The opening to Rogue One: VR felt weirdly like waking up from a dream. As I stood, controller in hand with my travel backpack thoroughly half-nelsoning me, the demo gradually faded in to see me suspended above a wispy asteroid belt, rocking not the PS virtual reality headset I’d had difficulty accommodating to my melon head, but the helmet of a rookie X-Wing pilot. I’d not been mad on VR previously (mostly because of its still quite limited capacity for offering fully fleshed out games), but it couldn’t be denied that pummelling hyperdrive while clamouring the words “Ready Red-4” had very valid appeal.
Rogue One: VR spent very little time explaining things. That was partly due to the simplistic gameplay structure, but mostly because it’s available as a free download to owners of Star Wars: Battlefront. You are Red-4, the rookie pilot recently inducted into a charismatic X-Wing squadron. Once joined by the rest of your wisecracking team, you tear through a stylishly clear hyperspace, facing invaders and offensives alike in search of a ship in distress.
Players of Star Wars: Battlefront will likely find Rogue One’s setup familiar. Once you’re joined by the rest of the Red fleet, you’re directed to various marked points in search of enemies to zap. Controls are also similar: analog sticks to move, trigger buttons to shoot, with the added ability to activate a temporary shield by tapping the left shoulder button. While Rogue One is still ultimately a shooter, the requirement to remain with your fleet at all times compares lightly to old arcade shooters, which scrolled automatically forward. I hope it goes without saying though, Rogue One’s much easier.
Yet, at least over the course of the demo, there’s very little else to it. You glide through the asteroid belt with your team, fending off the occasional enemy ship as indicated by on-screen text. It’s obvious the game depends heavily on the tech, because cruising through hyperspace with the occasional vocal interruption would feel quite boring releasing outside of VR.
The repetition is somewhat saved by the constant back-and-forth between the characters. Between needling ‘the rookie’ for fuddling coordinates to the sense of bravado penetrating operation descriptions, the Star Wars camaraderie is charming to behold, and feeling part of it did give my heart a nudge over the five minutes I spent in the cockpit. If you’re either not invested in VR or particularly Star Wars-enthused, however, the enchantment could possibly peter out after those five minutes.
This said, there’s only so much you can expect from a free PS Store add-on. Like so many other VR releases, it felt something of a themed tech-demo, but the concept of being involved in the antics that had me grinning on the screen struck a coolness that – though fleeting – defends it as a quick Star Wars romp.
I suppose there’s much to be said for fandom here, because that’s ultimately what the demo aims to capitalise on. Given how restricted VR technology still is in terms of creating ‘immersive’ experiences, I can understand the logic of letting much of the experience that is there ride on fans’ love for the franchise. Having seen some of the concentrated half-grins of folks who also demo’d the game, it certainly seems to work, and with a certain sequel releasing in December I’ve a feeling the 2016 game may have a resurgence on its hands.