I love flying games. That’s probably because I’m completely aware that I will never get to fly a plane in my lifetime. So flight sims of varying complexity always get me going because I get the chance to fly a plane or starship in the comfort of my own home, free from the worry of crashing (because I totally would) or hold the lives of passengers in my shaky hands. Virtual Reality is an awesome fit for flight games, making the whole experience feel even more real and immersive. This was something I expected from Pirate Flight VR, after I found out that it had little to nothing to do with actual pirates. While this is certainly a virtual reality enabled flying game, it doesn’t do enough with the format to make this anymore endearing than a breezy, iOS time waster.
As indicated by the game’s description on the PlayStation Store, the idea behind Pirate Flight VR was to create an age-friendly flight sim that doesn’t bog the player down with advanced and complex control schemes or expert level flight skills that might normally prohibit people from this kind of game. Given the utmost limited of controls over your airplane, you’re free to treat it as a gentleperson’s pursuit, casually gliding across three small maps as you compete in three game types: Rings, Race, and Balloons. “Simple” might be one way to describe Pirate Flight VR but I’d like to use “underdeveloped” instead. That is the thought that stayed with me as I played through this overlay bland video game. Also, I feel it’s worth pointing out that the title is a bit of misnomer. I had initially expected the game to be about pirates (VR pirates, no less!) or some sort of swashbuckling endless runner. Sadly, it has nothing to do with those dazzling rogues of the sea beyond sticking an avatar dressed as a pirate into a small airplane.
I can put up with a lot of annoying and troubling issues with a game so long as it is fun to play. This is where Pirate Flight VR stops short. Even with the large number of levels spanning three stages designed around a lagoon, a jungle, and mountain region. With over 270 stars to collect from said levels, it wastes no time in turning into a complete and total bore. The whole game is painfully repetitive and doesn’t offer enough of a challenge, even in its later areas. For example, the Rings and Races modes are essentially the same game type, though one adds a competitive edge by introducing additional computer controlled players for you to race against. The competition is largely artificial considering so long as you hold down the boost button. These two modes involving flying through rings or race pylons until you reach the end of the course. Balloon is more of a standout mode because you’re not following a set course but instead, shoot down groups of balloons with your plane’s weapons. Once these tasks are complete, your performance is evaluated on your ability not to crash, complete a course within the time allotted, and in the case of races, come in first place. Stars are also used to unlock new pilot skins and open up the two additional stages and do the whole thing all over again. And I can tell you, that by the time I reached the third level in the Ring and Race modes, I was bored out of my mind.
There’s nothing especially thrilling about the practicing of piloting a simple airplane through the bland environments. Pirate Flight VR doesn’t look all that great and for once, that’s not the PSVR’s fault. To be frank, this looks no better than a PlayStation 2 game–though there are certainly games from that generation that look better than this. Textures are bland and largely nondescript, colors are flat and unappealing, and the 3D environments aren’t especially impressive the longer you look at them. Giving the player access to a collection of goofy character skins, which include an alien, a young woman, a knight, and a wizard, seems like a good idea–after all, who doesn’t appreciate variety in their avatars?–but what’s the point in doing so when you can’t see them? The game is played from the first person perspective and gives no clear visual indication that you are flying as a wizard or a pre-teen girl. You don’t see your hands, feet or legs and the design of the plane stays the same no matter what person or creature you choose.
The more I think about Pirate Flight VR, a conspiratorial thought begins to form. Was this originally intended to be a mobile game? It has all the right hooks: accessible gameplay, lots of levels, a UI reminiscent of Angry Birds, collecting stars, and a repetitive gameplay loop that introduces more challenges (whether or not this game is actually challenging to the player of any skill level is easily debatable). And the use of character skins would make a lot more sense if this was a third-person multiplayer game. The addition of character skins would be great if only you could actually see your pilot. Which you can’t. Also, the game doesn’t really think too much outside the box with it’s VR integration. It’s almost a chore to have to set up the headset just to play something that feels designed to help you kill time between bus stops.
The bottom line is that Pirate Flight VR might be designed for all ages casual play but the thin content, repetitive gameplay, shoehorned VR, and the lack of challenge in any mode makes this game fall flat. If anything, this feels like a proof of concept demo you’d show off to an investor with the promise of bigger and better things down the line.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.