Developer: Impulse Gear
Publisher: Sony
Available On: PS4
Released: May 16, 2017

“Far Out”

The reasons I didn’t grab Farpoint at launch were twofold. The first was it’s price, over a hundred Canadian dollars bundled with the PlayStationVR’s new lightgun, the Aim controller; I do alright for myself, but I’m not made of money. The second was that from what little I had seen of Farpoint, it seemed to be in serious danger of being little more than a tech demo. But a recent price drop for the bundle and opportunity to try it out at a PlayStation kiosk finally emboldened me to pick it up.

So is it good? Yeah, it’s pretty good. Is it $100 good? That’s a more complicated question, but if you own a PSVR unit and you’re interested in any of its Aim controller-compatible games, then you will at some point have to bite the bullet and in that regard, Farpoint is a fine place to sink your teeth in……to the bullet, I mean.

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat, Farpoint would not be a very good game without the PlayStationVR and Aim controller in the same way that Time Crisis and House of the Dead would lose a lot of their appeal without their respective lightguns. That said, Farpoint is at least as good as those early lightgun games and even better in some respects. If you’re a veteran of those games, you probably wouldn’t find it surprising that Farpoint doesn’t have a very good story, which is why it is surprising that it actually does.

You play as Wanderer, a pilot sent to pick up a pair of scientists from an pace station near Jupiter. When a massive spatial anomaly pulls in your ship, the station and the scientists and deposits all of you on a strange, alien world, you must take up your rifle and trek across the planet to find the scientists and rescue them.
As a device to drive what is essentially a glorified rail shooter, that’s not a bad setup and miles better than the “Here are some terrorists/robots/aliens/zombies” of most other games in the genre. Impulse Gear is clearly interested in telling a more nuanced story than that though. The studio went above and beyond with Farpoint’s between-mission cutscenes as well, creating a pair of fleshed-out human characters in the scientists that I enjoyed spending time with.

I don’t want to oversell the story. It’s not exactly Bioshock, more like a good, if slightly predictable episode of Star Trek. It’s a neat little story though, and well told, with the scientists acting as the emotional hook of the story with Wanderer functioning basically as the cameraman. That’s a good thing, by the way. In a arcade-style shooter like this, you want the player avatar to have as little involvement in the story as possible so as to not get in the way of the gameplay. Impulse Gear understands that we’re here to shoot things and luckily, the shooting is top-notch.

There’s a reason I drew a comparison to early arcade lightgun games earlier. As with those games, Farpoint’s lightgun is it’s gameplay, and it’s appeal lies entirely in transporting you to an alien planet via PlayStationVR and putting an actual, physical gun in your hands. If you’re into that, great. If not, there’s always Titanfall 2. Outside of the thrill of blasting aliens with a lightgun in VR, there really isn’t much to Farpoint. The levels are all completely linear corridors with nothing in the way of secondary objectives, secret passages or even collectables and weapon upgrades. The scan function on your gun also can’t be used to identify enemies or objects in the environment and is used only to activate short in-game cutscenes. The story also weakens significantly in its second half, dropping the scan mechanic entirely and committing the cardinal sin of ending on a cliffhanger for a sequel of dubious likelihood. Despite this, I never felt disappointed in Farpoint and I think the reason why is in the way it presents itself. Farpoint doesn’t advertise its story as a spellbinding emotional rollercoaster like a lot of big-budget games do, and it doesn’t promise endless replayability through limitless content. No, with Farpoint, you get exactly what it says on the box; a solid, PSVR-enhanced arcade shooter in the comfort of your own home. And so I find myself better disposed towards Farpoint for simply being honest.

I was a little concerned at the beginning that the alien spider enemies shown off in the trailer were all I would be fighting for the entire length of the game. It’s the reason I sometimes have trouble getting into Metroid games, as much as I love them, as two thirds of the combat pits you against wild animals with little to no sense or self-preservation. I want to be able to feel like I’ve outsmarted my enemies rather than just shot them before they could get near me. And like Metroid, combat against Farpoint’s waves of bugs do eventually give way to fighting enemies that can actually shoot back, at which point the game turns into something a little closer to a normal first-person shooter.

The gameplay remains solid when enemies with guns show up, but can get a little annoying at times since the standard gun-toting enemies are really neutrally colored, causing them to blend with the environment at a distance. This made many of the long-range battles more difficult than they should have been, or at least, difficult for the wrong reasons. A lot of the time, I’d end up shooting at an enemies muzzle flare or in the direction of a vague movement in the distance rather than at an enemy silhouette.

Your starting assault rifle can fire indefinitely but has a heat meter that you’ll need to keep an eye on, with your other weapons functioning like standard lightgun game weapons; infinite ammo, limited magazines.
There’s a good variety of weapons for an arcade-style game like this and most of them are pretty fun to use, though it would have been nice to have a few more opportunities to change weapons throughout the campaign.

