Here’s a truism: Virtual Reality is everywhere these days, and not in the Matrix way, thankfully. (Or is it? *dramatic music*). The explosive rise in popularity of VR entertainment is stunning, and there are new titles coming up every week. Between Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, and even Google Cardboard, it’s impossible not to notice the increasing importance of VR. G2A’s onboard developers don’t stay behind the industry, and have entered the VR entertainment with G2A Land. What kind of production is it? Let’s take a look.
First things first
What is G2A Land? Putting it simply it’s a “Virtual Amusement Park”, as described on the official website. It is a set of four experiences of the “sit back and enjoy the ride” variety and one interactive attraction using head movements and gamepad for control. The number of available activities/rides is expected to grow in the future, offering more variety.
One thing that needs to be addressed right off the bat is that G2A Land for the most part is not a game. Three of five presently available attractions are strictly amusement park-like rides, the fourth is a virtual cinema, and only the last one offers any kind of activity. We’ll get to each of those in a moment. Repeat: this is NOT a game. It’s 60% joyride, 20% virtual theatre, and 20% shooting gallery at its present state. The exact proportions will likely change when more features are added.
Having said that, let’s dive into the individual attractions, to see what they offer.
Whisky, outlaws, and two smoking barrels
The Shooting Range is a simple, yet fairly enjoyable trip to your standard fair (get it? because “fair” and “fare” sound similar…I’ll play myself out) shooting gallery, where you get to shoot (card)board targets. The controls are simple and work well. By moving your head around you place the reticle over the intended target, then press your gamepad’s triggers to fire. When you need to reload, you press one of the bumpers. Simple and very intuitive. Oculus Rift, on which I tested the game, read my head’s movement very precisely, allowing me to shoot faster and more accurately than ever before. Yes, I tend to line up my shots for a while when I play shooters. Don’t judge me.
From the actual gameplay perspective, Shooting Range offers three waves of (card)board target, one after another. First you shoot some bottles, probably to get accustomed to the controls. Then come some bandits. That stage brought back some memories of playing “Wild Gunman” and “Hogan’s Alley” back in the day, when light guns reigned supreme. These are some fine, fine memories, and I was glad to have them brought back, even for a moment.
On the third, final stage you get to shoot some vultures. Odd progression, but maybe they are there to clean up outlaw cadavers left after the previous round. The vultures move in non-linear patterns, either bouncing back and forth like a pendulum, or just moving along a curved line. Getting a shot in gets more difficult as a result, but that’s to be expected.
The Shooting Range is overall a pleasant experience. What it does, it does fine, the visuals are mostly clear. After some time vultures started to slightly fade into the sky-like background, though it might have been just my eyes giving up. It’s not particularly memorable, but as a proof of concept it’s easily more than enough. And if motion controllers get support in the future (a planned development, according to the devteam) it might become a friendly version of the House of the Dead games. Independently aimed dual wielded guns would be awesome, if eye-straining.
Lights, camera, action
The next attraction to discuss is the Great Cinema. You get plonked into a dark cinema theatre, among some vaguely Sim-like people and can watch a movie displayed on a screen in front of you. It’s a bit of a screen-ception this way. In the version I was given for testing the most interesting video was a footage of a skydiving trip. They all largely feel like placeholders to tide users over until the day when you’ll be able to import your own movie library. There are plans for that, and when it comes, it may be a decent idea for an evening if there’s nothing interesting playing in your local cinemas.
Since the only motion is either you looking around or whatever happens on the screen, motion sickness is unlikely to kick in. There is a chance that watching a two hour long movie would put serious strain on your eyes, but I had neither a chance nor desire to make that particular leap of faith. Overall it’s pleasantly cartoony in style (although I don’t think cell-shading was used), and when the library import comes, it will definitely beat watching movies on your laptop’s screen or a desktop monitor.
No bad joke, because the Rollercoaster ride in the G2A Land is as straightforward as it gets. You plop down on a seat, strap yourself in and the ride starts. First of all, the ride is really, really well-designed and rendered. It’s almost a shame that we don’t get to just watch and admire the backgrounds because of all the ups, downs, and loops. The sky is bright blue, with birds flying around, confetti-dumping balloons… The theme park itself gets a lot of exposure, and since we’re riding around and through it, it’s fully rendered. Visually, it’s all very appealing. There’s even an impressive dragon along the way. No knights errant detected, dead or otherwise.
The Sim-like other people from the Cinema are here as well, and they react to what’s going on: screaming, laughing, waving hands etc. They lack the fine design of the environment, but at least you don’t feel alone or hear shouts from nowhere.
What could have been
The one thing I kept thinking about during testing was using this particular ride with one of the simulator/XD cinema thingamajigs. Getting onto a moving platform, or even just a chair, would make the experience SO much more immersive. There is some sense of motion, but out of all the currently present attractions, this one would benefit the most from an XD treatment.
