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PlayStation VR – The Best of Year One.

A year ago today, Sony released PlayStation VR, a major gamble for a console publisher commonly known for giving up on its hardware peripherals – in fact if it weren’t for PSVR, my PlayStation Move controller would still be collecting dust with its nunchuck counterpart and my Wonderbook (remember that?).  Since then, over 100 games have been released for the virtual reality system and more are coming almost every week.  Today I wanted to look back from A to Z at just a handful of the best titles that have made their way to PSVR.

Let’s start with an excellent on-rails shooter.  Archangel, which I reviewed here, is a remarkable and unique project from Skydance Interactive.  You find yourself piloting a 60-foot mech on a vengeance mission against a world-dominating organization with the support of three allies in gunships (human characters, AI-controlled) and your on-board AI friend M1KL (pronounced Mikhail).  M1KL acts as equal parts therapist, weapons-provider and copilot while you blast the bejesus out of everything in your path.  Where the game exceeds is in making the on-rails shooter genre truly dynamic.  Each PS Move controller operates one of your mech’s arms; its buttons will fire, use a short-term shield, alternate weapons and punch obstacles.  Even early on in the game, you learn the importance of balancing offense and defense simultaneously – nothing feels quite like blocking something on the left with your right hand while crossing over with your left to neutralize a separate threat.  The upgrade component is handy too; you earn points based on performance which you can use to make shields and the hull more durable, weapons stronger and other standouts like earning auto-recovery for last-second blocks.  There are also slightly branching pathways based on your abilities, because why not?  The occasional low-res environments were the game’s only drawback for me, but this is not a title to be missed.

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Speaking of excellent games, let’s talk about the short-but-sweet Batman: Arkham VR.  There’s no better way to say this…you’re Batman.  I don’t just mean you play as Batman – that he’s the character you’re controlling.  I mean you feel like Batman.  You’ll find yourself using a detective mode similar to the other Arkham games to examine bodies and crime scenes.  Sometimes you throw batarangs.  Sometimes you’re in the Batcave doing target practice.  Sometimes you’re interacting with characters who may or may not be hallucinations.  But throughout the (criminally short) two-hour adventure, you’re frickin’ Batman.  The controls are intuitive as one could hope for; you reach down to either hip or your bellybutton area to grab different tools to use (batarangs, grapnel guns, fancy gadgets) as you – did I mention you’re Batman? – wrap up loose ends following the Arkham saga.  Perfectly captures the dark tone and narrative of the universe, but why can’t it be longer?

But I have to be honest.  I think the most incredible experience I’ve had with my PlayStation VR system has been Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.  It was so terrifying from beginning to end that I had to finish playing it before my son was born because I couldn’t stop screaming and cursing.  I can’t even imagine playing it without the headset, to be honest.  When I beat it, my wife asked me how it was.  “It was like being in one of those licensed ‘haunted house’ experiences at Halloween Horror Nights or at Busch Gardens…but it was 10-12 hours long and the staff were allowed to kill you.”

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Far less scary but equally brilliant was this summer’s The Solus Project, which I reviewed here for AIR just a couple weeks ago.  In this first-person exploration title, players must navigate and survive on a bizarre alien world, dealing with harsh terrain and the frequent need for food, water and rest.  It’s a little bit like the film The Martian and has morsels of games like Fallout 4 and Don’t Starve, but The Solus Project is absolutely its own beast.  Hidden collectibles that upgrade your spacesuit add time and replay value to this story-driven gem.

Oh hey!  Speaking of games I reviewed, let’s talk about Sparc.  Sparc is an innovative new vSport developed by CCP North America.  Forbes’s Erik Kain even suggested it “may be just what the PSVR needs.”  A bit like the disc combat in Tron, but mixed with tennis, this title is heavy on the exercise and easy on the eye.  Players throw their virtual tennis-like ball at each other in hopes of either hitting their opponent for a point or hitting near their opponent for a strike (which makes your ball bigger for the next throw).  Your defense is equal parts dodging and using this same ball, which manifests an energy shield while it’s held.  Afraid of a no-throw standoff?  Not to worry; there’s a shot clock and penalty system involved.  There are also multiple play modes, customization options and more.  You owe it to yourself (and your body, after the winter holidays) to pick this unique title up.  CCP promises major upcoming updates like doubles matches to keep players’ interests piqued.

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I also thoroughly enjoyed Until Dawn: Rush of Blood.  This PSVR launch title may be far simpler than Archangel, but it’s no less entertaining.  Here you find yourself armed with two guns (controlled via the Move controllers) and riding a mine cart through environments similar to (or taken from) Supermassive’s 2015 horror title Until Dawn.  Rush of Blood trades in the original title’s extremely cinematic, choice-based storyline for an equally terrifying on-rails shooter that ramps up the difficulty and scares as you proceed – and it does scare.  I may have jumped and screamed like a small child multiple times.  Players will find this to be a more traditional rail shooter, with such classic elements as easily-missable bonuses, monsters who require multiple hits slowly climbing into your cart and so on.  The VR component adds some extra gameplay and aesthetic elements like ducking, dodging and fuller immersion.  It’s not a system-seller, but it’s a steal at $20 and easily recommended.

Sony is currently celebrating its one-year birthday for PSVR.  There’s a 30-60% off sale on virtually (see what I did there?) every title they’ve released, and they just promised 60+ more VR games in the next six months – let’s just hope they’re a little more like these and a little less like Weeping Doll.  I have no idea how long or how much Sony will back their VR system, but so far I’ve found it worth the trouble and I’m looking forward to seeing some of the upcoming titles like Bravo Team, The Inpatient and the VR patch for Cyan’s beautiful Obduction.  Happy Birthday, PSVR!

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