Ah, the battle royale genre, what an absolute dominant run this game type has had on the world of videogames of late. Where it hasn’t been as well represented is in the world of VR. There are a couple of offerings like Stand Out and Virtual Battlegrounds, but Population: One has the feeling similar to when Call of Duty: Warzone arrived. It’s the real deal now and it’s going to be tough to take the crown off this one. Let’s dive in.
Population: One introduces you to the game by taking through a tutorial that’s a bit more in-depth than you’d expect for a battle royale game. You need to learn how to climb, how to fly, how to build in a Fortnite-esque kind of way, and also how to shoot. There are a variety of guns available to you and each one comes with a special way to load and cock it. It’s not quite on the level of things like Pavlov VR, but the fact that there is a bit of interactivity instead of something lazy like an auto-reload, is a nice touch that helps increase the most important part of VR, immersion.
What it feels like to play
As far as battle royale games go in VR, Population: One is by far the best. You’re set up with each game having 6 teams of 3 and the very act of beginning the game is more invigorating than anything you’ll find in its’ competition. You start off on a platform with your fellow teammates, and in front of you are these bizarre-looking pods that kind of resemble chair lifts. AS soon as you get in one, you’re launched into the sky and have to pull a lever to successfully deploy onto the map. When you do, you begin to soar through the air by holding your arms out via what I assume is some sort of wingsuit. The feeling of flying is something many VR games attempt to nail, but very few really do. Population: One kills it in this regard. The brief moments you have flying through the air before landing in the chaos below is just an amazing thing to experience and what’s even better is there are several structures that you can climb up throughout the game and launch yourself off to utilize the flying ability to navigate the area.
But this isn’t a game about flying, it’s about survival and fighting for your life. Luckily, that part of Population: One is fantastic. The gun physics are pretty spot on with most guns having a working iron sight to aim down (save for the sniper rifle which is effectively useless at this point, but I hate snipers in every battle royale, so I digress). As the action gets going, you’re going to need to utilize all your tools to survive. That means you’re going to need to climb all over the place to get vantage points to take out your opponents. You’ll have full voice support to communicate with your teammates as well. Coordinating your attacks and calling out teammates to build defense walls or creating platforms to travel apart adds a unique flavor to this experience that isn’t easy to find in VR.
What will keep you playing?
With this genre of game, there is an addictive nature to it that keeps you coming back for one more match. The randomness of the players you’re paired with mixed with the growing player base should keep this game relevant well into the freezing winter ahead of us. The graphics are quite nice for this type of game as well, so you won’t be having to suffer the general uneasiness that indie VR games can sometimes suffer through. If the idea of Fortnite in VR is something that appeals to you, albeit with far more realism involved, then this will be your dream come true. The developers also are supportive within their Discord community, so you’re going to get the bang for your buck than you’d expect.
Despite this being a shooter, you’re going to be awfully physically active during it, so it’s advised you have a good amount of space to navigate while you play. You should stretch before getting started and a workout mat would be a solid addition as well.
I recorded my workout with a Fitbit and played on a Samsung Odyssey Plus Windows Mixed Reality Headset.
You wouldn’t expect Population: One to be an intense physical experience, but depending on your strategy as a player, you could find yourself with a grueling experience. The climbing alone gets your blood pumping and when you combine that with having to whip your guns out while flying or need to build a platform or wall to save you from a hail of bullets, you’re going to work up a sweat while you play. Combining all of this with constant communication with your teammates and you’ll find yourself with one of the more harrowing multiplayer experiences available in VR.
90 percent of the actions you’re going to take part in while playing Population: One will involve your arms, so it’s recommended that you take care to stretch thoroughly beforehand. Your workout is primarily going to come from your style of play. This means you’re going to need to utilize the climbing mechanic as much as possible. That means you should treat the game less like Rambo and more like Solid Snake so you aren’t constantly involved in gunfights, but rather carefully navigating areas to find the best places to attack from. The gunplay will have you manually reloaded which, while not really tiring, can surely be a support piece of the larger workout happening. The same can be said for the flying mechanic which has you hold your arms out in a T shape. All in all, it’s a fantastic arm workout after a little bit of fine-tuning.
