Green Hell VR is in desperate need of optimizing and fine-tuning, but it’s much closer to getting there than you might expect. Read on for our preview!
I went into Green Hell VR’s Steam Next Fest Demo fearing the worst. Everything we’ve seen from Incuvo’s latest VR port has looked quite good, but perhaps a little too good. Surely somewhere between the original’s dense vegetation and sheer ambition of its survival systems, the developer was biting off more than it could chew. After all, the bitter taste of the deeply disappointing Hitman 3 PC VR support from last month still lingers in the mouth.
And, sure, Green Hell VR isn’t quite there yet. But it’s a fair bit closer than I thought it would be.
Green Hell VR Hands-On
For starters, this isn’t a straightforward PC VR port of the gritty survival adventure. Whilst Green Hell VR does translate the entire original game into headsets, it’s benefited from a top-to-bottom reassessment of how every element could and should work on its new platform in a way that reminds me of the effort Hello Games went to with No Man’s Sky. As you might expect, a lot of that equates to added labor; tree trunks and plants are efficiently chopped to size with a machete, ropes are climbed one arm after the other, and bandages are applied by rolling them around your arm or leg.
You’ll spot a lot of interactions — like dressing those wounds — directly lifted from The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners. The placement of your notebook on a shirt breast pocket is the same, and the inventory system is practically identical, relying on an over-the-shoulder backpack that can be suspended in mid-air. It’s encouraging to see more titles finally adopting some of the design lessons that game taught us two years ago now, and Green Hell VR feels all the better for it.
There are some smart shortcuts, too. When I need to build a campfire, for example, I don’t have to dig into my backpack to find tinder and twigs – if they’re in my inventory I can simply point at the designated area and press the grip button to automatically place them there. Some of these moments do seem finicky — from accidentally picking up the wrong item from a distance to just not picking up anything at all — but some extra time and polish could smooth that out.
Beyond controls, I’m just a huge fan of the way the original game’s body horror is given unnerving new life in VR. Later on in the 20-ish minute demo, you take a tumble and are left with huge cuts on your arm and leg. They’re really rather gruesome – oozy, gleaming, and, based on the trailers, just a taste of the misfortune that awaits in the full game.
But, much like those grotesque injuries, problems do fester beneath the surface. You might have heard by now that performance in this demo isn’t great and that was certainly my experience. With a 3070 Ti on medium settings, I was experiencing regular judders and texture pop-in that detracted from the otherwise stunning set-building. Incuvo has gone as far as to put a note about optimizations to come in the game’s opening, and we can only hope it doubles down on that promise in the weeks and months to come before launch.
There’s also something to be said for the trials of navigating the jungle in VR. Even in just the starting area, it’s tough to pick different plant types apart, and, while this is certainly authentic, I can imagine becoming quickly frustrated trying to tell them apart in the wider world. A priority system that highlights plants you’re on the hunt for could go a long way to relieving some of that stress. As for the UI in general, the overlay and subtitles currently take precedent, and it’s a strange senstation not to be able to bring your hands over the top of health and stamina meters which, again, I hope is fixed for full launch.
And don’t forget there’s still a lot of elements not revealed in this demo. Hunting and combat will be two key aspects that the game could really live or die by, but you don’t get a taste of them here.
Overall, though, I came out of this demo far more optimistic than I thought I’d be. Green Hell VR certainly needs a lot more work to get it in fighting shape, and that’s without having even seen the Quest 2 version supposedly arriving in the same launch timeframe. But it’s got the right design philosophy to carry the experience and a few of its own unsettling twists to help the game stand out. We’ll of course save our final verdict for a full review when the game launches later into the first half of 2022.