Ultrawings, out for about half a year on Steam, has made it to Playstation VR. As the platform’s first real (casual) flight sim, how does it fare?
Taking a few cues from classic like Pilotwings, Bit Planet Games’ simulator gravitates to the more casual end of the spectrum. A wise choice, since real flight sim enthusiasts tend to stick to PCs, often with flight sticks or even entire or partial cockpits to aid them in their hobby. The latter’s a bridge too far on Playstation VR, though the cockpit is virtualized and can be interacted with using a pair of Move controllers (or the DualShock gamepad).
The lack of a flightstick felt noticeable though, as you grab a virtual flightstick and have to restrict yourself in your movements as there is no physical feedback from an actual stick. As such, you’re often mimicking flight stick movements rather than feeling like you’re actually holding one, which takes some getting used to. After a short learning curve, this became fairly comfortable though.
The other on-board controls, when using a pair of move controllers, felt more intuitive. Able to freely move your hands around the cockpit, it’s a lot of fun to operate the various dials, buttons and other controls available to you. As you get to operate a variety of planes, the control can differ between cockpits, but the general layout stays roughly the same (and at least very recognizable) throughout the entire game.
Besides flying an aircraft, you also get to engage in take-offs and landings – which are challenging in terms of the number of controls you have to coordinate and manage. Luckily, the in-game tutorial is a great help in pulling off these complicated sequences. Once airborne, there is a small variety of activities to engage in as well, so it’s not just flying around mostly generic environments that are relatively low in detail.
Flying through mid-air rings is a familiar favorite, but there are also photo and shooter modes to engage in. In the first you have to line up your camera (in the form of a virtual tablet) with a real life part of the scenery in order to score points, and this gets a lot easier once the environment becomes more familiar after a few hours of gameplay. I’d advice playing this mode last because of it, because otherwise it feels like stabbing in the dark at times. Shooting mode isn’t your typical dogfight, but rather a mode where you try to pop balloons using a handheld (virtual) gun. It’s a fun concept because you’re not constantly struggling to line up your plane perfectly, but somehow the controls don’t allow you to use the trigger button to fire since that’s reserved for picking up and setting down the gun.
The environments to fly around in are vast and you’re rarely the only plane up there, but visually Ultrawings shows the technical limitations that come with the creation of a flight sim in VR these days – scaling down the level of detail to ensure a stable frame rate. There’s not too much happening on the ground and the visual style is something we’ve been seeing quite a bit in virtual reality titles. The upcoming Ace Combat 7 promises a far more realistic visual approach, but it’s a very different type of game.
At its core, Ultrawings is a very competent flight sim for the VR/console crowd. It’s easy to pick up and enjoy, and the sensation of flight is definitely there. The various game modes aren’t terribly thrilling in the longer run, but offer a nice change of pace for the basic flying. The game does a great job of getting you airborne before you progress to faster planes that allow for some thrilling mid-canyon dives, but without an interest in (casual) flight sims to begin with your interest will likely drop after a short while. Flight sim enthusiasts can rejoice though, since Ultrawings is a fun first entry on Playstation VR.