Best 3D Platformer
Most Empathy-Generating Game
I don’t think I’ve ever moved so fast from booting a game to loving it as I have with Astro Bot: Rescue Mission.
I wasn’t exactly first to the party on this. By the time I picked up Astro Bot, I’d heard all about how revolutionary it supposedly was and how fun it theoretically could be. Nothing about that hyperbolic hype, though, did anything to dampen my experience when I strapped on my PSVR headset and entered the world for the first time.
It’s because Astro Bot fundamentally understands the space it creates and leans into its strengths while avoiding its weaknesses. That’s an advantage it has as a first-party title: it’s never tempted by the room-scale wizardry of other headsets or forced to replicate motion controls with hardware less adept at it. It’s a game with a controller and some minor tilt functions that the DualShock 4 is more than fine at performing, and it puts all the emphasis on its most central control: its camera.
After all, you’re the camera. You view from what’s mostly a static point, but you can look up and back and around and truly get a sense of what’s around you. So it’s around this that Astro Bot looks to build its puzzles. If something’s at an angle you can’t really see, that’s part of the challenge. If it’s right above you, it’s up to your own reflexes and depth perception to make steering around manageable. And if the camera looks at the little robot pal, the pal looks back. And waves excitedly.
It’s not just effective in terms of gameplay, though that’s certainly true and it loves presenting you with tough jumps that you know you can make because you fully perceive the space and depth. No, it’s effective in making its characters and world seem real in the ways that matter. Astro Bot: Rescue Mission is not a graphical powerhouse, and its levels aren’t fully-realized environments. But you’re up close and personal with Astro Bot, and it is ludicrous just how quickly they become your best friend in the whole world. You’re in this often-dangerous quest together, and you both need to support each other to get through it. Your isolation in your headset mirrors that of your pal’s after their home is attacked and all their friends are scattered. Each of you only has the other. And then you keep playing and fix that.
Astro Bot: Rescue Mission is a game that fully justifies a purchase of a PlayStation VR, and this year’s supporting cast of titles makes that even more of a sound investment. But even if you have to borrow one or visit a friend’s to play, you should definitely find the time to do just that.