Exploring the mysteries of Saturn’s moon, Titan, where players are sent to replace a missing mechanic, is daunting enough – but P.O.L.L.E.N has you do it while wearing a virtual reality headset, which takes it to a whole new level.
The demo I got a chance to play was locked to 75fps, but that was only to keep people from suffering too much discomfort as their minds tried to reconcile moving while not. Not only was the framerate locked, but it was also shown at the lowest possible graphical settings. Even with all this handicapping, it still looked like one of the prettiest games I had seen in a while.
P.O.L.L.E.N‘s final version will have five different control schemes, including both mouse/keyboard and controller, as well as with and without the Oculus headset. The demo I played was hooked up with a headset and controller. To interact with the world, instead of just moving over to where they were and pressing a button, I had to physically manipulate them like I would in real life. While trying to heat up a microwaveable dinner, I had to open the microwave by pulling on the handle, insert the tray by pushing it forward and letting go, closing the door by pushing against it, then setting the timer by twisting the knob on the microwave. This may all seem counter-intuitive to some gamers who are used to the Call of Duty “Press X to pay respects” method of interaction, but after a few moments of stumbling around, it’s easy to get a handle on the way you need to be thinking.
The demo was a little limiting in what you could actually do and seemed to be set pretty early in P.O.L.L.E.N compared to what the trailer hinted at which is very exploration and mystery solving-based. It started off in a central hub room, inspired by sci-fi films such as Moon and 2001: A Space Odyssey, that opened up into a gym, the kitchen, and a study. Each room had it’s own set of interactive objects, with their own unique ways of handling them, and each room looked great.
Some people’s biggest issue with VR is how queasy it makes them, and unfortunately P.O.L.L.E.N stumbles on the same roadblocks. This VR experience is locked to such a high framerate and looks so impressive even on its lowest graphical setting that it wasn’t long before I started to feel some discomfort. The straw that broke the camel’s back was hopping onto a treadmill in the gym and running at a sprint. My mind couldn’t reconcile the fact that I wasn’t moving while simultaneously running and my discomfort immediately turned into full-blown nausea. Luckily, that was the point where the P.O.L.L.E.N demo ended.
If developer, Minefield Games, can figure out a way to lessen the physical impact of playing their game – and if the plot expands beyond walking from room to room and turning on water taps and treadmills – then this will definitely be a game to keep an eye on.
P.O.L.L.E.N releases for PC, optimized for Oculus, in early 2016 with PS4, Linux, and Mac releases later in the year.