Llamasoft are on to a winner with this psychedelic, surreal trance shooter.
As covered previously on VRFocus, Polybius is a game that comes out of internet videogaming legend. With inspiration taken from a tale of government conspiracy and arcade machines that cause nausea, dizziness and amnesia, it’s appropriate that Polybius has an air of mystery about it. It’s also apt that it is a mind-blowing, psychedelic experience like none other.
Polybius is the latest title to come out of developers at Llamasoft, co-create by none other than renowned developer Jeff Minter, who has become well-known for his eccentricities and off-the-wall flourishes to titles he works on. As Polybius starts up, the player is treated to several screens of warnings, cautioning the player about bright colours and flashing lights giving rise to some apprehension. A tiny spacecraft appears at the bottom of the screen and it speeds forward into a chaos of swirling shapes and colours that explode in front of your eyeballs like a painless migraine.
You control the tiny ship navigating through tunnels, pipes, canyons and flat plains, shooting at things all the while, trying to determine what is destructible enemy and what is just obstacles to avoid. Gates that look like a pair of curved horns dot the levels and passing through them rewards you with a score multiplier, but also increases your speed by a significant amount, making it harder to avoid the obstacles in your way. You do have a certain number of shields, which are depleted when you hit objects, lose all your shields and strike another obstacle and it is game over, though extra shields can be acquired by playing particularly well and reaching certain checkpoints. Part of the challenge lies in striking a balance between gaining a massive score bonus by slaloming through the gates, and not going so fast that you lose control.
This is a title that gains much by getting into the flow of things, once that flow is attained, it becomes almost meditative, a feeling aided by the superb trance soundtrack. Though once you stop, the real world feels distinctly drab and slow-paced in comparison. Polybius is great fun to play just on the TV, but it is with the addition of the PlayStation VR that it really shines, transporting you to a surreal world where fried eggs fly towards you at great speed and the tutorial consists of the barest of instructions and faux-helpful suggestions to ‘Do what comes naturally’. Despite the constant influx of colour and light, there were no frame rate stutters and the gameplay zooms along at a smooth 120fps, reducing any potential for motion sickness considerably and making it very comfortable to play in VR mode.
There are some typically Jeff Minter touches, such as the aforementioned fried eggs, or various wild creatures such as cows and llamas appearing in certain levels adding to the bizarre atmosphere, but providing a good chuckle.
Polybius is an excellent shooter that takes inspiration from the 80s arcade scene in the best of ways. It is a finely crafted experience that only benefits from being on the PlayStation VR. It can be an intense experience, however, and one best left to relatively short gameplay sessions lest the visual overload become too much. Owners of PlayStation VR should definitely look to add this to their library, as it is one of the best VR titles on the PlayStation at present. Jeff Minter and Llamasoft have got another winner.