Developer / Publisher – Better Than Life
Price – US $22.99 / CAN $30.99 / EU €22.99 / UK £19.99
Release Date – February 22, 2023
Input – 2 x Tracked Motion Controllers
Play Area – Seated
Store – PlayStation
Reviewed on – PSVR 2
Kayak VR Mirage lets you take on 3 different modes across 4 different maps. You can race, explore, or take a non-interactive tour through photo-realistic environments that push the boundaries for what VR headsets are capable of when it comes visual fidelity.
The controls here should be obvious as you will use each of your hands to grab a paddle, dipping either end into the water to steer your kayak in the direction you want to go. You’ll start off in a small indoor pool and can mess around or choose from a few tutorial options if you are unsure exactly how navigating a kayak works. For those with the space, there is an option to strap the controllers to the ends of a pole to represent an actual paddle more accurately though I didn’t try this as my play area is not conducive to me swinging a large pole. Regardless, getting good will take some practice as there is a rhythm and form required to get the most of out each stroke and it’s quite apparent just how accurate the physics are here as even the slightest change to my motions would affect my performance. At any time, you can select any mode in any of the 4 maps available and either race in them or take in your surroundings using the free roam & tour modes, the latter of which strips you of controls and takes you on a slow and scenic ride through a stage. There are currently 9 races and the game’s roadmap does list live multiplayer as being in development, however at this time only asynchronous races are available meaning you’ll be able to races ghosts of yourself, friends and strangers and can choose who you want to race against when choosing a stage. It’s not the best way to compete, but it still gets the job done and outside of the fact you can’t talk to your competition, the races are still quite intense, and I found it quite satisfying to best my friends.
The near simulation physics will test your skills as one incorrect dip of the paddle could cost you dearly which means, to climb to the online leaderboards, you’ll have to practice. Each race won’t take more than a couple of minutes and while the challenge of getting those best times is fun, for myself, that’s not the reason to play this. Exploration and just seeing what Mirage has to offer really is a treat with some impressive visual moments that pop up and bonus objectives hidden in each stage that add to replay factor. For a little more motivation, as you log in the miles, you’ll accrue money which can be spent at the store menu; unlocking new skins for your kayak, paddles, head gear and even some floaties for the pool.
Having previously played the PC version and looking at the PSVR 2 version side by side, I can’t really see much difference outside maybe some slightly better-looking reflections on the PC side of things though I honestly could be wrong about that. Both versions of the game are nearly identical making it easy to say that no matter which headset you play this on, this is probably the best-looking VR game currently available. Each of the 4 locales looks nothing short of amazing with every map offering the ability to play during the day or night with one map, a Rocky cove with a lighthouse, letting you play in stormy weather as well, which is an absolute treat. Dynamic foveated rendering, real-time lighting and an attention to detail that I have never seen before make every single moment in this game a jaw dropping one. During free roam mode & tour modes, I couldn’t help but just stop and take in the fish swimming beneath me or admire the water droplets as they fell from the cavern entrance above me, hitting the ocean and rippling outward. Birds may fly overhead, a dog will bark at you from a nearby shore, penguins might be chilling nearby as you float through freezing waters, or you could be treated to some more unique encounters. I did notice some fade in on distant objects, especially on the slower tour mode, but it was infrequent and not enough to really detract from all the beauty. Everything appears to be rendered in full 3D giving an endless depth to the environments with even the still image skies blending seamlessly with everything else around you. Bottom line here is this is easily one of the best-looking games to be made in or out of VR and that’s saying something!
Accompanying that stellar presentation is equally impressive audio design which has fantastic 3D audio and matching sound effects for each stage. Depending upon the stage and whether you are racing or exploring will determine what musical track is playing, but for myself, turning off the soundtrack was the best way to truly experience exactly what Mirage is offering. Just sitting in that canyon while water flowed around me, birds flew by and nothing but the sounds of the perfectly realized world hit my ears made those moments some of the most relaxing and chill ones I have ever experienced in Virtual Reality.
PSVR 2’s haptics are also here in full force, or rather subtle force, as they are used sparingly like when your paddles enter water or as rain falls from the sky and hits your hands. Should you bump into something, the headset will vibrate a little bit so while the rumble isn’t used a ton, when I noticed it, it added to whatever just happened to me.
I’m not going to lie; I am still in love with this game based solely upon the presentation and the fact there is some solid kayak physics backing it up just makes it more of a treat. There isn’t too much to complain about as the game is relatively small though each stage and all the mechanics have been refined to near perfection offering something special that needs to be experienced by everyone. Kayak VR Mirage nails what it feels like to kayak on a river or ocean and the fact it’s the most realistic looking game I have ever seen across any VR platform has me recommending this to anyone interested in seeing what modern-day VR is capable of. It’s a showcase title and one I easily recommend for the asking price if you are looking for a chill VR experience, enjoy a little competition or just want to impress your friends with your fancy new headset.
Better Than Life provided The VR Grid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!