We’ve been getting some really good experiences on PSVR recently, especially in the narrative and puzzle department. Red Matter had a brilliant narrative combined with stunning visual effects, A Fisherman’s Tale was a quirky puzzle game with a twist, and Guns’N’Stories humorously combined a static shooter with a funny narrative. Over the last few days, I believe I’ve been playing the most immersive, visually stunning, emotional, and satisfying puzzle game on the PSVR since release! XING: The Land Beyond raises the bar considerably with regards to the puzzle genre within VR.
However, if you don’t own a PSVR headset, please don’t stop reading here – XING is a hybrid game, you can play the full experience in both VR or Flat mode. The Flat mode even has a few visual differences as the game fully supports the PS4 Pro and takes advantage of the extra horsepower. So, let’s take a deeper look at why I literally couldn’t stop playing the game and why I just had to grab the platinum for this ama-XING game…
XING: The Land Beyond is a collection of stories, four main ones and a number of smaller ones, all presented in the form of poetry being read by the recently departed. That’s right, everyone is dead, including our protagonist. The actual setting of the game is unspoken, but it appears you are in some sort of Limbo as you help claim the lost souls of those who have tragically passed away by following in their footsteps and reliving their final moments. For a puzzle game, this is all very deep and quite emotional at times, but it all works perfectly.
As you make your way through the many intuitive, logical, and environmental puzzles, you’ll uncover small snippets of the spirits life as they reveal their thoughts, fears, interests, and dark secrets. These aren’t just there for the narrative though, they also hint at what to do in order to overcome the puzzle placed before you – if you take in everything you see and hear, the experience is simply magnificent. As a puzzle fan, the solutions sometimes left me stumped as I tried to work them out, but nothing is too difficult if you take your time and take in the beauty this game has to offer.
So, Let’s have a closer look at what to expect when you inevitably buy XING: The Land Beyond…
The first thing I have have to talk about is the controls. For the most part, the controls are fine, but I did encounter an unusual design choice when using the Move controllers.
Both in VR and in Flat mode (non-VR), you’re allowed to use a standard PS4 DS4 controller if you wish. This operates as you would expect. You can move with the left stick, look with the right (if not in VR), jump, pick up one object at a time (in VR, you look at what you want to pick up and it floats in front of you), and you can run. However, I remapped the run button from L3 to L1 using the PS4 accessibility options as holding down the stick to run was beginning to hurt my thumb and there is no way to remap your controls in-game. When using the DS4 in VR, you can enable smooth or snap turning as well as adjust the degrees you turn during each snap.
This is by far the best way to play XING: The Land Beyond. You hold the left Move button to move in the direction you’re pointing the controller (forwards, backwards, strafe left/right), both controllers have a jump button and you can pick up and hold two items at a time (major advantage). However, in order to turn on the spot, you press the Move button on the right controller. This is rather cumbersome and a bit hard to get used to at first as the direction you point and click IRL is the direction your protagonist turns to. If all the buttons were being used then I would understand this, but the Triangle and Square buttons on the right controller aren’t being used – I would love it if the developers made these two buttons rotate us left and right on the spot (with an option for either smooth or snap turning).
So, just like I saw with DOOM VFR, both controllers have their own pros and cons, but there isn’t a definitive option at the moment. The DS4 allows for faster (as there is no run on the Move controller) travel and smooth/more efficient turning, yet the Move controllers let you pick up multiple items, become more immersed, and feels a lot better to use as you don’t have items floating right in front of you. If the developers could add turning as an option/addition feature on the move controllers, then I believe they will become the ultimate method – and maybe a run toggle on there as well.
Puzzles you say?
I don’t want to ruin any of the puzzles you’re going to be solving within XING: The Land Beyond, so I’ll try and keep this brief! As a mystical wanderer, you can unlock certain ‘abilities’ to aid you on your journey. These include changing the time from day to night, freezing water, controlling the direction of the wind, and making it rain. Using these special tiles, you must manipulate time to open certain doors and push blocks, freeze water to create a safe passage, change the wind to blow open doors, and rain down on flames to open up paths. These are the core elements within the main story areas, but they are not the extent of the puzzles you’ll encounter.
For example, in one of the areas you’re presented with totem poles with various colours on them. You must raise and lower drums in order to throw objects at the coloured drums and bounce around in the same order as on the poles. This may sound easy, but the drums rotate and change their trajectory, so getting the order correct requires a number of attempts as you try over and over until you work out the solution. This is one of the main puzzles which crops up in the second world, but that world also has pushing blocks, time of day, water levels, and other puzzles as well – there really is a lot to keep you busy as you make your way through the magical lands.
Even though a lot of the puzzles are quite simple in nature, the presentation and thought which has gone into creating them is beyond anything I’ve seen for a while. Sure, I loved A Fisherman’s Tale for it’s inventive and creative fourth-wall style puzzles, but the team at White Lotus Interactive have taken some simplistic puzzles and turned them into an amazing thought-provoking puzzle game. Also, I know I’ve used that phrase a few times recently, but it’s true.
XING: The Land Beyond can be completed in around five to six hours if you’ve played it before and know the solutions, I consider myself a decent puzzle solver yet it still took me over ten hours to work my way through the game blind.
I’ve already brought this up but it deserves a second mention. The narrative within XING: The Land Beyond is beyond amazing. Everything which is spoken is delivered as poems, with some of them becoming really emotional the further into the spirits life you get. The third one, in particular, almost had me in tears towards the end. On top of the brilliant writing, the voice acting is perfect. Each area has its own soul which you’re following, they each have their own voice actor who is reading out the poems as you go. My only negative with the reading is that the voice stops when you put down the poem.
