The ability to amplify the emotional and physical connection that players have while playing a game is what makes virtual reality potentially so compelling and exciting. In Psytec Game’s first-person platformer Windlands, players chuck themselves into the void with a pair of as you grapple hooks, swinging around a ruined civilisation high up in the sky at blistering speed. There’s no doubt you’ll feel something – it just might not be pleasant.
A Warning screen greets players when they first boot up Windlands. Always a good sign, it suggests that unless you are used to VR you should limit your play sessions and turn up the comfort settings until you acclimatise. As one of those people who has never been one to follow friendly advice on what I can and can’t do, and likes to push things as far as I can. I ignored the screen. In hindsight, this was a mistake.
My first play session without any restrictions lasted about 20 minutes. This was more out of sheer bloody mindedness, I felt sick as a dog. But I wouldn’t let my stupid body ruin the fun. In the brief moments when I didn’t feel like I was going to see my lunch again, there was a genuine sense of exhilaration as I launched myself through the sky and swung through the trees and ruins of this marvellous, platformer. I would be back. I just needed to lie down for a little while first.
When the world had stopped spinning, I decided to spend some time tinkering with Wildlands extensive comfort settings (and I would advise anyone that suffers from VR sickness at times do the same). These range from disabling strafing with the left stick, and turning with the right stick, to putting your character inside a bubble, or transparent cage. Chances are you will be able to find that sweet spot that enables you to experience Windlands without reaching for the sick bucket every couple of minutes, and experience the game in all it’s exhilarating and terrifying glory.
While zipping around Wildlands’ three different environments, each rendered in a colourful low poly style, you can see shafts of light that signal the location of nine crystals that players need to collect. To get to each crystal and move onto the next area, players need to successfully navigate through a series of floating islands to reach the perch where their prize awaits.
The story remains light, explaining who and where you are, but serves more as window dressing, Instead, Windlands lets its exhilarating first person platforming provide the main hook.
Gameplay is simple enough: you can run fast, jump high, and a have a couple of grappling hooks strapped to your arms. Each of these hooks can be fired by looking at the point you want to grapple onto and then pulling either L2 or R2 to latch onto a grapple point then shooting towards it. Though grappling around the environment is hardly new in a game (Hell link has been doing it for over 20 years), The addition of VR brings a whole new angle to this common gaming ability. As someone who suffers from vertigo, I found swinging over precarious pits and grappling from island to island both terrifying and thrilling in equal measure.
Launching myself high into the sky before plummeting towards gave me a similar feeling as falling in a dream, likewise peering over the edge of a cliff gave me a similar feeling that I get in real life. (I don’t bloody like it) I also found myself instinctively bending my knees as I landed to protect myself from the fall, such is the intense sense of immersion that VR can achieve.
Eventually though I got used to it, my body stopped freaking out, and the motion sickness went away. It’s at this point that I realised that there was more depth to Windlands platforming mechanics than I first thought – Chaining together swings maintains momentum, jumps are useful for gaining height, and working out where I needed to grapple to next, and b they time I had nabbed the final crystal I was zipping around the environment with reckless abandon, and my fear of heights, at least in Windlands, was well and truly beaten.
Although it is a lot of fun shooting around the environment like the bastard child of Bionic Commando and Spiderman, it can be quite difficult to figure out the best route. Thankfully, most of the time the game gives you a lot of room to figure out where to go next, as well as multiple routes to your next destination most of the time, however there a few late game sections that demand you take a specific route that isn’t at all clear. this isn’t helped by there being lengthy gaps between checkpoints which force you to repeat certain sections over and over again. which inevitably leads to frustration.
Once you’ve swung your way through the main quest (in about 4-5 hours), there’s also time-based challenges to tackle, as well as collectibles littered around the three levels to mop up. While these extras give your grappling some added purpose, the core mechanics continue to be so enjoyable, that i was content to just swing around, seeing how far I could go without dropping to the floor and diving off the side of cliffs and seeing how far I could drop before I couldn’t grapple my way out of it..
It’s a testament to the power of VR that such a simple game like Windlands has the ability can make players feel nauseous, nervous and exhilarated in equal measure. If you can break through the initial uncomfortable barrier and keep your lunch down (the numerous VR comfort are there for a reason) you will find a frequently thrilling experience that despite its foibles is well worth diving head first into.