Making virtual reality games is hard. Buying virtual reality games is risky. But on PlayStation VR, an interesting trend is emerging: the major console game “VR mission.” The VR mission is a free chapter added to a big game with a devoted fanbase, like Rise of the Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy XV, or Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. It’s not full VR support — which would probably make you sick anyway — but it’s a sign that the developers are interested in experimenting with the medium, and often a high-profile exclusive for PlayStation VR. Sometimes, these end up feeling like gimmicks or distractions. Next week, though, you’ll get a chance to see what happens when Star Wars gets it right.
On December 6th, anyone who owns both a PlayStation VR headset and Star Wars: Battlefront for PlayStation 4 will be able to download and play the free X-Wing VR Mission, a new chapter based on Battlefront’s normal dogfighting missions. X-Wing VR Mission ties into the Star Wars film canon, but it’s not — as my colleague Chaim speculated — a re-creation of the iconic Death Star trench run. The Criterion development team behind the game says that’s because the moment would be “a big limitation” to the gameplay; unless they were willing to totally rewrite a key part of the Star Wars mythos, players would have been forced into a linear series of scripted events, many of which people might outright miss if they’re chasing down a TIE Fighter or just looking the wrong direction.
Sorry, it’s not the Death Star trench run
Instead, X-Wing VR Mission puts players in the shoes of a rookie pilot escorting a very important mystery character from the upcoming Rogue One, whose identity we’ll presumably be able to guess once the film premieres later this month. If you’ve played a space dogfighting game, whether that’s a VR title like EVE: Valkyrie or Battlefront’s non-VR X-Wing missions, you’ll understand the basic controls, including its combination of stationary guns and lock-on missiles. But the fantasy of being able to inhabit a cockpit in space, especially when you’re surrounded by TIE Fighters and Imperial Star Destroyers, remains perennially satisfying. And the single-player mission structure is paced exactly right: a mix of cinematic set pieces and straightforward firefights, peppered with pilot chatter that changes depending on how you play.
It’s not a long mission — I spent about 20 minutes in it, and I wasn’t a particularly effective or efficient player. But I could see going through it again in order to meet specific goals, including fixing one key mistake that ultimately steered my playthrough toward a somber conclusion.
The team at Criterion, a subsidiary of Electronic Arts, was cagey about how and when they might follow up on X-Wing VR Mission. But EA has been building a foundation for VR for years. The company started working on Oculus Rift support for its Frostbite Engine (whose latest version powers Battlefront, along with games like Mirrors Edge Catalyst and Battlefield 1) all the way back in 2013, and X-Wing VR Mission is the first VR experience that’s confirmed as using Frostbite. That means that EA now has a relatively easy way to adapt lots of big games, in whole or in part, for PSVR or another headset. If you don’t want to wait for that, you can try your hand at lightsabers in an earlier Star Wars VR experience, the Vive-based Trials on Tatooine.