Windlands (PSVR) – can you keep your lunch down?
If you’re confident you can play VR games without feeling sick this parkour-filled platformer will put you to the ultimate test.
Later this afternoon our review for Resident Evil 7 will go live, the first big name release to have PlayStation VR support for the entire game. For us, PlayStation VR (PSVR) was one of the highlights of 2016; a fully-functioning, elegantly-designed, virtual reality headset that offers a comparable experience to the PC on a normal console. It’s expensive, but not nearly as much as PC headsets and it had a better launch line-up of games than any modern console. We are concerned that there seems to be worryingly few games scheduled for this year, but so far most of the best ones have been indie titles that we only find out about at the last minute. Like this one.
In actual fact Windlands was released last October, but the developer sent round a reminder email last week to try and attract more attention for it; since it seems we weren’t the only ones to be oblivious to its existence. Given how bad the PlayStation Store is at highlighting smaller releases it’s not hard to see why it slipped under the radar. Although given how many warnings it has about nausea, and how you should only play for five minutes at a time if you’re not used to VR, we’re not sure it was necessarily the best idea to release it just a couple of weeks after the PSVR’s launch.
At that time there would’ve been few console gamers that had built up any immunity to moving around in VR in the same way they do in a normal action game. But now that everyone’s had a bit of time to acclimatise, a VR platformer featuring free running and Bionic Commando-style grappling hooks seems a lot more viable.
There is a story to explain what’s going on in Windlands, something about a ruined civilisation and reawakening the giant golems that helped to build it, but it’s not important. What the game is really about is trying to provide a classic 3D platforming experience in virtual reality. The 3D environments and lack of combat create obvious parallels with Mirror’s Edge, but Windlands’ fantasy environment means there’s no attempt at realism in terms of your abilities.
Your basic double-jump sees you launching yourself a very long way, as if you’re filled with helium or leaping about on the moon. Judging where you’ll land and how much power you need to get there is a difficult skill to learn, and it’s made more difficult by the limited aftertouch. You also need to learn how to perform Mario-like wall jumps and other advanced platforming techniques, while at the same time mastering the game’s other primary skill: using a set of grappling hooks.
Depending on the difficultly level you choose, the hooks can be attached to anything or only specific objects. Oddly, that means that the easy difficulty level allows for a lot more free-roaming than the others, which is a shame as that’s one of the best bits of the game. Especially as, much like the platforming, using your hooks can be frustratingly tricky and it’s rare you feel particularly amazing as a would-be Spider-Man.
Windlands (PSVR) – do some of the things a spider can
All these sudden, unnatural movements create real problems for someone not used to VR. Even just falling from a height will have your brain rippling in protest, but Windlands does try its best not to make playing the game too uncomfortable. A host of familiar VR safety nets are offered, including allowing you to turn around in 30° steps, disabling strafing, and placing a bird cage-like HUD around you (a less common feature in VR games but Resident Evil 7 has it too, and it really does seem to help reduce nausea).
Graphically the game is very simple, and clearly constrained by budget, but the developer has sensibly gone for a more abstract art style that is faintly reminiscent of Journey. Windlands is all fine in concept and intention, but as much as we’d like to pretend otherwise it’s really not much fun in practise. The jumping never feels as intuitive or precise as it should do and the swinging is frustratingly difficult to keep going for any length of time, as you’re left hanging impotently from a hook, trying to get the right amount of momentum.
Ignoring the physical difficulties of playing the game the other problem is that it’s actually rather short, and with just three areas, none of which bring any major gameplay additions, the game struggles to justify its price tag. If nothing else Windlands is an interesting test to see how much your brain has accepted VR, and it is more than just a tech demo – but sadly not much more.
Formats: PlayStation VR (reviewed) and PC
Publisher: Psytec Games
Developer: Psytec Games
Release Date: 25th October 2017
Age Rating: 3