Can VR grow beyond previously successful videogame IPs to create its own identity?
News from Gearbox Software that Borderlands 2 will be making an appearance in virtual reality (VR) will no doubt be a source of joy for fans of the franchise, which has developed a big fanbase attracted to its variety of loot, comic-book art style and quirky humour. It follows a larger trend of big AAA titles making a transition into VR. What does this mean for VR at large?
Borderlands 2 VR follows on from titles such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR and L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files which saw successful and popular releases be converted into VR. While this offers fans of those titles the chance to immerse themselves in the worlds they love, it also raises questions about VR’s ability to stand on its own.
Back in the 80s and early 90s, ports were commonplace, with developers taking the best and most popular titles from the Arcades and converting them for consoles. In those days ‘Arcade perfect’ was a much coveted accolade.
This time, it seems to be the other way around, with popular console or PC titles being converted into VR, sometimes being changed into location-based VR experiences. The preservation of the experience from flat TV screen to VR headset seems to be expected, in fact, audiences expect better, they expect the VR experience to be better, smoother, more intuitive and of course, more immersive.
While VR has managed to generate its own high-profile releases, with things like Moss, Firewall Zero Hour or Stormland getting quite a bit of attention and being highly anticipated, but often the biggest releases in VR are still ones which have the name of an existing franchise attached to them.
This could be seen as slavish if one wants to be critical. Want a big VR success? Find a successful title on PlayStation 4 or PC and translate it into VR. Of course, to say this is to disregard the hours of work that developers put in to make a title work in VR, including areas such as movement, graphical smoothness and framerate, which has to rise to the demands of immersive gaming
This mostly shows that VR is still strongly tied to the mainstream videogame industry. Despite the number of new applications for VR, the popular perception is that VR is for gamers, and there is a trend in the mainstream, or AAA videogame industry to re-create, rather than create. Seen in the many reboots, remakes, remasters and sequels. A criticism that has also been levelled at mainstream Hollywood movies
VR as a new medium can do more than just re-create an existing experience. AS a new way to experience entertainment, it has a lot of potential to change how videogames are played and experienced, but it will not be able to do this if it continues to rely on old properties as a crutch.
However, it is worth remembering that VR is still in the relatively early days of its development, and using a crutch is not a bad thing when you are still learning how to walk. Plus, it is still great fun to explore a beloved world in a new, immersive way.