by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
First Impressions Aren’t Everything
Homebound is a prime counterexample to the notion that first impressions are everything. As my character first opened his eyes to the faint lights of his spacesuit helmet, the visuals combined with the real weight of my Vive headset did a fantastic job of truly immersing me in the environment. I felt like I was in a spacesuit, and I believed, if ever so briefly, that I was floating a few hundred miles above the Earth. My AI companion greeted me, and the darkness soon gave way to a beautifully rendered space station environment, complete with buttons, levers, and a few floating tools. “Alright,” I thought to myself in these brief moments of bliss. “This is what VR is about.”
Unfortunately, like a strong mountain avalanche, things went quickly downhill from here. My first task was relatively straightforward - grab the lever next to me and release myself from the restraint holding me still. However, as I reached my right hand up to grab said lever my hand promptly disappeared into thin air. Assuming something must have gone awry with my tracking sensors I paused to the Vive main menu, only to see that everything was working fine there. This brought me to game reboot number one. Starting the game again, I was greeted with the same sense of awe, and, to make things even better, both of my hands remained in this dimension as I reached out to free myself. However, my happiness what not meant to be, as after latching onto the lever my in-game arm decided it was not going to track exactly 6 inches to a forward diagonal from where my hand actually was. It was also going to stop registering button clicks. Cue game reboot number 2. My sense of awe was now largely absent.
Houston, We’ve Got Interaction Problems.
Unfortunately for me, this cycle of tracking and input errors continued in perpetuity for the remainder of my time with Homebound. My head would frequently jump up or down two or three feet when I gently touched the up or down movement controls. Trying to turn the camera left or right would, far too often, instantly snap my perspective about 90 degrees one way or the other. The, when I would finally get where I needed to be, there was only about a 25% chance that the game would register that I was clicking the grab button to interact. Not only did this make playing the game difficult, but it gave me a nasty bout of nausea that forced me to stop playing the game for a while just so to avoid re-tasting the delicious shrimp jambalaya I made for dinner tonight.
In fact, I found the controls in general to be a bit odd, even when they were working. While arm movement and head rotation is done with your real body, movement around the environment is done via the directional circle on the controllers. I’m actually okay with the game requiring directional controls instead of room-scale movement. I suppose when you are actually floating in a space station or out in space you can’t just walk around, but the “floatiness” of the inputs seemed inconsistent at best. Sometimes a soft touch would gently move me a bit in the desired direction, and sometimes I would keep floating with momentum. I’m alright with either, but bouncing between the two with little predictability was annoying.
Beauty in the Wreckage
I will give credit where credit is due and say that while I may have been having a nightmare trying to navigate from point to point, at least everything looked and sounded pretty great. The space station is immensely detailed, and both the voice acting from the AI and the music are rather good. Objects float around, and react accordingly when bumped into or hit. There’s a bag of chips early on that breaks open, letting loose it’s crispy contents (which then proceeded to fly right through the space station walls, but I’ll take what I can get). It’s the little things like this that I bought VR for, and in this regard the game is a success. I actually had more fun in Homebound’s free roam mode in which I could just explore the rooms of the station a bit and not worry about frantically trying to survive. That being said, there is something special about being sucked out of a space station and hurled towards Earth in first person VR that’s hard to replicate anywhere else.
I really want to love Homebound, and there are certainly elements of the game that I did enjoy quite a bit. I like that it’s designed to be a short, intense experience, and is priced to match. I appreciate the presentation, which is better than many of the bigger budget games available. I love how immersive the design of the HUD and details of the environment make the experience. Unfortunately the things that Homebound gets wrong are exactly the issues that undermine each of these positives, turning the experience into an overall negative one. All of the environmental detail and intense moments of action don’t mean a thing if I can’t get the controls to work to get to them. Most people aren’t going to be patient enough to reboot three or four times when their hand stop registering. I really hope that the developers are able to iron out most of these kinks and dig out the experience that is buried somewhere in their game, but right now there’s just too much important stuff wrong to earn my recommendation.
Initial moments are quite immersive, graphics are some of the best in VR, some intense set pieces, and good audio.
Serious arm tracking problems and inconsistent navigation controls that render the above largely pointless.