Discovering > Space is a game that’s all about exploration. There’s no action, shooting or explosions, just sightseeing on an epic scale; and yet we can’t stop playing.
It’s the kind of game that’s perfectly suited to virtual reality, where immersion and atmosphere is key; and it works wonderfully, evoking moments of wonder on a regular basis. In short, Discovering > Space gives you the entire Solar System to explore. You have two ships to choose from, and start on the explorable dock of a space station located not far from our own blue planet. From there you’re free to explore the other planets, the Sun, asteroids and more.
There’s a lot to see, and boy, is it worth the travel times (more about that in a moment). Find a planet with an atmosphere and you’re able to swoop down to the surface, before gazing back up at the alien sky above. When orbiting high above its surface you’ll notice that each planet is rendered beautifully; in particular Saturn, which features a glistening ring made up of thousands of tiny asteroids that you can skim over. It’s moons are also available for sight-seeing, each with their own orbit; one which floats through the gas giants ring in spectacular fashion.
The game is designed to work in DirectToRift mode, and when launched displays a 2D options screen on the desktop monitor. From here it’s possible to change graphical settings, music, select a ship and even change the 3D avatar which sits in the cockpit. Once ready you only need to click Go and put on the Rift headset, where you’ll find yourself standing on a virtual deck. It’s possible to explore the deck and peek out into the depths of space, but it’s not until you jump into the ship that the game truly begins.
While sitting in the cabin of your ship you’re able to look around and play with its many different functions. You’ll find a switch for enabling the cabin lights, a 3D map of the local area around you, a destination list that shows nearby objects and more, all of which can be toggled and explored. By pulling back on the right Xbox controller trigger your ship glides out into space where you’ll be able to spy distant planets, asteroids and the blinking lights of transport gates. The longer you hold down on the Xbox trigger, the faster the ship goes; up to a top speed of 5x the speed of light. Each ship has limited fuel for travelling five times faster than light, but cleverly it recharges when your ship slows down. This prevents you from zipping from planet to planet, and makes you plan ahead by searching for nearby objects or gates. On paper that sounds like a frustrating experience, but instead it forces the player to take their time and examine the nearby area for objects of interest, and it makes the ship feel like a real vehicle.
As you approach a planet or moon the destination panel changes into an information board, showing information about the object and its history. This briefly turns Discovering > Space into an education tool, and it also helps to pass the travel times. While orbiting planets you’ll notice some nice little touches, such as how the atmosphere changes color depending on its angle to the sun, or how the reflective surface of some planets shines the sun back in your face. Look a little closer and you’ll notice similar touches that bring the ship to life, including blinking external lights, an Xbox controller to your left and occasionally a steamy breath that emanates from your digital avatar. You’ll even find a digital camera that can be pulled out for taking snaps of the sights in front of you.
Graphically the game looks great on the Oculus Rift. There’s a nice sense of 3D, planets look suitably large and you’ll be able to check out the Milky Way that stretches across the Solar System. The game runs at a buttery smooth 75FPS, and uses positional tracking to let you lean around the cabin or look at a navigation panel up close. You’ll also find multiple camera angles, including one that looks directly back at the ship so you can check out your virtual self.
Priced $12.99, and available today from The Rift Arcade Market, there’s a lot to see in Discovering > Space. You can’t go off and explore the rest of the Milky Way (that’s coming soon in Elite: Dangerous), but it’ll take many hours to check out every planet, and even longer to see the dozens of moons and smaller asteroids. This is a fantastic example of how virtual reality can transport you to another place and time, and it’s easy to get absorbed in the relaxing atmosphere and find yourself playing the game for hours on end.
A wonderful, exploration game that demonstrates the power of the Oculus Rift. It's graphically stunning and educational to boot, and the limited fuel system makes navigating the Solar System a challenging experience.
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Oculus Rift Experience