The last time I wrote about virtual reality, I had just tried out the HTC Vive, a high end virtual reality device that absolutely blew my mind. But the Vive won’t be available to consumers until April, and even then it will be very expensive and require expensive computer hardware. What’s an impatient VR fan to do? Enter the Gear VR, which is available now for $100. It works with your phone, like Google Cardboard, but provides a much fuller experience. There is one really big catch, though: it only works with a handful of recent Samsung phones. But it’s got a very nice software library for what it is and how long it’s been out. Today I’m covering a game that just launched for the platform, Orion Trail VR, but I’ll note the effect of the hardware as well.
As the title suggests, Orion Trail is partially meant to parody the perennial edutainment titan, The Oregon Trail. But it’s not as direct a spoof as The Organ Trail, for example. You command a starship, and your goal is to reach a certain space station (the distance increases with subsequent stages). You have four officers, each specializing in different stats, which you choose from randomized sets of three. You also choose how much you want to put into your four main resources: crew members, fuel, food, and hull strength.
The game first shows your ship on a map, with a branching path laid out to the space station. After choosing which branch to take, you’ll be presented with a prompt, describing the usually comedic situation you find yourself in. You choose from a number of possible responses, each affecting your resources differently. Whether you succeed ultimately depends on a random roll, though you can affect the odds by choosing options that match your best stats. Your goal is to reach your destination before you run out of resources or all of your officers die.
The core game play, in a vacuum, doesn’t have much to it. You choose a path, read a prompt, select one of a few options, and repeat. Fortunately, the game’s sense of humor makes things a lot more fun. The characters you can choose range from typical sci-fi stereotypes like a cyborg, to various bear-people, to completely generic men and women. The situations and enemies you run into are often parodies as well. It’s not laugh out loud funny or anything, but it’s entertaining enough to keep me playing for a little while at least. When the game mechanics generally come down to randomness, this is very important. By itself, this is probably not a game that you’ll be playing for a long time regardless.
At this point you might be wondering how virtual reality plays into this. After all, you’re basically just selecting things from menus the whole time. Well, the VR version of Orion Trail takes all of the interfaces from the original version and maps them onto a 360 degree virtual ship bridge. Orion Trail uses 16 bit-style graphics, which I can forgive here only because it’s a parody of an old game. Because of this style, and the need for the bridge to be in 3D, the bridge uses 3D pixelated graphics reminiscent of a less detailed Minecraft. The developers went impressively all out in setting up this interface; the ship’s main window serves as the main screen, but various game elements are spread out.
There are displays on walls showing your officers’ current HP, a “holographic” display in front of your virtual chair showing your resources, and even animated 3D models of your chosen officers. Most of the action is in front of you, but they filled out the entire 360 degree area quite well. Outside of the interfaces, various things will happen on the bridge to reflect how the game is going. If you send one of your officers to lead an “away team,” for example, they’ll beam off the bridge. If you lose hull strength, the walls will start to spark. And if any of your officers die, they will be replaced with skeletons. The only thing that doesn’t match up is that even though you’re supposed to be playing as the captain, you can see your chosen captain character on the bridge.
None of this really affects the gameplay, so if the core gameplay I described doesn’t appeal to you, this cool addition will not make Orion Trail worth the asking price. In fact, the Gear VR actually introduces a bit of a problem: as it involves effectively cutting your phone screen in half, the Gear VR doesn’t allow for very high resolution graphics. Since this game involves a lot of reading, the blurriness and the overall effect of the headset might make things difficult. Outside of the virtual reality, Orion Trail‘s randomness can be frustrating. Your stats affect the odds, but I still found myself critically failing checks that fell under my highest stats. What you’ll gain or lose from a roll is sometimes randomized as well, making it very difficult to keep up certain resources.
Fortunately, the game usually makes it clear what you’ll be getting if you succeed. Still, catastrophic failure due to a random number generator is frustrating. My only other complaint is that there aren’t enough situations to come up, so you will tend to see some of the prompts over and over again. This isn’t as bad as it could be, though, since Orion Trail VR is best played in short bursts anyway. Additionally, things will change based on how you respond. If you play over and over again, though, eventually you’ll get tired of seeing them.
Orion Trail is a fun game for a little while, but the randomness means that it isn’t the most engaging experience. The virtual reality aspect of this version is very cool and well implemented, but it doesn’t really affect the game. If I were reviewing the original version of Orion Trail or the VR part as a standalone experience, I’d say that it’s worth a try, but that you should try it or watch it before buying it. With both pieces together though, Orion Trail VR is one of the most complete games available for the Gear VR, and it’s a great use of the technology. At $5, it won’t break the bank, and there is enough content to make it more than worth it at that price. Considering that you can pay for non-game virtual reality experiences that aren’t as entertaining as the virtual bridge here, Gear VR owners should definitely consider this title. Still, make sure you know what you’re getting into, because that random number generator can be a real pain in the space-rear.
Home sweet bridge
Gameplay - 5/10
Style - 8/10
Challenge - 8/10
+ Clever integration of VR
+ VR is dynamic
+ Good comedic writing