VR can be a magical place sometimes, but other times it can be a great way to give yourself motion sickness and repaint your living room in all the colors of your stomach. Many games over recent years have tried to make VR more comfortable, with mixed results. You’ll either end up with something that completely destroys immersion, which is most of the point of VR, or something that still makes your inner ear think you’ve fallen asleep inside an active washing machine. Straylight is an action-heavy VR title that sees you swinging through a giant void and yet claims that it won’t make you sick. I’ll have to see it to believe it.
Straylight Breaks the Mold
Straylight is a difficult game to describe with regular genre labels. It’s effectively akin to other hypercasual games like Clustertruck, giving you individual levels to try and beat with a simple goal of being to pass through all of the checkpoints until you reach the end. The key gimmick is that you’re pulling yourself along a track made up of glowing orbs using the titular Straylight like a techno-themed Spider-Man. Along the way, you’ll be joined by a mysterious and ever-so-slightly sinister voice, who vaguely explains the rules and tries his best not to sound like male-presenting GladOS.
There’s not so much of a story, beyond the fact that you find yourself stuck in a strange void being psychopathed-at by a voice over. There’s some information about the Straylight device itself, but, questions about where you are, what’s going on, or what the Straylight even is are shunted to the side in favor of a huge focus on gameplay, psychedelic visuals, and a variety of background music, depending on the situation.
Straylight - Controls
Answering the question of whether Straylight controls well or not is pretty tricky. In truth, there’s a lot more intuition than instruction going on. There’s a tutorial stage that gently walks you through the basic operation of the game, using your two gauntlets to aim at glowing nodes, then attaching a light-based rope to them to pull yourself along. As you go through, challenges get harder and there are more deadly obstacles for you to face. The only real issue is that beyond telling you “how you move your arms affects how you move around the map”, it doesn’t tell you how the two actually correlate.
For instance, you can act like Spider-Man, grabbing nodes and pulling back to shoot forward. However, it is also a perfectly viable strategy to just wiggle your hand around a bit while holding onto a node to achieve the same effect for no adequately explored reason. Still, it’s not all that bad. The controls are something you have to learn by doing, and after a while, they do become like second nature. It’s sort of cool that you have to learn the exact nuances of how these strange, alien devices function as if you’ve just discovered them for yourself.
Straylight - Gameplay
In all, my first hour or two with the game was pretty fun. It’s easy to go into an almost zen-like state as you swing and pull yourself along at quite some speed in the early levels, navigating around corners with ease and enjoying the feeling of shooting into a mysterious purple vortex at the end. The problem is that a lot of the game hinges on the idea of repetition. Retrying challenges over, and over again until you nail them. That's not an issue if you're into it, but it can be a mite frustrating, especially as things start to get trickier.
Of the 11 main levels you start Straylight with, the second half or so starts really ramping up the challenge. Having you blasting around levels with limited checkpoints or strange repeating patterns that you have to solve. It becomes a bit of a test of attrition, which you may not have the patience for, but it can also prompt you to find interesting shortcuts around levels that become secret paths to unlocking the best times possible, made even more enjoyable by the inclusion of ghosts of your previous runs to race against.
Straylight - Levels and Modes
The first 11 levels could run you anywhere between a couple of hours to several weeks, depending on how well you manage to navigate around the tricky turns and timing puzzles. But, the game isn’t over once you run out of standard levels, you also have 11 more hardcore levels to complete that ramp up the challenge a little bit more, as well as a Zen Mode that lets you enjoy a selection of levels without any death-states to worry about, other than plummeting into the void of course. Overall, these new levels end up giving the game a decent length, assuming you don’t have to stop playing from frustration.
Zen Mode is by far the best one. You get to listen to the awesome soundtrack and admire the epic cosmic scenery while swinging as fast or as slow as you like. You can swing right through most obstacles, even the giant sun-ish thing in the center of the level, giving you the unique opportunity to shoot straight at it and see what they look like inside. In many ways, it’s a shame that Zen Mode is restricted to the handful of levels chosen by the game, rather than a modifier you can select when booting a session.
Straylight - Sound, Visuals, and Comfort
As mentioned above, the music and visuals in Straylight are top-notch for PSVR 1. The soundtrack is full of a mix of thumping and chill synth music composed by Rob Kovacs that is worth the price of admission alone. In fact, you can have a much better time in the main game by just turning the voices and sound effects on and gliding around the game rocking out. Visually it’s relatively standard stuff from a fidelity standpoint, but the cosmic universe the game builds is incredibly immersive. You really feel like you're flying around a strange realm, dipping into mysterious portals at the end of every level.
Of course, one of the main claims of Straylight has been that it’s comfortable to play, despite being the sort of VR game that normally makes your inner-ear parts go all shouty. On that front, it’s actually a partial success. If you try to play the game standing up, then you’re liable to end up VR-headset-first in your TV, but sitting down, it’s actually quite a serene experience. While users who are extremely sensitive to VR did report needing to stop playing after a while, others who normally experience mild VR sickness seemed to be able to play indefinitely. It’s not exactly clear how the developers of the game achieved making it comfortable to play with no visual comfort compromises, but they seem to have mostly succeeded.
Overall, Straylight ended up being an interesting experience. On one hand, it was so frustrating that I felt like breaking something, but on the other, there was always something that kept drawing me back. Whether it’s the fantastic music, the serene feeling of playing, or the rush of completing a tough challenge, it’s still something I find tough to put down. This is a game for those who want something to truly master through constant repetition. Each new shortcut unlocked is a new path that could shave precious nanoseconds off your time, and when you get frustrated, that Zen Mode will always be there to chill you out again.
TechRaptor reviewed Straylight on PlayStation VR with a code provided by the developers. The game is also available on PC and Meta Quest 2.
- Amazing soundtrack
- Fun Gameplay
- Zen Mode feels like a religious experience
- Has a tendency to be frustrating at times
- If you're not into repetition, the content will probably run out on you quickly