Reviewed on PSVR
I’m a sucker for a space game. Stick me in a cockpit and let me pull the trigger on an implausible laser gun, and you’ll hear my squeals of delight from several miles away. Imagine then, if you will, the awful little bullet of anticipation tucked up under my stomach when considering just how much Starbuck-aping fun I’m going to be able to extract from VR. Presence, or in plain English the feeling of being-right-there-can-you-believe-it-no-not-really, could just prove the spur that I need to give up useless things like sleep or work altogether.
On the evidence of Space Rift – Episode 1, a PSVR and Steam title turned out by German developers Vibrant Core, I might just have to wait a little longer to disappear entirely inside a honking great star truck.
Things begin promisingly—you, the disembodied player floating somewhere slightly behind the shoulders of a headless avatar body, are dropped swiftly into a nippy and responsive little ship, and ordered by your dreadful computer to go mine some asteroids. Flight controls are simple enough, and targeting weapons with a spin of the head is a joy; other functions such as lights, computers and jump drive can be accessed by simply looking at the requisite console in the cockpit space, and pressing a button to activate fleshy arm.
It’s a relatively simple smorgasbord of activities, easy to grasp and master. Boost up to an asteroid, fire in a probe and watch the mining computer for the best place to drill. Roll around an incoming enemy, target them by looking upward through the canopy and unleash hot laser death. Scan and investigate anomaly, rake in cash and repeat. Frankly, given an interesting-enough set of locations to visit and an economic benefit to your actions, I could happily run through a simple loop like this for quite some time.
Unfortunately, Vibrant Core have chosen to imprison that intriguing prospect inside a narrative setting. The freedom you experience in the cockpit is sadly cut short at the end of every mission, in order to return you to one of the most lifeless and uninteresting hub levels I’ve had the displeasure of experiencing in years. Besides upgrading your ship and engaging in daft conversation with the bare handful of named NPCs, this home space station serves no useful function. And speaking of NPCs, I found myself skipping whole chunks of expository dialogue simply to avoid the menace of poor voice acting.
The plot, such as it is, is serviceable if uninspired. You and your ship are freelance miners, caught up when the oppressive corporations that control access to basic resources faces a challenge from a secretive rebel faction. No prizes for guessing which side you’ll end up on in that conflict. As a framing device, it’s difficult to think of a more hackneyed choice, but during actual flight the interplay between competing corporate propaganda and earnest tracts harvested by your ship’s computer can prove of momentary amusement.
What proves a little more difficult to divine is just what purpose is served by the game’s episodic structure. While the flight model and range of upgrades could provide a satisfactory experience on their own, strapped to a more open-world-esque system of resource-gathering and survival, the plot on its own provides little motive to sustained interest. Perhaps Space Rift – Episode 2 will add new toys into the mix that will expand the mine/shoot/warp home loop, but don’t go in expecting a Telltale-like unfolding of character and nuance—on the evidence of the first instalment, that seems a vanishingly unlikely prospect.