Until the day comes where players are free to swing across urban landscapes, such as New York City as a certain agile web-slinger, Windlands is the closest thing to soaring through the sky freely. As a first-person exploration game, you launch yourself into the heavens amongst the ruins of a once glorious civilization with your trusty grappling hooks. Available on all the main virtual reality platforms, developer Psytec Games, has learned a lot since the initial PC release, adding comfort options that should please anyone that has an affinity for motion/VR sickness.
Featuring a highly stylized art style and a colorful and vibrant world (although rendered with low polygon models), launching yourself with reckless abandonment in Windlands is exhilarating. Free from the restraint of reality, I was able to effortlessly trick my mind into believing this was almost a dream, not shackling my perception in reality. With that said, even the developers realize what their game may not be for everyone and even feature a warning regarding motion sickness before you even see the main menu. Personally, I’ve been playtesting and reviewing games on the PlayStation VR since before the official launch of the platform, and even I had to ease into the game by tweaking the comfort options. There is even an option to envelop yourself in a transparent orb-like cage, helping to ground your character and your stomach.
With multiple difficulty options, Windlands aims to provide a distinct challenge to each and every player. These mostly affect what surface you're grappling hooks will attach to, with the highest difficulty only allowing you to swing when attached to greenery (trees and bushes), while the easy setting lets you connect to any part of the environment. Normal finds itself in a middle ground between the two, but you may want to think about playing on the easiest difficulty to start. In fact, I never recommend playing games on the easiest setting, but Windlands is a more enjoyable experience on easy than the other difficulties. In the end, it all depends on what you want to get out of the game, and what type of challenge you are looking for.
In Windlands, you are free to take any of the multiple paths of exploration, each providing their own optional challenges. There are three different environments to explore, with each one having a set amount of crystals to collect. Collecting the crystals is also the primary method of unlocking the next type of environment to explore. If you are looking to know more about the ancient civilization that lived in the sky, collecting all of the crystals will provide additional bits of knowledge. A narrative in a game like Windlands isn’t a necessity, and most will gloss over the additional story elements, but it’s there, even if it's in a minimal fashion.
While you are open to traverse the landscapes at your own pace, there are different challenges that you can complete, such as time trials, and speed runs. As you'll be competing against others on a global leaderboard, you will only be allowed to attach your hooks to the greenery in the game, regardless of the difficulty you selected. With your grappling hooks tied to each of the triggers, you will use your head to aim your on-screen cursor. For the most part, it works rather well, but try not to overexert yourself, or whip your neck around too fast. Windlands doesn't support PlayStation Move controllers, which seems like a missed opportunity.
Momentum plays a big part in the game, and it does take some time to get used to the mechanics. Expect to swing directly into a wall or just hang from a tree without going anywhere until you are acclimated to the control mechanics, but once you are, there is nothing else like it on the platform. On solid ground, Windlands also tracks your momentum, so if yo aren't careful, you can slip right off the edge. You also jump quite high, allowing you to leap across gaps and catch yourself with your grappling hooks and continue reaching the next platform in one continuous motion.
Windlands is a one of a kind VR experience, allowing anyone to feel like they are soaring through the sky. It is probably one of the worst games when it comes to motion sickness, but does provide plenty of comfort settings to help alleviate the sensation. There isn't much regarding content, but the added leaderboards do provide a reason to keep coming back. I found easy mode the most enjoyable, as trying to thread the needle with the grappling hooks on the higher difficulties to be much more of a hassle than it was worth.
Note: The review for Windlands is based on a digital PlayStation 4 copy of the game, provided by the publisher.