If gamers were asked what they’d like to do in virtual reality (VR) one of the most likely answers would be to fly. Being able to take to the skies has been one of humanity’s greatest achievements and still holds wonder and excitement for many. It’s with this notion that Penny Black Studios began developing its first VR title How We Soar, but this isn’t some flight simulator, this is a highly stylised, story driven adventure set on the back of a giant bird.
How We Soar follows the journey of an author as he plans and writes his next book, and through the various objectives players unfold the story. This is achieved by controlling a massive bird which you’re are sat on the back of, swooping across cloud filled skies, flying through rings and collecting coloured orbs.
Firstly How We Soar isn’t concerned about fast paced action sequences or getting highscores, this is a serene, relaxing, almost therapeutic VR experience that invites you to explore the levels at your own pace. There’s no sense of urgency, and there doesn’t need to be, you can just sit back and get immersed in this beautiful looking world that’s littered with books which come to life as you fly on by.
Controlling your winged companion is simple and intuitive, directional controls are handled with the left stick, while speed is controlled with the right trigger. The left trigger allows you to stop and hover aiding tighter turning circles, while a whip of the controller gives a quick boost when needed – something we’ll get to later. You may be thinking at this point about simulator sickness, something VR titles can be prone to, but there’s nothing. Penny Black Studios has managed to find a perfect sweet spot that enables How We Soar to be truly immersive flying experience.
Gameplay revolves around flying through coloured rings unlocking similarly coloured orbs to collect, which then activates the only fast paced part of How We Soar. Once that last orb is collected a small bird – or ‘key bird’ – appears which must be chased down and caught – which is why the boost is useful. Catching the key bird in turn then begins a narration by the author on his thought process for his book before unlocking the next level. As these progress more colours are introduced and evermore places to explore. The books that form the basis of the levels start off drab and lifeless, and it’s by collecting and exploring them that they can be brought to life, enriched with vivid colours and new details as you fly nearby.
This is Penny Black Studios first foray into VR and showcases the teams AAA heritage with an engaging yet gentle experience. For this first peek at the videogame, if you’re into hectic first-person shooters (FPS) then you might find the pacing of How We Soar somewhat lethargic. But the ideas and polish the developer has put into the title definitely make it one to keep an eye on, and it could easily be considered an ideal introductory experience for newcomers to VR.