Swinging onto PSVR, does Windlands 2 ascend to the skies or plummet to the ground? The Finger Guns review:
The concept of VR was almost tailor-made for games like Windlands 2, where the act of swinging through the trees should create that same thrill of immersive, free movement, akin to what Spiderman or Tarzan would exhilaratingly experience. Indeed, the idea of using VR tech to create a free-flowing, full locomotion game around this style of movement is exactly the kind of thing that should shine and swing spritely where regular, non-VR titles fall.
Windlands 2 pulls off the act of swinging and movement well for the most part, but loses its grip in some significant areas. It should have been an adrenaline ride of flying proportions, but ends up too easily forgettable and uninteresting to invest much more in than appreciating the first couple hours. So what knocks this flawed sequel out of the skies and into the undergrowth? Well, stick with me and let’s find out.
Grappling With The Stars
As you may have already suspected, Windlands 2 is a follow-up to the 2017 original, bringing with it more story and gameplay elements compared to its exploration-heavy predecessor. So far, so standard. Originally launching only a year later on Oculus equipment, Windlands 2 has finally made its flying debut on PSVR hardware, so you’d hope the time has been used to port it in the best condition possible.
Starting out, you’re given a nice tutorial to get attuned to the physics and movement demands from using your grapple hooks to traverse the world. Once set loose onto the landscape itself, you’ll be needing to fire your hooks with precision to hit plants, trees, cacti and basically anything green to anchor yourself into the air. When it works and you hit your airborne stride, it feels bloody wonderful.
A couple of times I nailed the rhythm of hitting one branch to another with the fluidity and grace of a bona fide gazelle, gleefully reveling in fantasy of being Spiderman for just a moment. I say just a moment, because before long you’ll run into the inherent problems with Windlands 2 movement mechanics on PSVR. From reviewing some Oculus gameplay, there appears to be a significant disparity in that tech having more precise aiming, sensitive swinging motion and just generally more refined systems.
PSVR functions fine enough to get by, with some fleeting moments being great, but too often my aiming reticle for my right hand would disappear, leaving me guessing (poorly) at distance or angle. Infrequently, I’d hit through the object I’ve aimed to grapple on, causing me to fall to my death or I’d be firing arrows at enemies only for them to “miss” despite hitting the designated target perfectly.
Add in some minor but frequent detection issues and later areas adding in hazardous targets to grapple onto, it quickly develops into a cocktail of frustration, tedium and annoyance. When it feels like working, it can be bloody glorious to play, but these moments are too fleeting and the exception as opposed to the norm, which is a problem. With patch support for PSVR2 promised however, Windlands 2 may have the potential to soar in future, as it does seem the issues lie more on the hardware than software side.
Bow To The Sky
Unlike the original, Windlands 2 isn’t just content to have you launching and thrusting yourself around aimlessly – you’ll also need to do battle with robotic fiends to succeed. Armed with your bow, you’ll need to take aim while on the move to stay alive and slay your foes in style. Not gonna lie, nailing a perfect shot mid-air before dashing around another obstacle and firing off another volley of arrows was super satisfying at times.
Once again, this positive promotion comes with caveats. The bow is your only weapon and there are only two varieties of robots to eliminate outside of bosses. Hit detection can be completely arbitrary – sometimes missing when hitting dead on, other times causing enemies to explode despite hitting the wall or ground in front of them. It’s a mysteriously chaotic bow, that’s for sure.
Some enemy placement can be a pain to find when you’re trying to complete your assigned task too, making for a tedious game of hide-and-seek that drags on, putting the brakes on your free-flowing swinging. With no other varieties of weapon or things to unlock, it just becomes very repetitive and this happens far too quickly into the runtime, causing the rest of the game to meandre to a slow, draining finish. You start out feeling like a red arrow before it turns into a Boeing 747.
I pondered to myself after getting vexingly bored in one encounter that drudged on far too long whether I’d have actually preferred the original. The exploration is the best part of this experience and Windlands 2, in my mind, should have doubled down on the combat to make it progressive and rewarding, or virtually scrapped it altogether to focus on what works best.
Beasts Of Mechanics
As mentioned before, there’s a handful of boss encounters you’ll contend with in each of the 3 areas (jungle, desert and mountain). Each one will be a slightly different variant of a theme (worm type, armoured spider type etc) with glowing hit spots and big arenas to maneuver around. Some fly, some are grounded, some travel in-and-out of the arena, that kind of thing.
