Bethesda’s classic role-playing adventure is remastered for virtual reality, but does it work better or worse than Skyrim VR?
We’re sure many were hoping for 2017 to be the year that virtual reality went mainstream. After the launch of PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift the year before, and Resident Evil 7 right at the beginning of 2017, it was easy to get disheartened at how quickly things seemed to fizzle out after that. But in hindsight it was unfair to expect anything else, and the fact that developers kept churning out a steady stream of titles, as hardware makers continued to push the headsets, was actually very encouraging.
2018 is likely to continue in a similar manner, with hardware revisions that improve the quality of the experience, and decrease the price of the entry level headsets, being the most likely to change the current status quo. Of course, you need big name games as well, but despite Fallout 4 seeming an ideal candidate for VR it once again illustrates that the best experiences are always those that are made with VR in mind from the start…
This is essentially exactly the same game as was released in late 2015, but retrofitted to work with the HTC Vive headset. The lack of any official support for Oculus Rift is likely due to Bethesda’s legal spat with Oculus VR, although it’s still a bit weird that this is a PC exclusive and Skyrim VR is currently only available on PlayStation 4. But while Skyrim VR will be making a belated appearance on PC this year, the newer Fallout 4 needs the horsepower of a powerful gaming PC to run properly in VR.
Despite not having been designed that way, Bethesda’s first person role-players are, on the face of it, perfect for VR. Although they feature plenty of action they’re naturally slow-paced, with very uncomplicated combat. Fallout is even better than Skyrim, in that the V.A.T.S. system allows you to slow down the action and further reduce the chance of nausea when moving around or reacting quickly.
If you’re not familiar with the series our review of the original version of Fallout 4 is here. The basic set-up is very straightforward though, as you’re cast as the survivor of a post-apocalyptic world where society has reformed around the ruins of old cities (Boston in this case) in a vaguely Mad Max fashion. There is an overarching storyline, about Terminator-like replicants called ‘synths’, but it’s not terribly interesting and you’ll probably end up ignoring it for the majority of your playtime.
But despite how suitable the concept seems, Fallout 4 in VR is a surprisingly disappointing experience when you first put on the headset. There’s never been any consistency in whether VR games give you virtual limbs or a whole body – and often it’s a technical rather than a design decision – but in Fallout 4 VR it feels particularly bizarre that you’re essentially playing the role of a poltergeist. There’s no virtual body at all, and so instead weapons float weirdly in front of you, with the wrist-mounted PipBoy computer looking especially odd.
The sense of immersion is much greater when you’re inside power armour, but otherwise there’s some major suspension of disbelief to get over before the benefits of being in VR really start to kick in.
Soon enough you get used to not having a body, but it’s far from the game’s only issue. Like Skyrim VR, the graphical quality has been purposefully downgraded in order to divert some of the processing power to the headset. That’s an unavoidable compromise, but since Fallout 4 was never a particularly good-looking game in the first place it can be distractingly ugly in VR. Textures appear grainy and pixelated and there’s much more object pop-in than usual. Add in all the usual bugs and glitches of a Bethesda role-player and this rarely feels like the technological milestone you would’ve hoped for.
And then there’s the trouble with the controls. The movement options allow both full movement and teleportation, and they work fine. But Fallout 4 is a complicated game and the VR version doesn’t currently have full support for any controller other than the official Vive ones. And that’s a problem because not only do they not have analogue sticks but they don’t have many buttons either, and so a number of important functions involve pressing the same button for different amounts of time or fiddling about with the trackpads.
Picking up an object or starting a conversation never seems to work when you want it, and yet always seems to activate when you don’t. Accidentally firing a weapon is also frustratingly easy, and using the map almost impossible at times.
The Vive controllers do come into their own when customising a settlement, since you can rotate objects around in 3D with a pleasing amount of ease. Although not even that works without issue, as you’re only allowed to use the teleport movement system while doing so.
Fallout 4 VR is a long series of compromises, some of which you quickly get used to and others of which never sit well (literally in the fact that standing up to the play game is by far the most immersive option, and yet quickly gets tiring).
Despite our hopes that the extra power of the PC, and of HTC Vive, might produce a superior experience, Fallout 4 VR isn’t really any better than Skyrim VR; some might argue it’s actually worse. It’s still hugely compelling as both a role-player and a virtual reality experience, but appropriately enough, given the game’s setting, you’re still only glimpsing the future through flawed technology that’s only barely up to the task being asked of it.
Fallout 4 VR
In Short: Another highly compromised VR remaster, that offers one of the best open world experiences so far and yet still manages to feel deeply flawed as it does so.
Pros: The whole of Fallout 4 is here, and as compelling as ever. Full VR movement with minimal nausea and useful motion controls for things like settlement customisation.
Cons: Low tech visuals and lack of virtual limbs spoils the sense of immersion. The Vive controllers are not well suited to the game’s complex systems. Lots of bugs and glitches.
Formats: HTC Vive
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Release Date: 12th December 2017
Age Rating: 18