Phaser Lock Interactive are new to the virtual reality (VR) scene, with the debut of their HTC Vive launch title, Final Approach, at last month’s PAX Prime, Seattle. Despite having only been working on the title for 3 months Final Approach is looking in a very healthy state indeed, both fun and intuitive in its gameplay, and complimented with the kind of pleasing finesse that you wouldn’t normally expect of a videogame until the final throws of its development.
Birthed of a Game Jam title from HTC’s Austin event back in May of this year, Final Approach isn’t just the first title Phaser Lock Interactive are working on, it’s the reason they formed the company. According to the co-founders of the studio, the team responsible for the Game Jam edition of Final Approach were approached by HTC and asked whether they would consider pursuing the development further, and if so whether they could have it ready for launch. Luckily the team were videogame industry veterans, and so the answer to both these questions was a resounding ‘yes’.
The videogame itself is more important than the story behind it of course, and thankfully Final Approach does it’s legacy justice. The bastard child of Flight Control and Tiltbrush, Final Approach has the player directing planes to land on runways in a fully 3D space. The player is free to move around this space as they so wish (limited by the HTC Vive’s 15’x15′ roomscale, of course) highlighting a plane with their right controller and then drawing a path for it to following in order to land on the correct runway. It’s simple and direct, and above all else enjoyable.
Along with landing planes players will have to deal with helicopters, but furthermore will have to ensure that when disaster strikes they are capable of handling rapid changes in the demands of their pilots. For example, should a plane fly through a black cloud and get hit by lightning it’ll catch on fire, and that plane then has to take priority. Which leads nicely to the second part of the gameplay loop, which Phaser Lock Interactive has dubbed ‘toy scale’.
While the majority of the videogame takes place with the player as a ‘giant’ towering above the airport (a scale similar to that of the papercraft city seen in Oculus VR’s original Crescent Bay demo reel), the second instance zooms them in to that of a human working within the airport. Once a plane which is on fire lands they’ll have to take on the role of a fireman, dousing the flames with the firehose they have now become equipped with. Another instance of this toy scale mechanic saw the player using an airhorn to scare away birds nesting on the runway, and Phaser Lock Interactive spoke of many more instances still to be added. Aside from the basic gameplay loop, Phaser Lock Interactive have already begun throwing in numerous additional touches to bring a smile to the player’s face. For example, should a plane explode (a fairly common occurrence in VRFocus‘ playtest, both intentional and unintentional) passengers will parachute to the ground. During this state the player can poke the passengers and watch them bob about as they descend. The player is also able to draw very elaborate paths for the planes to follow; forcing them to do loop-de-loops or ridiculous spins on their way to safety. However, the team behind Final Approach have been careful not to exaggerate the indirect control of the planes too much; you won’t be forcing vehicles to perform 90 degree turns on-the-spot not matter how much you may try.
Final Approach is a wonderfully unique experience in VR. There’s currently nothing else like it available and the team at Phaser Lock Interactive are certainly keen to ensure that the final product be as entertaining as this early sample is. Of course, this will demand layering of new mechanics, goals and interesting new experiences atop of this basic gameplay loop, but given the previous experience of each member of Phaser Lock Interactive’s team it’d be a safe bet to suggest that Final Approach is in good hands.