In between sparring rounds with the larger robots, you’ll again have to contend with waves with smaller enemies, padding out each boss battle unnecessarily. One particular fight had smaller robots spawn in via pillars that erected and fell, where the animation took so long I could line up the shot, fire and sit there waiting for the next. I was so painfully bored at this point, I played it almost one-handed and on automatic, such was the lack of challenge presented.
Checkpoints are frequent and on the whole pretty generous, allowing you to die, respawn and hop back in, with no progress lost. You can brute force your way through fights by just zooming in, launching a kamikazee hail of arrows and swiftly dying before doing so again, and again. It left me feeling pretty unfulfilled, but equally the gameplay structure and design would be a nightmare without generous checkpoints as death is so easy to come by, falling into a lose-lose kind of scenario.
It’s not all bad though, some of the boss designs are visually unique and the arenas are vast with tightly designed spaces to operate in. Like most of the combat, they just feel very simplistic and repetitious. A little more variety in how to approach objectives or defeat enemies would have just alleviated the stale air of the game after the second or so hour.
Show Your Colours
Windlands 2, to its credit, does have a bright and visually distinct graphical style which helps overcome the technical limitations of the hardware relatively well. Each area of the world has strong contrasts of yellows, reds and greens which help make the blocky geometry somehow pleasing to explore. Soaring out of the top of the jungle or desert to descend back to the starting areas felt awesome too, as you glide down at speed and watch the world approach beneath you. I loved those couple of moments for sure.
Character models are a bit odd but again, kind of suit the stylised look of the game and the boss designs, as previously noted, are well done and varied. It’s a good thing Windlands 2 looks so vibrant too, because you’ll be incessantly tasked with traipsing back and forth throughout the lands for no real reason other than to pad the length out.
Seriously, each task you complete will require you to go back to X person, only for them to command you to go back to the exact same place you just were to do another task. The first time was fine, the fifth time was just exhausting. There was no need to design the structure of quests this way other than to keep you in the game for longer and make the story mode last longer. I genuinely think if you removed the constant backtracking and extended henchmen-bot sections the 5-6 hour runtime would be half the length.
The issues with grappling and movement could be attributed to the hardware on PSVR as opposed to the game itself, but in terms of combat, structure and story, only Windlands 2 can be at fault. I’ll admit I’m being quite hard on the title and I know VR’s limitations mean you can’t have massive, deep or sprawling games, but the simplistic and mind-numbing structural choices of everything outside of movement are disappointing, as well as undermining the better parts of the game.
Flying Too Close To The Sun
I haven’t spoken much about the story itself, since it just isn’t very good. It’s serviceable and fitting for the style – an ancient big bad is being summoned, leading to his army of evil robotics to rise up and cause trouble. As a hunter/guardian, it’s your job to stop it happening – collect crystals from bosses and stop the world-ending prophecy etc etc.
There are 120 collectibles to be found (good luck) and you can play both in single-player or multiplayer (up to 4 people) through the story mode or in races set up around each of the areas in the world, providing some opportunity for competitive spirit and a bit of ruthless head-to-head. Consequently, there’s a decent length of content to be had, especially compared to most VR titles. The question is really whether all of that time is worth experiencing as a quality addition, which personally I didn’t find to always be the case.
I should add as well, to my amazement, the full locomotion movement and fluid swinging didn’t make me nauseous even once in my time with Windlands 2, which in fairness, is phenomenally impressive. Blood & Truth almost made me throw up about 4 times, but Windlands 2 I played in a handful of 1-hour stints and at no point did I need to take a break or stop, which is testament to some brilliant work on behalf of the devs. There’s a bunch of options to tune the experience how you prefer when starting up each time which is greatly appreciated too.
So, to sum up, Windlands 2 is, for me anyway, one of those cases where a title is maybe a little bit ahead of the current PSVR tech to consistently ascend to the heights it occasionally showed me it can. When the patch support for PSVR2 arrives, I truly hope the wonderful core of this game can shine, as even with its myriad issues, there’s just something about swinging through the trees and up mountains, zipping from place-to-place in perfect harmony, that just captures the essence of what VR was designed to do.
Channelling your inner desire to become just like Spiderman, Windlands 2 has some epic moments that are buried under tedious combat design, poor story structure and inconsistent grappling that is hindered by the current PSVR tech. When the harmony of swinging works, it encapsulates the best of what only immersive VR can do, if only the game itself could provide the platform to let it spread its wings and soar.
Windlands 2 is available now PS4 via PSVR (version reviewed), and PC via HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
Developer: Psytec Games
Publisher: Psytec Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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