Bring both hands and, ideally, a wireless VR headset.
At CES 2019, HTC was showing off a Battle Royale FPS named Population: One by developer Big Box VR. It offers a lot of the same features found in Fortnite and PUBG, but in a wild VR sandbox. I got some hands-on time with it, which is still in beta, and overall I had a blast.
Population: One can be played in both single-player against bots, or multiplayer in teams on either HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or Windows Mixed Reality. The essential design of the game is similar to Fortnite in that you have to eliminate the other teams’ players using a variety of weaponry, and as the game goes on the safe area continually shrinks until there’s a winner. The Fortnite connection really comes through in the game’s building mechanic, which lets you erect walls pretty much anywhere, which you can then climb, run across, or hide behind for cover.
Each match begins with you hopping into an “escape pod” of sorts, which then transports you over the battlefield, then airdrops you into the safe zone, allowing you to begin foraging for weapons and ammo. I was able to try out a pistol, full-auto assault rifle, sniper rifle, and even a shotgun. One unique feature of the VR version of this type of game is that I had to reach my left hand down to grab the clip and push it into the rifle, then use that same hand to pull the bolt thingy back that chambers the rounds so it can fire. Though it’s a unique mechanic and makes it feel like you’re holding a real rifle in your hands, I got tired of having to do a complicated two-step motion every time I wanted to reload. With the bolt-action sniper rifle, I had to reach over to the right side of the gun after firing a bullet to chamber the next round as well.
The climbing mechanic is also pretty interesting, as I was able to ascend anything in the game that was vertical, including walls of buildings, lamps, and even trees. I just had to put my weapon on my back to free up my hands, then physically touch whatever surface I was in front of, then alternate grabbing each side of it as I made my way up to a rooftop or tree limb.
The controls take a bit of getting used to simply because there’s a lot you can do with them. I tested it on an HTC Vive with the wireless adapter, and the game takes body movements into account. For example, I found I could build a structure in front of me just to use as cover, then lean my body forward to peek out from around the corner to shoot. It was pretty slick, and not something I realized was possible at first. Movement is handled by the left trigger, and the right circular button lets you turn 90 degrees in either direction quickly to make running around corners easier.
The weapons all had serious punch and you also get visual indicators when you score a direct hit, which is satisfying. Another interesting VR feature is that with the sniper rifle you can use your left hand to steady the barrel when looking through the scope, which made scoring headshots a lot easier, and also made it feel like I was holding an actual rifle in my hands.
After a quick training round with bots I familiarized myself with the controls and hopped into battle. I played a 2-on-2 match and immediately the other team had the upper hand, firing on me from an elevated position as soon as I entered the main part of the town we were playing in. Luckily I was able to build a structure for cover, then scramble behind them to try to pull off a flanking maneuver by climbing up the rear of the buildings where they were firing from. Right as I got to the top and was preparing to give one player a headshot from behind, the battle area shrank, and I had to fly – yes, you can fly/float down from heights without suffering any damage – so I had to fly into a much smaller area, and the battle intensified. Luckily the opposing team took my FPS skills for granted, and I was able to get some major damage on a player who was firing at me from atop a burning sign. His elevated position left him exposed, and my teammate took him out; his lifeless body careening to the ground in front of me. I removed my headset and basked in the glow of victory.
Population: One is in private beta now, and there isn’t a launch date announced just yet. If you’re curious to check it out the beta, just head on over to the web site and sign up.
Josh Norem is IGN Executive Editor for Tech & Commerce. When he’s not upgrading his PC he’s trying to get his foster kittens adopted.