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Blade Runner 2049's first VR game looks stunning, but has problems

Getting motion sick in beautiful downtown future Los Angeles

Blade Runner 2049: Replicant Pursuit is the first of three Blade Runner-inspired VR games slated to be released this year, but after going hands-on with it at San Diego Comic-Con, I was more bored than amused.

And not to mention pretty queasy.

Developed for the Oculus Rift and Gear VR by Turtle Rock Studios, the studio behind Evolve and Left 4 Dead, Blade Runner 2049: Replicant Pursuit is bogged down by one of the biggest problems I’ve encountered with other vehicular-based VR games: the intense motion sickness that comes from rapid movement and braking. The same kind of motion sickness I experienced with Replicant Pursuit I also encountered while playing DriveClub VR for PlayStation 4.

Although I didn’t get to play much of Replicant Pursuit, the level that press was shown featured a, well, pursuit of a possible replicant. Prior to sitting down and strapping the headset on, I asked one of the exhibit directors at Comic-Con how the game would feel for those who suffer from minor motion sickness. He assured that it was one of the breeziest VR experiences he ever had and, putting my faith in the pleasant stranger I had just met, I booted up the game.

In Replicant Pursuit, I took control of a spinner (the ships used by members of the futuristic LAPD to catch rogue replicants) and jolted through downtown Los Angeles. If I moved my head from side to side, I could lock onto other spinners in the distance. This seemed to guide my ship toward those that I need to catch and that’s where the motion sickness kicked in.

The spinner I was piloting sped up and braked frequently without abandon. As the ship zoomed around the skyscrapers and massive billboards that littered the Los Angeles skyline, I had to keep track of where the replicants were. Trying to find a constant balance between moving my head in order to stay in pursuit and convince my quickly uncomfortable stomach came to be the only things I could focus on.

This is the biggest issue I had with Replicant Pursuit. I spent more time trying not to vomit on my friend to the right of me than anything else. The game also suffers from repetitive tasks and loses its oomph factor after more than a minute of flying around.

That’s the one positive aspect of the game I took away from it after playing: The art is stunning. The concept behind it is interesting and, if anyone is a diehard Blade Runner fan, the attention paid to detailing futuristic, neo-LA is impressive. The way the development team incorporated VR aspects — at one point, a giant yellow tennis ball that belonged to a billboard ad flies straight at you — is well done. Towering Coca-Cola cans and vibrant Atari signs light up the night sky as the hulking LAPD building stands foreboding in the background.

Out of all the VR experiences and games I’ve played, Replicant Pursuit is one of the most vibrant, but that art only goes so far. When the entire experience is bogged down by waves of nausea, it’s hard to enjoy the art as much as I wanted to.

Our level ended by colliding into the replicant’s vehicle that we were chasing and landing our spinner on the ground. A police officer on the ground pulled me aside and suggested the that replicant had taken off and, as the title of the game suggests, we were going to have to pursue him.

At the time, nothing seemed less appealing.

For those with stronger stomachs who want to check it out for themselves, Blade Runner 2049: Replicant Pursuit will be available to play on the Rift and Gear VR as of July 21. Two other Blade Runner-inspired VR games will be released before Blade Runner 2049 makes its theatrical debut.

Blade Runner 2049 will be released on Oct. 6.

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