Dreams Is A VR Playground In Need Of An Overhaul

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Dreams Is A VR Playground In Need Of An Overhaul
August 6, 2020

Media Molecule’s Dreams is finally ready for VR prime time. Does the ambitious creation platform hold up? Find out in our Dreams PSVR review!

 

What’s nice about reviewing Dreams five months on from launch is how much it’s been demystified. There’s little need to critique the game’s audacious creation tools and sharing systems with the caveat they might never take off; this pudding already has enough proof. Seriously, just go and check out some of the highly-rendered puddings.

 

It’s still tough, though, to wrap your head around the enormity of Dreams. How do you stamp a score on what’s essentially a YouTube-style platform of interactive experiences? It’s a trickier task still when you factor in VR.

 

Let’s try not to complicate it too much, then; if you have any interest in VR’s weirder, more experimental side (which, given the very nature of the platform, there’s a good chance you do), you absolutely cannot miss Dreams, even with some significant reservations for the creation mode.

 

Dreams Don’t Come For Free

Dreams brings a welcome bit of DIY to the VR scene. It allows anyone to get out there and make the game they’ve always wanted to see, pending their patience with the modest learning curve and their readiness to accept adapting their vision to the game’s fuzzy-paint aesthetic (which is customizable but never fully escapable). The tangible bit of all this is the tools themselves. On a flatscreen, Dreams’ intelligent UI, existing templates and logical progression got me up and running with some pretty basic game concepts in just a few sessions. You get pretty much the same suite of tools and tutorials in VR which, in practice, actually might be the most disappointing aspect of the Dreams VR experience.

 

Let me explain; VR creation apps are some of the best, most wholly unique experiences you can find in headsets. The intuition of 3D painting in apps like Tilt Brush has led to the creation of entirely new works of art and simple apps like Google’s Blocks can also get you up and running in this field in no time.

In terms of pure functionality, Dreams offers everything those apps do and much, much more. This toolset has the power to make entire games with deep mechanics. Again, Media Molecule has more than proved this platform is capable of that.

 

But, rather than go back and overhaul the Dreams learning and building experience for native VR support — as you might have expected it would — the developer settled on an awkward halfway house. When you first boot up Dreams, some of the game’s most basic on-ramping instructions will only be shown on a virtual screen, with your controllers (either two Move controllers or the DualShock 4) represented as a floating creature known as an Imp. In normal VR, navigating using the Imp is simple, but trying to negotiate 3D space on a flat screen in these tutorials is beyond clunky. Then, when you head into the Workshop, where the bulk of the game’s tutorials rest, you’ll be greeted with this message.

Oh.

 

There are some additional videos to guide you through VR specific elements but, largely speaking, Dreams’ tutorials are not designed with the platform in mind, and that’s a real shame. Yes, they’re fantastic for flat-screen creation, but VR support would have been best served starting from scratch with native guidance that properly communicates how much VR enhances the Dreams experience. Yes, you can still do everything you can do in the flat screen version and people already familiar with the tools will easily adapt, but this should be better at introducing new players to the weird and wonderful world of VR.

Problems also persist with the game’s control schemes. I had hoped that a switch to VR would make creation with the PlayStation Move controllers a much more palatable affair given the additional context of 3D space. And that is the case to some extent, but the Move controls are also plagued by the confusing button layout, which Media Molecule doesn’t virtually replicate when you’re making finger-tying shortcuts. Moving the camera around, too, is incredibly sensitive and begging for analog sticks to properly master. As such, the DualShock 4 surprisingly remains the best way to create in Dreams, but even then brushes up against the limited positional tracking.

 

But creation is only one part of the Dreams VR experience.

 

A Moulded Metaverse

I’ve already revisited one of the all-time scariest games, P.T., piloted an X-Wing, and admired that stunning Unreal Engine 5 demo inside my headset with Dreams. More importantly, I’ve discovered some brilliantly-fleshed out original concepts too that have amazed, delighted and surprised. On the flip side, it’s had me nauseous, confused and often bewildered.

 

It’s a messy little thing, but that’s sort of the point.

Navigating Dreams’ hub of user-generated content in VR isn’t so much a rollercoaster as an exhilarating and oddly amusing dash through a minefield. There’s strong curation from Media Molecule itself, but the real magic requires a risky dive into its ever-expanding pool of creations. You’ll find a dizzying array of fantastic ideas varying in quality of execution, endless memes, hastily-abandoned prototypes and tacked-on VR support. Even Media Molecule’s own VR showcase, Inside The Box, wrestles with control schemes and ideas with only some success, and many of the existing non-VR creations that have enabled support are strangely scaled, breaking every rule in the book of VR design. If you thought Five Nights At Freddy’s VR was disturbing, wait until you’ve played a broken fan tribute with muffled screams recorded through a PlayStation camera.

There’s plenty of comfort options to shield you from the worst offenders, of course, but it can only do so much. Every time you click on a new game, you’re rolling the dice, but the reward is often worth the risk. In one play session I found Hard Reset, a moody, atmospheric 6DOF exploration game that, even if it wasn’t built for VR exclusively, seemed to possess a powerful understanding of immersion. Bionic Revolution, meanwhile, promises a simple VR shooter that frankly plays better than some SteamVR shovelware.

This all sort of speaks for itself – it’s a better ‘review’ of the game than myself or anyone else could write up. You might have to shovel through a lot of misses to find the hits but, when you do, Dreams absolutely sings. And the chances are you’ll have a lot of fun wading through the former category anyway. On a platform that’s still in need of a lot of content to sustain it, Dreams offers a hugely compelling hub of VR intrigue that you’ll want to return to time and again. Even if its creative elements aren’t as strong as newcomers might hope, this limitless playground is more than enough reason to dive in.

 

Building For The Future

It’s true, though, that the game does have certain technical constraints in VR, especially from what I’ve played on a standard PS4. While there’s no extra limits on the size of your creations, dynamic rendering can reduce them to a blur, for example, and the game will boot you to PSVR’s Cinema Mode if it runs into framerate hitches. Still, it’s no secret that Dreams released at the tail end of a generation with a long roadmap ahead of it and, as exciting as it is in its current form, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds on other systems, where VR support is likely to shine even brighter. Media Molecule is interested in a PC version and, of course, PS5 looms too.

 

Until then, we have an immensely promising foundation. A strong community is already cropping up around Dreams’ PSVR support; one that’s free to experiment and tinker in ways that big-budget games might not be able. VR is often described as a wild west of game development, and in many ways Dreams is the epicenter of all of that.

 

Dreams PSVR Review Final Impressions

Dreams’ creative mode might not integrate with PSVR as naturally as hoped, but its cemented position as a hub of invention makes it an easy recommendation. Paired with the platform’s inherent comfort issues, its sprawling, untamed ecosystem can prove to be a minefield to navigate, but for every unwelcome rollercoaster ride (literally and figuratively), there’s another wish waiting to be fulfilled or something genuinely original to discover. The only way to truly judge Dreams is by the strength of its creations and those already speak for themselves; if you want to embrace VR’s experimental side, you shouldn’t miss it.

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