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Farpoint review

Impulse Gear/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Farpoint is a pastiche of existing shooters and pop culture; there are long sections where it just felt like I was shooting AT-STs from Star Wars with guns from Halo.

Farpoint is a game in which you walk from one end of a linear path to the other, while also shooting everything you see in between. You move forward, you shoot things, you continue to move forward. You don’t pick up items, you barely have to explore, and you don’t backtrack. It’s also much better than that description makes it sound, threading the needle between The Martian and Starship Troopers in a way that takes advantage of, and suffers from, the basic design of the hardware on which it plays.

The story begins as you fly towards a space station that’s housing a scientific team studying an anomaly in space that seems to be giving off limitless energy. Things go wrong, as they always do, and a surprise trip through a wormhole strands you on the surface of an unknown planet somewhere in space, completely cut off from shelter and the scientists you were trying to reach.

Farpoint does have a story, even if few of the threads it sets up are resolved by the time the credits roll. I dutifully scanned the holograms I found in the environment to find out what those plucky scientists from the beginning of the game were up to as they struggled to figure out where they were, how to survive and what the next step should be after losing hope.

The story of those two scientists, complete with what has to be the first time love of Del Amitri songs becomes a major plot point in a video game, is far more interesting than what was presented as my own story. The scientists learn, adapt and adjust in a parallel story that sometimes put me in the point of view of an external camera, and sometimes showed me parts of the story through the eyes of the character themselves.

Without spoiling anything, the game made me care about what was happening in this world, but then failed to properly resolve any of those threads. It’s a bit jarring to have this human story taking place in the background, only to return to my own body in order to walk forward and shoot things some more. They were given souls; I was given a gun.

Within that gunplay is where the game has the most tension between mediocrity and greatness. Farpoint would be an unforgivably basic shooter if you played it on a standard screen. It’s linear, the choice of weapons is limited, and the enemies all move in predictable ways while periodically flashing their big red point of vulnerability at the player. I never got lost and, outside of one slightly frustrating boss battle, I always knew what to do next.

Those shortcomings disappear inside of virtual reality, however. The Aim controller studiously avoids evoking a real firearm visually, but the addition of holding the virtual guns with two hands and aiming in a semi-realistic way makes the mechanical act of playing a somewhat basic shooter feel fresh and interesting again.

Farpoint works the way it does due to how the PlayStation VR platform works. You have one camera — likely mounted on the top of your television — that tracks both the headset and the Aim controller. That means you can look behind you, the PlayStation VR headset has tracking lights on the back of the strap that holds it around your head, but there is a slim cone of invisibility behind you where the gun won’t work due to your body getting between the illuminated tracking ball at the tip of the controller and the camera.

Impulse Gear/Sony Interactive Entertainment

The Aim controller is launching alongside Farpoint, and it’s technically optional, but it makes the game much better. The two analog sticks function as they would on a standard controller, so any skill picked up in standard first-person shooters at least partially carries over. I was nervous the direct movement control would make me ill, but I felt fine as long as I only used the back analog stick to turn when absolutely necessary.

I invited a few friends with less virtual reality experience to try the control scheme as well, and they caught on quickly. Farpoint gives the player plenty of options to adjust the game’s movement for comfort, and everyone needs to experiment with these to find a tolerable way to play, but I was able to get everything tuned in such a way that I felt little to no discomfort.

The game is so cognizant of the PlayStation VR’s need to have you facing in one direction that enemies will actually run back in front of you after they are able to damage you from the sides. It can feel a bit artificial at times, but overall Farpoint does a good job of never requiring you to fire straight behind you, limiting the annoyance. I had more issues with aiming the gun straight up at enemies and losing tracking than the inability to shoot straight behind me.

Even though the game encourages you to face in one direction at all times, you’ll be moving quite a bit. I found myself often yelling in surprise as an enemy ambushed, and twice jumped straight in the air when I was engrossed in a tricky firefight and someone outside the game grabbed my arm to get my attention. Farpoint does a wonderful job of teaching you how to move, aim, select your weapon and reload effectively, and then puts all those skills to the test as the game becomes more intense. Doing all these things at once requires the full focus of your attention, making the game a very good way to blow off some stress by shotgunning the hell out of some space spiders.

The Aim controller also offers a few options to switch weapons: moving the controller over my shoulder and towards my back as if I were reaching for something may feel kind of immersive, but I ended up using the button above the analog stick on the back of the Aim controller. The left button reloads, and that’s about all you have to know.

It took me a couple of hours to learn how to juggle the game’s weapons and find the correct timing to reload or switch guns in the heat of battle, while also taking cover when necessary. I felt like a badass by the end of the game, however, surviving complex situations and learning how to use my primary and secondary fire effectively while prioritizing targets. Using cover is important, even if I was sometimes frustrated that the relatively narrow cone of the PlayStation camera’s tracking kept me from physically crouching behind rocks or debris to avoid fire.

Impulse Gear/Sony Interactive Entertainment

The guns themselves are balanced well, even if nothing here is very surprising or innovative outside of the physical need to aim. The holographic sights for many of the weapons feel as if they actually exist in three dimensional space, which forced me to hold them up to my eye in a way that at least felt realistic, down to the fact that I found myself closing one eye to line up my shot better. The assault rifle will overheat if it’s not fired in short, controller bursts, the shotgun is great at close range but takes a longer time to be completely reloaded, and the plasma rifle is terrible and no one should use it.

The controller’s rumble and the sound design for each weapon made the shooting itself feel great; which is convenient since this is the primary way you interact with the work. The basic assault rifle sounds compact and lethal while firing, and the physical feeling of bringing it up to your eye to aim down the holographic sight while spitting out lead at opponents far away is delightful. The moment-to-moment act of navigating your character in Farpoint while using these guns feels right. If you ever watched Aliens and wondered what it would be like to be a space marine, this is a pretty good way to get a taste of that experience.

The six hour campaign is balanced out by single-player challenge levels that force you to keep moving forward and keep your multiplier up. Farpoint also includes four co-op levels with multiple degrees of difficulty that are great fun with a friend ... even though the frantic waves of enemies did make me a bit more sick than the campaign itself.

While Farpoint's different parts, taken individually, lean a little too heavily on inspiration from existing pop culture properties that have already been strip mined, they all fit together into a neat package. The game nails the basics of aiming and firing a gun in a way that’s incredibly satisfying — even if the Aim controller feels more mandatory than optional. Farpoint may seem basic in a few years, once VR design has progressed past the point of simple shooters. But right now, as developers are still wrestling with the language of virtual reality, it’s tough to get the basics right in any VR game, much less a big budget shooter. Farpoint isn’t perfect, but it nails those basics.

Farpoint was reviewed using a final retail copy of the game provided by Sony. It was tested on both regular PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro hardware. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.