The city needs you (to slow down)
The next attraction is a ton of fun to sit through. Short version: remember all the fancy and risky bike rides from, like, 75% of action movies? Now instead of seeing them from a helicopter-mounted camera we get to ride one. Well, it rides itself, but that’s semantics. We start out in a damp cave, utterly unsuitable for the some bleeping and blooping computer screens behind us (you actually have to turn your head, or you’ll miss them). What follows is a mad one-man race starting out of the cave (through waterfall, and with bats majestically flapping around) to the construction tunnels, to an underground road, to a nice cliffside-road…
Well done, chief engineer
The motorcycle is very nicely rendered, with just enough details to be visually interesting, but not enough to assault your eyes and distract you. I was very pleased to notice that the wheels aren’t hard-locked to the main body, but move on shock-absorbers the way they should. There is some sort of digital display on the bike too, though I wasn’t able to decipher what exactly was on it, had to watch the road, after all.
Have your license revoked
As an inconsequential comment: whoever is in control of the vehicle is a really lousy driver. He almost ran over an innocent city worker, caused a multiple car pileup, at least one car ended up on its roof, and that’s not to mention casual use of firearms against public property. Attempted vehicular manslaughter is hardly heroic.
Full speed ahead, Mr. Boatswain
Now we’re talking. The Underwater World is the undisputed highlight of the currently available attractions of G2A Land and the most visually and conceptually impressive adventure. So you have a tiny submersible, yeah? It doesn’t look very modern, I’d say it rests somewhere between steampunk and late 1950s, but I’m no expert. What is important is that it makes you feel like Captain Nemo crossed with Jacques Cousteau. Can’t put a price tag on that.
Waterworld, only pretty
You are sitting in the captain’s chair, and only a glass dome in front of you keeps the full glory of the ocean from attacking you. And let me tell you: that is some gosh-darned pretty ocean, right there. The waters are bright and clear (until they aren’t, with good reason), the sea life looks beautiful: sharks swim around, manta rays float gracefully, there are even sea turtles casually swimming by. Brightly-colored anemones stretch their tendrils into the water, clownfish swim fleetingly around. The visuals are beautiful and I would gladly spend long hours just freely floating around. Alas, that is not to happen, because apparently the captain-explorer, whose figurative body you inhabit, has an agenda.
After some time you reach darker waters and flooded ruins of some long-lost civilization. This section reminded me very much of the underrated Disney animation Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The style, the mood were all very similar. I will not reveal the surprise, because I’m nice like that. I’ll just say that holding your controller with force feedback on is a good idea. After some time we come back to the bright waters, and it’s even more stunning than in the beginning, with sun shining through, sea life fleeting. It’s spectacular.
Some visual considerations
Although the overall visuals are simply put stunning, in some areas I noticed a kind of a mesh-like pixelation that I did not see in other attractions. Maybe it’s the slower motion and different colors, or maybe my eyes just decided they hate me all of a sudden. It didn’t distract, and was only noticeable for a moment anyway, but I believe it bears mentioning. There was an occasional sprite instead of a full 3D model, but that only ever applied to some seaweed, where the general flat-ness would make a 3D model largely redundant. One way or another, in my humble opinion, the Underwater World is THE selling point of G2A Land, and I’d gladly see it expanded, maybe even into an interactive journey.
Some general thoughts
One of the things that slightly bothered me, as largely a newcomer to VR, was the lack of any body substitute during the rides and in the cinema. We are simply a floating point in space. I addressed that when talking to the developer, and the answer made sense: there already is a risk of motion sickness (coming from the dissonance between your body not moving, but the brain seeing that it does, more or less). Seeing your motionless legs and arms would be only more distressing, so due to player feedback, bodies were ditched (virtual ones). There are plans to include moving arms when motion controls come. Support for Oculus Touch and analogous controller for HTV Vive is underway, but that’s still in the future.
As for the motion sickness itself, I barely experienced it, a pleasant surprise after my previous brief VR encounter. There is a great sense of forward motion during the motorcycle ride, and my stomach dropped when the submersible moved from shallow waters to deeper ones, but otherwise I was fine. Everyone responds differently, of course, but there is hope for you.
By your powers summarized!
G2A Land is a bit of a tough one to crack. The current offer is largely uneven. On one side we get the Great Cinema, which needs user movie library integration to be interesting. On the other, we have the Underwater World, which desperately needs its own spin-off, that’s how good it is. And then there are three distractions between them, each of them very well crafted and technically proficient, but neither managed to make an impression the little submarine adventure did. What G2A Land is, is a proof that “G2A can into Virtual Reality adventures”. There is a lot of things G2A Land could be in the future, as it has plenty of room to expand, including more interactivity and new locales. What specifically this future brings, all of us will see when it comes.
In addition to a full launch in Oculus Store, G2A Land is also on Steam Greenlight, hoping for release on Valve’s platform by popular vote. If you find the idea interesting, you can cast your votes here and maybe G2A Land will arrive on HTC Vive in near future.