Review: Windlands 2
Psytec Games brought its swinging franchise sequel Windlands 2 to PC VR headsets in 2018 and it was a great videogame. While intense, that ability to swing through highly stylised worlds and fight dangerous bosses was a welcome one, highlighting that advanced motion in VR could be achieved without making most players suffer. But that was three years ago and the world of virtual reality (VR) gaming has advanced, so can Windlands 2 still keep up, and more importantly can PlayStation VR?
Windlands 2 is all about freedom of movement, being able to navigate its environments mostly in the air with some ground-based accessibility so you’re not always having to look for the next hook point. You’ve got a grappling hook in each hand so there’s no need to worry about right or left-handed mechanics, and the same goes for its newest inclusion, the bow.
Gameplay is all about being light on your feet and very aware of your surroundings. When you get a feel for it and find that flow Windlands 2 has a beautiful energy to it, evoking a real buzz when you swing through chunks of the environment perfectly. Miss a grappling point and you’ll quickly realise how far away the ground can get – and that there isn’t loads of it.
This isn’t a relaxing, non-violent experience like the original though, that bow is there for a reason. Titans are the main enemy in the game, mechanical beasts that effectively work as mini-bosses most of the time, with some segments dropping in the occasional weaker opponents to keep you busy. That also means there’s a storyline this time, where you’re trying to save a peaceful society from this evil menace.
The problem with the PlayStation VR version of Windlands 2 isn’t about the quality of the port, as it looks just like the PC VR edition. No, the issue comes down to mechanics, or more accurately, the lack of fluidity during the fights. Soaring through the calm environments is easy – so long as you don’t miss a hook – making it one of the best parts of Windlands 2. Most of the main battles are in 360 areas where you can navigate around the boss shooting the red highlighted targets on its body. On PlayStation VR this becomes frustrating and a test of patience because you don’t have complete freedom to twist and turn.
Now, this is a limitation of the hardware rather than the videogame being broken, it’s worth pointing out. Trying to take down the first boss/machine is a good example of this, it’s not too hard but swinging around behind the enemy you want to instantly twist around to shoot, which you can’t because of the tracking. In fact, jumping onto the PC version to test this theory proved correct, dispatching the same opponent in under half the time purely thanks to that extra flexibility.
And it’s such a core part of the whole Windlands 2 experience that you’ll almost dread the next encounter. No amount of fiddling with the snap turn or smooth turn settings solves what is essentially an instinctive reaction, being able to gracefully glide through the air to fire off a well-placed arrow into the heart of the beast.
Actually, on the subject of “well-placed” arrows, PlayStation Move doesn’t make this a simple process. If you’ve owned the controllers long enough you know they can be a bit erratic at times and that’s certainly the case here. And it is all to do with speed. Grappling through the trees you tend to keep your hands steady, planning a route whilst carefully aiming at the next piece of green foliage. This was fine and never really presented a problem. As soon as it’s time to unleash a volley of arrows, that’s where the trouble starts and would quite often lead to death while fighting with the reticule.
Co-op mode confirmed this further as a colleague swore trying to shoot the very last target on a boss. This doesn’t mean Windlands 2 is unplayable but what was clear was the realisation that because of these issues, Windlands 2 is much more enjoyable played with friends.
On your own, the environments can be a bit devoid of life, lonely even, yet with at least one other player – it’ll support up to 4 players at once – there’s an added vibrancy to the experience. Fun little things like competing to get to the next marker or spotting an illuminated quest item for them to grab, the team dynamic helps make Windlands 2 shine. Also, those fights are so much more straightforward and strategic rather than a grind. Swinging in for different angles of attack and if one of you does encounter an aiming issue the others can back you up, much more satisfying. The only problem with multiplayer was the lack of identification, with no map or markers you don’t know where your mates are. Saying “over here” or “I’m by this rock” doesn’t help when the vegetation is dense or you’re nowhere near each other. Voice communication is spot on yet each player’s name appears off to the side with a speech symbol appearing when they talk, not exactly useful if you don’t know where they are.
It’s great to finally see Windlands 2 on PlayStation VR and remember what made this VR experience so enjoyable in the first place. Alas, with a heavy sigh this just doesn’t match its PC brethren when comparing the entire package. What this release really does is demonstrate PlayStation VR’s ageing technology and how it was good for some but not all VR videogames. However, Psytec Games has confirmed it’ll patch PlayStation VR 2 support into Windlands 2 when available, which could really help to unshackle the gameplay. At the moment, Windlands 2 only really soars half the time.
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