Virtual certainties: hands-on with 5 of the best upcoming PSVR games

It’s just about two years to the day since PlayStation VR first launched, causing a synchronized gasp of awe as hundreds of thousands of gamers donned the eye-opening new tech for the first time. 

Now that the initial euphoria has died down, however, developers need to show us that VR has moved out of its novelty phase and bring us games that deliver on the technology’s considerable promise – and with that in mind we headed for the sprawling PSVR booth at Tokyo Game Show 2018 to play some of the titles that studios both established and new are hoping will make the early running.

After going hands-on with several upcoming PSVR games – from abstract rhythm games to ruminative walking sims – we can confidently say that things are looking promising. VR games have matured and tightened up over these past two years, and here are five upcoming PSVR games that prove it.

Déraciné

The fire may have been put out on the Dark Souls series (for now), but FromSoftware and Hidetaka Miyazaki remain a busy bunch. As well as working on the vicious Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the studio assigned a small team to the more subdued task of making a VR game about a faerie floating around a Victorian boarding school.

Déraciné is a gentle experience, with echoes of an old-school point-and-click adventure, as your movement is restricted to teleportation (good for staving off those VR queasies). During our hands-on, we freely explored a big chunk of the school, reading letters, solving puzzles, and fluttering around schoolkids and nicking their hats to convince them we existed. 

There’s nothing in-your-face about Déraciné. Its sepia color palette, lilting violin score and sense of stillness (characters don’t move until you interact with them) give it the feel of exploring the hazy memories of someone who lived 100 years ago. We got very little feel for the actual plot during our time with the game, but Miyazaki’s knack for environmental storytelling reassures us that it’ll be something special.

With PSVR lacking in nuanced, slower-paced games, Deracine is shaping up to be a welcome coming-of-age title for the platform.

Out: November 6, 2018

Astro Bot Rescue Mission

With long-running 3D platformer names like Mario, Crash and Sonic maintaining its stranglehold over the genre in the popular imagination, it’s not easy for a new IP to establish itself. VR remains uncharted territory for those big names however, giving promising newcomers like Astro Bot a chance to make their mark.

The beauty of Astro Bot is that you are a third-person presence in the game. Look down, and you’ll see a virtualized gamepad in your hands. Look ahead and you’ll see Astro Bot bounding around colorful platformer worlds at your command. The camera mostly rests at fixed angles, moving only when you’ve completed a section of a level (an elegant solution to motion sickness). This camera also means you sometimes need to do little things like lean forward to peak your head around corners when you run Astro Bot out of view.

It’s classic 3D platforming, with stagey levels, fisty attacks and jump pads, with an added layer of clever, fourth-wall-breaking VR. For example, some enemies will attack you, the player, instead of Astro Bot, splattering goop over your screen. Other times you’ll need to use the controller as a first-person gun to help out Astro Bot (who you’re also controlling).

It’s a VR masterclass based on what we’ve played, and a solid platformer full of neat touches and tricks that pull you into its whimsical little world.

Out: October 3, 2018

Beat Saber

In the way of rhythm-action games, it was between Beat Saber and Space Channel 5 VR for this spot on the list. And much though we love the 60s-themed spaceship dance-off from the Dreamcast days, Beat Saber feels like the punchier, more precise game of the two.

The premise is simple: your move controllers are two lightsaber-like blades, and you must slice your way through an endless conveyor belt of boxes coming at you to the beat of big-bass-y electronic music. And before you say ‘Fruit Ninja’, there’s a little more going on here, as you need to slash the boxes in specific directions – sometimes with both hands at once – and dodge obstacles. It’s wholesome, high-energy fun.

It’s always a good sign when a rhythm game engages you so much that you’re performing your own hand-waving flourishes between beats to help maintain your flow, and Beat Saber caused us to swish our arms around like the hyperactive conductor of a Philharmonic Orchestra (now there’s an idea for a VR game…)

For something similar, if more aggressive, check out the excellent Thumper, which slipped under the radar a bit when it launched with PSVR back in 2016.

Out: Q4 2018

Tetris Effect

When you think of Tetris in VR you may well envision 3D Tetrominoes gliding through space, which you have to manually reposition using your motion-controller hands. But then you remember that this is Tetris. And as the old saying goes, Tetris never changes.

With the revered creator of Rez and Child of Eden, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, at the helm for Tetris Effect, we experienced plenty of fireworks, sparkly visual effects and smooth electronic music as we went about the sisyphean task of stacking blocks, only to watch them disintegrate again.

The actual play area is flat, but each level is given a distinct flavor thanks to lovely deep backgrounds that include star fields, forests, and more abstract geometric compilations. Crucially, the visuals feel ambient rather than excessive, such as in the first level we played, where large rocks beneath the play area would gently glow blue whenever we laid something down.

While Tetris Effect doesn’t do anything strictly progressive for VR (or for Tetris), it doubles down on making this ageless game feel more hypnotic and absorbing than ever.

Out: November 9, 2018

Blood and Truth

This one harks back to the days when manually reloading your gun and shooting a goon off a bike seemed like the coolest conceivable thing you could possibly do in VR (and let’s not kid ourselves, it’s still up there).

Blood and Truth is a first-person shooter from Sony London Studio, the same bunch that did the London Heist demo (and The Getaway games, for you older readers). It’s set in a similarly Guy Ritchie-esque London of smokey nightclubs, red-draped boxing halls and hard bald geezers in suit jackets.

Playing the game, it feels like the studio has been carefully watching VR games evolve over the past two years, taking onboard improvements made by others, and making tweaks in all the right places. Where London Heist was a twitchy rail shooter, Blood and Truth feels more weightly, giving you more control as you pick locks, actively crouch behind cover, and hack terminals. During one sequence, we even tried our hand at stealth, knocking off a guard with a silencer from behind cover. So basically, it’s Cockney Deus Ex minus the augmentations (and the free-roaming, and the self-pitying protagonist).

The whole British gangster theme may have been ground down over the years by too many half-baked Danny Dyer flicks, but Blood and Truth looks and feels every part the VR action blockbuster.

Out: TBC

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