Thanks to the full-body tracking within Population: One, you’re free to physically engage how you please. When it comes to your legs, the best way to do this is by making sure you take cover throughout the game. Physically ducking and dodging when possible will always keep your legs engaged and you can even just run in place while moving to give you an extra boost in that area as well. You can shoot from crouched positions, drop prone on your floor if you like, it’s all an option here. There are no parts of the game that actively require your legs though, so you’re able to go through the whole thing sitting down if you choose to, though you’ll be missing out on the full experience in my opinion if you do.
Core/ Balance- 8/10
This is one of the few VR games that actively engages your core. This is achieved through the climbing mechanic which, if used frequently enough, can get your core a great workout. The other ways that Population: One engages your core is by ducking and crouching in and out of cover from firefights. If you’re doing this enough, it will surely work out your abdominals and really just give your whole body an active experience. Balance wise, you’re going to need to be steady as it’s pretty jarring at first to fly for example, so you’re going to need to steady yourself. The same goes for the climbing where you’ll see yourself scaling some fairly tall structures to find cover.
Time Perception- 9/10
This is one of the more engaging experiences in VR I’ve found. It effectively takes you out of your world and throws you into a battlefield with a few strangers. It feels like the best realization of The Hunger Games within VR and it’s got a way of just gripping you in and keeping you there until you can’t handle the experience any longer. Matches don’t last all that long, so your time commitment is never too intense, which is key in VR. Here you get to spend as much or as little time as you’d like.
The best part about multiplayer games is that they always offer a new experience each time you play. With some VR multiplayer titles, the problem is that there isn’t enough of a player interest to support the games enough to keep them afloat (hence the growing amount of Discord channels popping up) and with this problem comes the fact that you may be facing off against bots most of the time when you desire actual player vs player interaction. That isn’t the case here. The player base is booming right now and throughout my time with the game, I rarely had to wait very long to find a match to play in.
Fitness Scalability- 8/10
While there aren’t any difficulty levels to jack up the physical intensity of the game, how you play can very much affect the kind of workout you’re going to get. It’s a shame that the grenade throwing is automatically done rather than physically throwing it, but that’s the only shortcoming here. If you want a more intense workout, you literally gotta work for it. Climb those buildings, fly everywhere, duck for cover. It’s all on you and that freedom is what makes this such a great experience.
Nausea/ Dizziness- 9/10
In games where you’re flying through the air or climbing to terrifying heights, you’re generally going to have to deal with some form of uneasiness and dizziness. In Population: One, you’re thankfully spared any of this by a razor-sharp frame rate and some great choices for comfort options as well. No need to teleport, smooth movement is perfect in here.
Social Competition- 10/10
This is the name of the game! If you want multiplayer warfare with some pretty graphics and engaging physics to keep you busy, you’ll find no better option right now than Population: One. It isn’t the full-on military sim that Onward is, but it’s good enough and accessible enough to let anyone who wants a piece of the action to just dive right in for some team warfare.
VR Fit Score- 8.4/10
Game Score- 8/10
Population: One is an intriguing VR battle royale that utilizes your whole body to completely immerse you in this intense and strategic experience. The player base is solid, keeping the action exciting and constant and the visuals are far above what you’d expect from an Indie title. The shooting mechanics are solid, despite not having the realistic reloading that most VR shooters employ now. Despite not being an Early Access title, the Discord presence by the developer suggests that there will be tons more added to this game and that helps to justify the price tag. The talk of user-made mods could be integrated in the future which would add a ton of variety to the gameplay here. The building mechanics also add a great twist that makes Population: One feel a lot like Fortnite in VR, which isn’t a bad thing. The physical aspect of the game is surprisingly intense and depending on your playstyle, you can get a great workout while playing.
The price tag is a bit lofty for essentially boils down to a one-note experience, so you might not find enough to feel that’s worth it. The gunplay can feel inconsistent with some guns such as the sniper rifle, which doesn’t work at all like you would expect one to. The lack of being able to go at it alone might make some shy away from what is a team-oriented experience. If you’re tired of the battle royale genre, this isn’t the game to change your mind as it doesn’t do anything too new gameplay-wise. The map is a bit bland looking and although there are plenty of places for confrontation, the look feels very barebones and seems like it’s the skeleton for something greater that will be added.