Sports simulation is one of the genres that was obvious when VR first introduced and despite approaching its 5th year in the mainstream, there hasn’t been a ton of greatly successful sports titles. There is still no great basketball sim out there, baseball titles are few and far between and football only has one title even attempting to simulate the most popular sport in the USA. So, along comes Powder VR, a skiing and snowboarding simulator that aims to bring the winter wonderland into your living room. The results are simply fantastic and despite and despite only being in early access, this is one of the best sports sims in VR right now and passion and precision are abound in one of the most surprising VR titles of the year. Developer RainSoft has given us Powder VR in what should be a landmark title for VR sports.
You start off in a tutorial for either Snowboarding or Skiing. As far as tutorials go, this one is great and unintrusive, and most of all, needed. There’s a lot to digest here initially. Your legs are actually fully tracked here if you have the sensors to make it happen, and this adds a TON to the experience as your balance, leg movement, and arm movement all go into creating the winter sports experience in your headset. There are a few modes to play around with too. You’ve got exploration mode where you can just leisurely take your time zooming through the mountains, races, where you go against other CPU controlled skiers and snowboarders and you can just do freestyle mode too where you can train to do tricks. It’s an awesome offering for what still is an Early Access title and it’s got a ton of potential to become something truly great if the updates keep coming. Right now, there is no way to compete against other players, but that’s definitely a possibility going forward.
What it Feels Like To Play
I am not an avid skier or snowboarder. I just phenomenally suck at both and despite my love for the snow, I have never been too skilled at navigating it. So when I put on the virtual skis and boards, I thought hey, at least I’ll finally be able to feel what it’s like to be good at this sport! And to my shock, I was wrong, I was still terrible and that’s a testament to how spot on this In terms of a simulation. You’re required to balance and use your legs and arms together to maintain your speed as well as controlling your turning. I’m telling you, with a fan blowing in your face while you’re zipping down one of the many levels available, you’ll be hard-pressed to tell me it doesn’t feel like you’re really there. The physics are the most impressive thing in Powder VR and it’s not just extended to the ground. That’s right, you can take to the air on MASSIVE jumps that let you go for 360 spins, tail grabs, and a host of other tricks too and this is the first time in VR I’ve seen anything like this implemented. Be careful though because much like in actual winter sports, you’ll find trees all over, and running into one of these at full speed is both a disturbing experience and a reset back to the starting line, so you always need to be on your toes. There is also a wingsuit available, but I was unable to unlock it or find it during my time with the game, so I can’t comment on how much fun it is, though if it’s anything like snowboarding or skiing, it’s probably a blast.
What Will Keep You Playing?
If you are a fan of winter sports, you know that they aren’t the cheapest sports out there and between planning trips and buying equipment, you’re going to need some solid funds to keep it as a constant hobby. With Powder VR? The mountain comes to you at a far more reasonable price. During your time with the game, you can do the campaign mode which is very challenging and you will unlock new boards and skis as you win more races and freestyle competitions. The exploration mode might be my favorite though because you get to explore the mountains at your leisure with no slaloms or time trials. Just launching yourself high into the air physically spinning around to do a 360 is just so damn cool and while I’ve flown in VR before, nothing has felt this dangerous or realistic. The campaign is lengthy too, so you’re going to be busy for a while and the amount of courses you can experience is pretty impressive for a normal release let alone an Early Access game.
Powder VR is a bit different than most VR games as your entire body is involved with the action here. You’re going to need a decent amount of room in a 360 space because your arms and legs greatly dictate the action here. You also might fall or stumble while playing as body lean is very important too, so make sure no sharp edges are nearby.
I recorded my 30-minute workout using a Fitbit and I played on a Samsung Odyssey Plus Windows Mixed Reality Headset.
Calories burned: 166
Calories burned per minute: 5
Average Heart Rate: 203
Max Heart Rate: 130
Active Minutes: 23
This was definitely up there for the overall most intense experience I’ve had in VR. Physically, you will feel the burn in your legs much in the way actual skiing and snowboarding would cause, but the experience is so much more than that. The thrills of soaring off a huge jump and executing a perfect tail grab is something that I wasn’t sure could actually be properly realized in VR, but here? It’s setting the groundwork for what could become a major genre in the VR gaming realm. The use of your entire body is what will really get the calories burning here and it’s one of the only VR experiences where I really felt like I was there. The immersion with Powder VR is simply incredible and again, it’s still in Early Access. The intensity ramps up when you actually feel in danger do the way hitting objects affects you in-game. Smatters of blood spray the screen if you hit a rock the wrong way and game over during your face to face encounter with a tree really steers you to be more careful during your runs.