Like Dead Space, there’s no HUD in Farpoint per se, but all of your information is displayed somewhere on your person, with ammo displayed on your weapons and your health bar displayed on a little readout on your wrist. Incidentally, I really appreciated the developer’s decision to put a watch on your characters wrist just above the health bar, which syncs with your PS4’s clock. It’s a small but incredibly useful thing since, like most adults, I frequently have places to be. It’s also a considerate and responsible thing to do, as if Impulse Gear knows they’ve created an immersive game and don’t want you getting lost in it at the expense of anything else. Maybe I’m reading a little too much into it. Maybe it was just a “Hey, this’ll be neat!” decision, but I appreciate it anyway, if only because I can think of some other developers that wouldn’t care either way about a person’s other responsibilities.

I mentioned in my Resident Evil 7 review that I wasn’t sure what any VR game could do to be more immersive outside of good atmosphere and sound design, but it turns out that there’s at least one way to further enhance the experience, put a gun in my hands.

For those who aren’t aware (I wasn’t quite sure myself), the Aim controller isn’t some vaguely gun-shaped piece of plastic that you need to slot your PS Move controllers into, it’s a proper controller made for Farpoint and, presumably, all future PSVR lightgun games, no Move controllers required. The entire workings of a Dualshock 4 have been integrated into the Aim controller with impressive results. The buttons have been arranged intuitively along the controller, split between the front and back grips and given smart adjustments not only to fit comfortably on the lightgun, but so a person playing in VR can use it properly without having to look at it. Time will tell if other PSVR games like the upcoming Bravo Team manage to make proper use of it, but it’s used to great effect in Farpoint. If you don’t own an Aim controller, Farpoint can be played with a regular Dualshock controller, but trying to aim a rifle while holding the Dualshock completely straight gets awkward quickly. The Aim controller is so integral to the experience that I really wouldn’t bother with Farpoint without one. Playing Farpoint without an Aim controller is like playing Guitar Hero without a guitar or Dance Dance Revolution without a dance pad.

Speaking of DDR, I personally preferred to play Farpoint standing as I found it easier to maneuver that way and felt like the way the game was meant to be played. If you’re unwilling or unable to stand for long periods of time, Farpoint can be played just as easily seated. You’ll also have to adjust the PS4’s camera depending on how you decide to play; on top of your TV if you’re standing, beneath it if you’re sitting; and of course, remember to clear the area of things you might knock over while swinging the Aim controller around. It’s also worth noting that the PS4 registers the Aim controller as it’s own device, like a keyboard or PS Move wand, rather than just a funny-shaped Dualshock. This means that unless the functionality gets patched in, the Aim controller will only work with games specifically designed for it. So no, hardcore gamers, you can’t play Dark Souls with it; trust me, I tried.

So is the Aim controller worth the price? Well, anyone who owns a PlayStationVR unit in the first place already spent $400 or more on a peripheral to their existing console, and purchasing Farpoint in a bundle brings the price of the Aim controller down to about $50. Now I’m not here to be an apologist for Sony or an arm of it’s marketing apparatus, but I can personally say that the Aim Controller is a solid piece of tech that was worth it to me insofar as it added to my immersion in Farpoint and didn’t break the bank; though your own situation may vary.

If the Aim controller has one drawback, it’s that you will inevitably look like the world’s biggest dork while using it. If you live alone, with other gamers or simply aren’t as self-conscious as I am, that may not be an issue, but whenever I heard other people moving around in my house, I felt the urge to tear off the headset and pretend to be doing something, anything else.

What a nerd.

After finishing Farpoint’s campaign, I hopped immediately into the game’s online cooperative mode, where a fellow player kindly showed me the ropes and clued me into a few pro tips, such as how the scan function on your gun can revive fallen teammates and that if you hit the reload button and then switch weapons, your weapon will continue to reload while stowed, greatly increasing your combat efficiency.

Like the campaign, Farpoint’s online co-op and single player challenge modes are linear gauntlets of enemies for players to fight through. There are a good variety of challenge maps and the time and score tracker included in both modes help add a welcome level of replayability to the game.

But while fun to play through, especially in co-op, your mission in each map is still just “Kill everything and reach the end”. It might have been nice to throw some objectives in there, something that could only be done with two people besides just “More enemies”. And on that subject, the difficulty of the challenge maps seems to be the same in both single player and co-op, which might not even be too big of an issue, except that the game doesn’t give you any more time in single player to compensate for not having two guns worth of people in the fight. At time of writing, I’ve yet to finish a single challenge map by myself because I simply keep running out of time. Unless I’m playing a dedicated Time Attack mode, the time should really be counting up, not down, and scoring me that way.

How much you’ll ultimately like Farpoint lies in whether you can appreciate the difference between “Novelty” and “Gimmickry”. Being able to wield a rifle with 1-to-1 accuracy in a three-dimensional space to fend off aliens is certainly a novel experience and, for me, worth the price of admission. My biggest concern is whether or not there will be enough Aim controller-compatible games in the PS4’s future to justify, if not it’s price, then the amount of space the peripheral is going to take up whenever I’m not using it. In the end, it’s Sony who’ll decide whether or not the Aim controller and PSVR as a whole are gimmicks by choosing to support and market them properly. For now though, Farpoint is a solid, if simplistic shooter and definitely worth checking out you grew up in the 90’s or earlier and occasionally find yourself nostalgic for those lightgun games of yore

Time To Complete: 8 Hours
Challenge: Moderate
Best Advice: Make Proper Use Of Your Ironsights
Also Try: House of the Dead: Overkill, EVE: Valkyrie

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