My family wonders sometimes what the appeal of VR is to me; what is so appealing about sitting in a room with an object on my head and shutting out the real world for an hour or two? And indeed, many genres played in VR have lost their luster as the novelty of the format has worn off. But one activity I will never tire of is “playing with my toys”. I love a good RTS game in virtual reality, one where I can pick up in-game objects like they were tinker toys and move them around on a giant map. There is little more satisfying to me than actually physically plopping down buildings in a city, or sending an army creeping around a side route where my opponent might not notice them. To me, RTS games are why VR was invented.
So when I caught wind that Townsmen VR was going to be a launch game on the PS VR 2, I knew immediately that it would be the first game I played. Sure, I dipped into Horizon and Moss for a few moments to check out the visuals, but Townsmen punted everything else down the list in priority; this was where I wanted to spend my time with my new gadget. And I was not disappointed; Townsmen VR is a delight.
Townsmen VR contains two main modes, the campaign and a sandbox mode. As with most city-builders, I would strongly recommend playing through the campaign first before jumping into the sandbox, as it does a fantastic job of introducing the controls and mechanics of the game. The campaign and the lessons therein are delivered by a little floating knight dude, who manages to keep the player on task without drowning you in annoying chatter. It doesn’t hurt that you can just reach over and smack him around a little bit if he gets irritating.
Each campaign level takes place on an island, which get bigger and more complex as the game progresses. These islands are little works of art, dioramas that should be examined from every angle before you start playing, both to identify points of interest and to admire the work that went into creating them. The knight dude outlines a few starting goals, and then the player gets to work.
I should say outright that there are no genre-busting mechanics that appear in Townsmen VR. If you’ve played a city builder before, you know exactly what the drill will be. Sink a well. Build a hunting lodge to get food production started. Get your guys to work cutting down trees. Build a place to turn those trees into logs. Start mining the local quarry. Use those materials to build more homes to produce more townsmen. You know this. You’ve done this.
As the campaign progresses, you will find yourself eventually under attack. This isn’t one of those “chill” city-builders; you’re going to have to fight a bit. Luckily, the game teaches you how to have a ready supply of soldiers, bowmen, and catapults at the ready. The combat is cartoonish and bloodless, for anyone looking to share this game with their family.
What elevates this experience is the delightful level of interaction the player has with the characters and environments. Every time I thought to try something new, I was rewarded by the development team, who had thought of it first. Clouds in the way of your view? Use your god-hand to wave them away from the island. Put your hand under water and swish around the school of fish swimming by. Snatch that irritating hawk right out of the sky. Pick up that dog and hurl it into the ocean to horrify your watching children. (Anyone? Anyone? Just me?) Whatever I thought to do in the game, Townsmen VR was ready for.
The cool thing is how all of this interactivity translates into the gameplay. Instead of futzing around with a mouse or controller to properly place a building, you just literally set it where you want it. When you have enough lumber, grab your lumberjack and plop him down somewhere else to reassign him to a new job. If your people are moving too slowly hauling materials somewhere, you can just pick the stuff up and move it yourself. It’s a complete delight, a modern translation of those early ‘90s “God games” come to life.
Movement is handled very well. You simply grip anywhere and drag yourself around. A quick swish of the controllers can zoom in or out, either shrinking down the island to micro size, or allowing you to get right down into the town with its inhabitants. You can zoom and rotate in a lot of PC games, of course, but when you do, the people aren’t life sized.
Comfort-wise, Townsmen VR is absolutely ace. Not to tip my hand too much on my eventual platform review, but I have been having some comfort issues with PS VR 2 that I didn’t experience on the original, but the entirety of my time with Townsmen VR was completely relaxed, without a whiff of disorientation or VR sickness.
I should also advise new players not to be impatient; it doesn’t take long for the game to pick up. The longer Townsmen VR goes, the deeper it gets. Towards the beginning of the game, I found myself tapping my foot impatiently while waiting for my little townsfolk to complete whatever tasks they were working on; waiting around is one of my least favorite game mechanics. But within the first hour or two of the game, you will find yourself with more than enough to manage on an ongoing basis. There is plenty of ongoing activity to hold your attention when the game really gets cooking.
Is Townsmen VR the most complex city builder ever made? No, absolutely not. But it is a very fun VR interpretation of these classic game mechanics. More important than that, all of the VR features work very well, without any “VR jank” rearing its head. Objects behave the way you expect them to, you can easily manipulate the map, and the camera never goes bonkers.
I know that this game has been available for some time on PC, but this is the first time that console players have had a chance to play Townsmen VR. There is a possibility that this game might fly under the radar for folks looking for something to play with their flashy new PS VR 2. That would be a shame, as Townsmen VR is one of the best launch games on the platform. On PC, this might be considered a "cute little game", but the stellar VR implementation elevates it to top-tier status. If you want to know what I find so appealing about "playing with my toys" in VR, just check out Townsmen VR. You might look at VR in an entirely new way.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS4, PS VR2, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here.View Profile