You wouldn’t think your arms would be utilized a ton, but Powder VR’s physics gives the exact feeling of having to build momentum while skiing, and here, it’s the same exact type of trudge as it would be while wading through real snow. Pivoting mid slalom, shifting your direction through the use of the poles as well as helping yourself slow down before you have a massive wipeout all take a tremendous toll on your arms after a while. Tricks-wise, the skis will utilize your arms as well whether it’s reaching to grab the skis for an extra point or doing a full-on 360 in your living room. What about the snowboarding option though? How would that utilize your arms? Well, anyone that’s tried snowboarding out knows that your arms play a huge role when it comes to balance and direction and here it’s the same. Your arms will be out by your sides at almost all times and much like yoga will give you a solid workout from holding poses with your arms involved, here it’s very similar. Your balance on the board is directly related to your arms, so if they’re facing one way, that’s the direction you’re going to end up going.
My legs were absolutely shot after playing Powder VR. Whether that’s a testament to how realistic the game is or my penchant for skipping leg day is another story, but regardless, you’re going to get a hell of a burn playing this. First off, on skis, your legs are everything. Bending your knees, for example, will cause you to go faster. You need to consistently alternate between doing this and standing more upright so that you aren’t too fast to control yourself and the resulting burn comes from you doing what amounts to delayed squats for long periods of time. Stretch thoroughly before playing, just as you would actually skiing. The direct your legs face comes into play too as when you’re leaning from side to side you need to be careful not to position yourself right into a tree. With the snowboard, your legs are just as much involved as you’re once again able to bend them and get low to pick up speed as well as actually jumping (in unison with the button press) to increase your immersion and workout within the game. Tricks get your legs into it as well as you’ll be bending your knees to do tail grabs and nose grabs and tons of other tricks.
Balance is everything when it comes to skiing and snowboarding. Here, your actual body sway is being tracked while you are playing, so your balance will dictate whether you dominate the VR winter sports world or go full speed into a tree. The 1:1 tracking of your hips is very impressive and it directly impacts the direction you go, how sharp your turns are as well as speed and the way you hit your jumps. As you go through slaloms and weave around trees and the like, you’ll be driving your hips into every move you make requires a ton of core strength to do effectively, so you’re going to need full core engagement for almost the entirety of your time with Powder VR.
Time Perception- 9/10
When I was exploring the virtual mountainsides covered in snow, I really did feel like I was out there. Between the little touches like launching out of a helicopter before your races or the base camp where you can view the entire course from above before storming down the cliffside adds to what was clearly a very well thought out and passionate game. The only thing that keeps me from playing longer is when the physical toll sets in. The atmosphere, ambiance, and effects are all top-notch and do their best to keep you absorbed into this winter paradise.
Tons of courses, unlockable boards, different settings to make the experience more arcade-y or more realistic, secret wingsuit missions and boost items, and to top it all off, there’s more to come with this being an Early Access title. Simply put, if you’re unable to hit the slopes this year for whatever reason, there is nothing closer to real-life skiing and snowboarding than Powder VR. It delivers thrills that simply don’t get old and I believe it could be used as a tool to introduce people to skiing and snowboarding without subjecting them to the bumps and bruises and a lot of us know come with the territory. It’s a landmark in sports simulation and it should keep you busy for a while.
Fitness Scalability- 7/10
There are a few ways you can do to change the way you workout in Powder VR. Skiing and snowboarding both feel very different and because of that, they tend to have slightly different physical exertion involved in them as well. You can tinker with the settings too to decide on whether you want something that feels as close to real as possible or a more passive and easy to control experience which will directly affect how tired you’ll get while playing. The different modes available all have an impact on your workout as well. Racing will have you mostly concentrating on speed and precision which utilize your legs while mods like exploration let you approach a course anyway and at any speed that you would like.
Lack of Nausea/ Dizziness- 8/10
When you’re dealing with any VR game, you have to account for the blatant nature of the technology and that’s always amplified when the game in question has a feature involving high speeds of movement because your brain can sometimes confuse your body and cause VR sickness to happen. Here, we’re dealing with not only high speed but rapid changes in direction as well as death-defying heights. Luckily, the action is incredibly smooth with very little disruption happening from lag. I’m not great with heights, but soaring through the air on my snowboard created more elation than anything for me and despite doing 360 tail grab off of massive jumps, I never felt sick at all. Some might though because the speed you can travel at gets to be pretty scary at times and when this all comes to a sudden halt from a tree, it’s a jarring sensation at first that might shake up a few players.
Social Competition- 0/10
There is no current multiplayer component to the game and therefore we won’t be factoring this into the final score.
VR Fit Score- 8.6/10
Game Score 9/10
Powder VR is an amazing skiing and snowboarding simulation game that aims to introduce players to these sports as well as give veterans of them the ability to experience the slopes from their living rooms. The fitness aspect is outstanding and gives one of the best full-body workouts you can get in VR. There are numerous courses to unlock as well as skis and boards that will keep you playing for a long time. The challenge is legitimate and you’re going to have to practice if you want to be successful in completing the campaign challenges.
It’s not the prettiest game in the world, but some supersampling can definitely help get optimize that. It takes a bit of getting used to and some people may be frustrated at the start. There could be a bit more explanation as to where you’re supposed to go on certain courses as well.
Powder VR is available for $19.99 on Steam and is playable on Oculus Rift, Valve Index, HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality Headsets.