Online first-person shooters (FPS) have been ridiculously popular for years now, with the battle royale genre now highly prominent thanks to Epic Games’ Fortnite or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds by PUBG Corp. It was only a matter of time before a similar title found its way to virtual reality (VR), and Population: ONE has done so with a bang thanks to BigBox VR (the team behind multiplayer Smashbox Arena).
Showcased after the NVIDIA press conference (for the new RTX range of GPU’s) prior to Gamescom 2018, Population: ONE has all the hallmarks of its standard videogame rivals but with that VR element turning the action up to 11. Even with the short demonstration that BigBox VR was holding it was easy to see a lot of time and thought had been put into its development.
The demo consisted of four players, with each one given a few minutes to get the hang of the controls before a proper 2vs 2 match took place. Played on Oculus Rift (it will be multiplatform with cross-play functionality), anyone who has spent even a little time in VR should instantly feel at home with the controls. With smooth locomotion implemented right from the start – there wasn’t even a mention of teleportation – the left stick control forward/backward and strafing, while turning the Oculus Touch controller altered direction. Snap rotation also featured via the right stick for extra comfort.
Complete freedom of movement is important to BigBox VR and the studio has ensured the entire world is accessible. Walk up to any building or structure and you can climb it – just like you’re Spider-Man – as if you were climbing a ladder. Height is important in Population: ONE, not just for ambushing or checking out the terrain but also for flying.
If you’ve played Fortnite you’ll know each match starts with every player skydiving into a large map. Well in Population: ONE the players enter the match via a drop pod that launches them into the sky then lands at a specific location – there’s no option to choose where the landing spot is. Getting to the top of any tall structure straight away means you’ll probably find decent weapons – there’s quite a selection – plus you’ll be able to swoop down like death from above onto unsuspecting players.
Flight is provided by way of a jetpack on your back. This doesn’t provide lift it just slows your descent, allowing you to cover decent ground and use a gun at the same time. How you may ask? Well this is VR so it’s simple, walk off the edge of somewhere high and put your arms out like a bird. It’s so instinctive and easy that a high enough location will allow you to building hop to get right in or out of the action.
The other main feature of Population: ONE is building. Infinite building was on in the demo, allowing both vertical and horizontal flat surfaces to be built as much as possible – in the final experience you’ll need to pick up resources. They could be created very quickly with no menu needed, and there were no ramp style pieces as there was no issue in climbing up the structures.
As mentioned the gameplay demo only allowed for 2 vs 2 but it gave a decent hint at the frantic matches match’s Population: ONE could create. The map was a mixture of town and countryside, with most of the fighting taking place on the streets. While the map didn’t look as big as those found in other battle royale titles the session didn’t give enough time to explore it fully. Even so, it still seemed reasonably diverse enough to offer multi-strategy gameplay.
At present any VR fans who find themselves torn away from their headsets to play Fortnite but long for some immersive battle royale action should now pay attention to Population: ONE. It didn’t seem like a videogame that was still in development, it felt solid, looked great, and could very well draw in the VR masses for some epic fire fights.