In the later stages of any hardware product’s lifecycle, it’s rare to see potential gems emerge on the horizon. For PlayStation VR, one of those eagerly anticipated games was Wanderer, from New Zealand-based studios Oddboy and M-Theory. We tested the game on a PlayStation VR headset.
If you regularly follow our VR coverage, then you might remember that we previously looked at Wanderer through a developer interview we did, where we talked about how a relatively small team is approaching a rather ambitious title. Wanderer is a time-travel adventure that spans nearly all of humanity, so there are some vastly different scenes to discover and play through – and all of that had to be built by the development team, who are delivering high production values here. But let’s back up for a moment….
Wanderer is best described as an escape room-type game, with puzzles to solve in a variety of locations and a hub-like environment that lets you travel between different places and moments in time. This hub is your grandfather’s old apartment, where you come across a talking wristwatch that also doubles as your inventory somehow. It may not make much sense, but it certainly beats having to go into your inventory through immersion-breaking button presses and menus.
Story-wise, Earth has spiraled into a post-apocalyptic state, and through a journey through time you’ll piece together what happened and where people manipulated time in ways that didn’t turn out so well – and more importantly, why they did it. Objects in the room act as conduits that let you travel through time, and your wristwatch will be your aide – one who happens to speak with the accent of a southern gentleman at times, which certainly gives him some added character.
If you enjoy time travel stories, then Wanderer has you covered as you go from the moon landing to Woodstock and even all the way back to Mayan times. There isn’t a set puzzle mechanic that the gameplay is based around either, so on top of diverse locations you also get some very different puzzle designs – though (as these things often go) they’re not all home runs. In some cases it’s not the puzzle design’s fault either, but more a case of the controls/tracking working against you.
Part of that is definitely the fact that these PS3-era Move controllers just aren’t as precise as today’s VR motion controllers, but some of Wanderer’s issues lie on the programming side of things. Not only have we seen better tracking performance in other games, but in a few cases we also ended up stuck in the environment, forcing you to reload an earlier save to get past a scene.
On the plus side, the team did implement plenty of VR comfort options in Wanderer. From movement options that range from teleportation to smooth locomotion and from smooth turns to incremental ones, there’s something here for anyone’s VR comfort level. You can also choose to play seated or standing up, and can pick up items in a scene with a virtual ‘grabber’ so you don’t have to move into a scene and possibly out of tracking range – all signs that the team knows what they’re doing in the VR space.
Wanderer doesn’t feel like it reaches its full potential, but ultimately that’s more down to the limitation of this first PlayStation VR generation than to what the team set out to do. Sure, had this been a first party title then we’re sure that the game’s performance had been more polished, but this is a visually impressive title from a small team nonetheless. You can see the hardware struggling when textures pop into view a bit too late, for instance – and this happened both on a PS4 system and a PS5. Hopefully, we’ll see this get updates post-launch, which we can see happening when we look at the fact that the development team is hoping to make more games in the series.
For now, this is one of the most ambitious PSVR titles to not come from a first party studio, and the main things holding it back are technical in nature. Overlook those, and there’s a fun time travel romp here that entertained us from start to finish.