Game review: P.O.L.L.E.N. may look great but it’s really an empty shell to show off virtual reality
As VR technology starts to become more common, we can expect many more games like this, where a fantastic set-up is let down by unimaginative execution and dull gameplay
Virtual reality is coming. The much-hyped Oculus Rift has been launched, and a whole host of similar contraptions are set to confuse the hell out of your Christmas shopping experience. It’s a natural step forward for the industry, but the major downside to this opening act? The inevitable cash-in games, before the true gold is unearthed.
P.O.L.L.E.N. (referred to from now on as Pollen, because annoying, right?) is a bit like that. It’s available for the Oculus Rift and at first glance, would seem ideal for the format, a first-person horror-mystery set in space where you’re tasked with finding out what happened to lost crew members. And even though we didn’t partake in its VR setting, opting instead for the standard first-person PC mode (it’s also on PlayStation 4), the game revealed itself as the worst kind of offender: a fantastic environment let down by shoddy, lazy gameplay.
The concept is classic if arguably clichéd, and what promises to be a slow-burn adventure with great visual sense and indie creativity eventually crumbles under the weight of sheer boredom. Put bluntly, there really isn’t much to do, and a large part of your time is working out exposition told mostly through audio logs, the kind where you just stare at a cassette player and listen.
You never really discover what happened, instead hearing remnants and trying to work out clues that end up being ultimately futile, as you can’t change the course of the events. It could all be some kind of massive comment on the nature of fate and the inevitability of certain events, but it just didn’t work for a game that was meant to reel us in and challenge us.
Pollen ended up being immensely frustrating, not so much during its incredibly short two-to-three hour running time (itself a minor annoyance), but later on, when I realised what I’d just played: a shell for virtual reality, a mere husk of creepy riddles and fancy outer-space visuals, that disappointed by being nothing more than fodder for desperate fans. It won’t be the last of its kind by far, but you heard it here first: give VR a couple years before you truly dive in.