back to the store. Interaction was limited to little more than 360 degree video with 3D effects and I never once felt like I was really there. However the more games I played, the more other games blew that experience out of the water just by adding to the immersion in small ways.

PSVR London Heist GameBoth the Playstation VR Worlds disc and Sony’s packed in Demo disc do a fantastic job with this, featuring menus that place you in 3D space, capable of looking up and down, leaning in around the items you see in front of you, but more importantly they show virtual PS4 controllers that respond to your touch. The PSVR can use basic PS4 controllers for most interaction, and can track them really accurately via the lightbar on the front. This means the virtual controller turns and tilts just like the real one in your hand. This was the last push my brain needed to really believe I was what I was seeing. I had no hands, my mind quickly acknowledged and understood that they were totally invisible now, but my actions, the results of my physical behaviour were rendered there on screen perfectly. This, combined with the 3D and head tracking, seemed to be all my brain needed to calibrate for VR and buy the illusion completely.

The PSVR isn’t very high resolution, or even the most cutting edge VR tech on the market, and yet this simple combination of sensory illusions took me into the game completely. By the time I dropped into my first lengthy experience, Ocean Descent, I was as convinced as I could be while still sat on my office chair.

I could talk at length about sensory tricks. I’d like to, because they’re fascinating. But I’m not going to, I’m going to review more PSVR software in depth in the future and I’d like to save the details for later. I’m not even going to tell you to rush out and buy a VR, because the financial investment, the nausea, the potential discomfort… these are issues that matter and you need to weigh them up on your own. What I can do is answer the question I couldn’t find a good answer to.

Does VR feel real? Yeah, it really does.

It’s fiddly and some games are better than others, but when it’s right, you feel like you’re really in the game.