What do I mean by that? Well, you pick up the poem and you can read it along with the voice actor (as it’s amazingly clear in VR). But, if you let go of the trigger by accident or you want to move on whilst it’s reading it, the voice stops and doesn’t start again, even if you pick it back up. On the flip of this, in the bonus chapters (which I’ll get to next), there are pedestals with poems carved into them, they initiate the talking by just coming into contact with them and they’ll carry on talking as you progress. It’s nothing major, as you can stand and hold the poem, I just would have liked it if they talked even if you put it down.
Also, I have to bring this up – subtitles. There isn’t any in-game. The giant non-speaking guardian of the portals has subtitles, as he has no voice, but in-game there is no subtitles as you can literally read the scrolls. This is fine, but in some of the bonus chapters, you’re in a boat or walking past the pedestals and they start talking. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing, you’re missing out on the wonderful stories which are being played as you can’t jump off the boat and go and read the pedestal you activated. So, an option for subtitles for the hard of hearing would have been a nice addition – however, the main game has enough visual exposition to the story, so it only affects a few of the bonus chapters.
Finding things is fun!
What would a VR game be without its collectables and unlockables! From Red Matter‘s hidden data logs to all the hidden items in The Invisible Hours, I’m a sucker for 100% and can’t leave a game until I’ve collected everything – XING: The Land Beyond is no exception. Each area has a bunch of runes for you to collect, these are usually hidden, in hard to reach places, down a path heading in the wrong direction, or as a prize for collecting all of the poems along the way. These are used to unlock bonus chapters within the garden of Eden (I think it was the garden of Eden, it’s definitely a garden…). Each area also has three or more items for you to find locked within chests which you must place on pedestals to ‘claim’. These usually serve a purpose in-game but some are optional and require solving an additional puzzle.
So, what’s this ‘garden’ all about? As you unlock the runes, certain ones combine to unlock doors with the garden. Other than three or four of these rooms, they are mainly short narrative (poems) walking simulations as you hear how a certain person met their demise – again, these are quite emotional. Each one ends with an object which was precious to the soul and also a PSN trophy. The other three of four which I excluded above, are more hands-on as they have their own sets of puzzles to solve, rather than just being an A to B walking event. Some of these actually took me quite a while to work out as well.
My god, XING: The Land Beyond is a beautiful game! I initially played most of the game through my PSVR headset (via a PS4 Pro) and it looks gorgeous. Sure, there is a bit of a downgrade over the TV as the PSVR isn’t a very high resolution, but the lighting, real-time reflections, and textures are all very high quality for a VR game. Also, as I stated previously, this is one of the few games where you can clearly read the writing in front of you from a good distance away.
Jump over to the PS4 without the PSVR turned on (can be toggled in the settings) and things get even better. I’m not sure about the exact numbers here but on the PS4 Pro, you have the option for either enhanced visuals or enhanced framerate. The enhanced visuals clearly ran at 30fps but the game looks much sharper and there appears to be a few more visual effects (probably a higher resolution). The Performance option, which I opted for, feels like it’s 45-60fps with no obvious dips in performance, I could be wrong, but I do know that the mode is a lot smoother than the enhanced visual setting. My preference was to run it with the higher framerate when in flat mode but the overall choice has to be VR.
Again, I’m going to repeat myself one last time – the voice acting is really good with each actor perfectly delivering their lines from the brilliant and emotional narrative. The music within the game is also another high point, with a different score for each area that perfectly matches the environment. One example is the final area, you’re in a desert-type land and the music reminded me of Gerudo’s Fortress in The Legend of Zelda, it had that middle-east feeling about it. Everything just feels so polished and created with a tonne of love and dedication.
Okay, most of these have been fixed, but I did encounter a number of issues pre-launch (before the latest patch). These included a save error where the game was reverting to previous saves, thus not actually saving your game, a black screen if you swap from VR to non-VR mid-game, constant crashing in the high-quality mode, a wobbling background in VR, and a few other things. These have all been resolved in the latest update which is live now. However, I’m still having trouble with point zero on my PSVR (which could be just me or the tracking in general). Basically, when a new scene loads (an area), the game thinks you’re not in the right location, so you need to hold the Options button to reset point zero. I have to do this every time as it puts me further back in-game than I should be. It’s not a major issue, but it’s the only fault I’ve found which is still present.
Visually stunning, creative puzzles, great audio, and a brilliant narrative – XING: The Land Beyond has it all! This game is the perfect embodiment of ‘best of both worlds’, you have a fully immersive and great looking VR game coupled with an even better looking and easy to control Flat version in one package. Sure, some of the puzzles may seem like things we’ve seen many times before when you look from the outside, but once you take control and encounter them yourself, things aren’t always as they seem. The whole game is held together with a very emotional and dark narrative about pain and acceptance as each character approaches the end of their lives.
With the exclusion of time limits, penalties, deaths, being able to screw things up, or difficulty spikes, XING: The Land Beyond is a fully accessible game which everyone can enjoy both in and out of VR either on their own or with friends and family for support. I really can’t recommend this game enough – I came for the puzzles but I stayed for the emotional poetry and stunning visuals (as well as the tricky puzzles).
XING: The Land Beyond£15.99
- - Very beautiful visuals both in and out of VR, with one of the clearest implementations of VR for reading text I've seen
- - Great soundtrack and voice acting which helps strengthen the experience
- - Creative and inventive puzzles which will leave you stumped for a very long time as you work out the logical way to solve them
- - Very emotional and dark narrative as you explore the last words of various people
- - Enhancements for the PS4 Pro both in and out of VR
- - Rotation within VR with the Move controllers is a little fiddly
- - Point zero isn't always reset correctly in VR upon loading a new scene (see my review)
- - The brilliant narration stops if you accidentally put down a poem, rather than carrying on as you progress.