Farpoint is both the most innovative and primitive first-person shooter you’ll play this year. The next tentpole PlayStation VR title, this sci-fi story whisks you away to an alien planet and arms you with a brand new peripheral to keep the space bugs at bay. Thus, while the game design can feel decidedly dated at times, it’s the novelty of wielding a real weapon in virtual reality that carries Impulse Gear’s debut over the line.

You play as a pilot tasked with transporting a couple of wise-cracking boffins back home. They’re moored on the Pilgrim, a space station designed to investigate a radiation anomaly near to Jupiter. Of course, it doesn’t take many minutes for things to go awry, with a wormhole opening and whisking our intrepid hero – and scientist stand-ups – to a faraway land inhabited by spiders the size of the Taj Mahal.

The story is awkwardly told through decoded flashbacks, and it can move a little too quickly to get its point across. However, the hammy writing aside, it does have some surprisingly human moments, and winds up being more engaging than you may be expecting. That’s not to say it’s going to win any awards, but the way characters interact – especially given that it all takes place in virtual reality – is fairly impressive.

And this is probably the best presented PlayStation VR title to date: it certainly lives up to its moniker of being a true AAA virtual reality release. Environments – particularly those later on – have a great sense of scale, and while the world can feel a little empty, it makes sense in the context of the story. Weapon models are particularly detailed, which is just as well seeing as you can turn them over in your hands using the PlayStation VR Aim Controller.

While you don’t need to play with the accessory – the DualShock 4’s gyroscopes are leveraged if you don’t – it’s as close to essential as you can get. The gun comes with all of the inputs you’d ordinarily expect to find on a PS4 controller, but it maps them in a way that they’re all within reach while you handle the plastic weapon like an authentic firearm. This means that you’re able to strafe and turn like in any ordinary FPS, but all while you have a physical armament at your fingertips.

And despite being impeded by the usual array of PlayStation Move-based issues – you will encounter some drift from time-to-time, and you obviously can’t shoot directly behind you – it works surprisingly well. Aiming down the sights of your futuristic assault rifle merely requires you to look down the barrel of your virtual gun, while blind-fire and leaning around cover works pretty intuitively, too; as opposed to learning button presses, you just do what feels natural.

This novelty elevates the game beyond its distinctly 90s design, which can grate in the opening hours. The release relies a little too heavily on repeated enemy types, and while it does seriously up the stakes in the latter half of the campaign, you will have to put up with a little tedium early on. Whether it’s because the developer wanted to ease players in, we’re not entirely sure, but the title can be a bit slow to get going.

Fortunately, the final third especially really ramps things up – both narratively and in terms of action. Enemies can be a little spongey, but the combat is so fun – aided, of course, by the PlayStation VR Aim Controller – that you won’t mind too much. The satisfaction of scoring a headshot – perfectly judged by the depth of the scene via stereoscopic 3D and physically aiming with the weapon in your hands – is profound, and helps the game to stand out.

There is a definite case of novelty at play, though: the campaign wouldn’t be anywhere near as memorable if it wasn’t for the virtual reality, and the gunplay would be weaker as well. You can sense that there’s more that could have been done, too: you have the freedom to move anywhere you like, yet the release never really gives you an incentive to explore, making it feel like you’re being funnelled through the environments anyway.

That said, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the title’s extraterrestrial world, as the six or so hour campaign is complemented by arcade-like interpretations of the main story missions that add timers and score multipliers to the mix. This actually offers a decent incentive to encourage you to replay, and with online leaderboards added in, you’ll be sure to put a number of hours into this mode if you enjoy the core gunplay.

Of course there’s also co-op on top of that, but we haven’t been able to test it fully in the title’s pre-release state. The game feels very complete, though: the menu system rests inside a 3D environment that you’re free to explore, and it changes over time, with bobbleheads and plushies being added to your surroundings as you progress. It’s this clever use of the medium that elevates the immersion of virtual reality compared to more traditional games.

Conclusion

Farpoint leans on novelty to make up for its shortcomings elsewhere, but wielding the PlayStation VR Aim Controller is such a unique experience that it papers over some dated game design. The story is cheesy but has some nice moments, and the action really ramps up towards the tail of the campaign. With an arcade mode and co-op included, Impulse Gear’s inaugural outing is a fulfilling offering, and while there are obvious improvements that could be made, there’s enough here to prove that blockbuster first-person shooters could find a home on PlayStation VR yet.