Developer / Publisher – Vankrupt Games
Price – US $24.99 / CA $33.99 / EU €24.99 / UK £19.99
Release Date – February 22, 2023
Input – 2 x Sense Controllers
Play Area – Standing, Roomscale
Store Links – PlayStation
Reviewed on – PS5/PSVR 2
First hitting the VR scene in 2017, Pavlov has been many players’ go-to shooter for many years, and now PSVR players get to join in on the fun.
I do love a realistic military shooter both in and out of VR, so back when all I had was a PSVR 1, I was very jealous of the option PCVR players had for popping brain bags. Pavlov, recommended for the COD crowd who want something a little more casual and run-n’-gun, was among the big 3 shooter games including Onward and Contractors. Now that I’ve played and enjoyed all three, I would absolutely agree with those descriptions. Pavlov on PSVR 2 is essentially the base PCVR version of the game as it is now, minus the mod support that has kept the PC version going as long as it has (more on that in a bit). In fact, the PSVR 2 version is actually cross-play with the PC version, unlike the Quest version.
Before jumping into what content is on offer, I want to make this very clear for those looking for solo play: this is not the game for you. Click on the offline tab and you’ll see a variety of modes, all of which are great and highly recommended for players looking to learn the game. It lets you play with guns, but little else. I say this because, despite the inclusion of some of the online game modes, the A.I. is simply far too dumb here to keep anyone very entertained. In fact, it is frustrating more than anything. The offline version of the game, including the COD-like zombie mode, doesn’t scale for a single player and as a result will likely steamroll new players with an onslaught of stupid-yet-numerous lethal enemies. I found this very disappointing, as I would have loved to jump into a terrorist hunt mode or a zombie match and just have some fun. Even playing co-op with a friend, we found the zombie mode was just too much for two players and really only worked for a full team of four. Additionally, for those who love the zombies mode in Call of Duty, this is a poor imitation with little strategy other than surviving and trying to find the mid-level weapon stash before the timer runs out. In larger levels, this was almost game breaking. And I gotta say that for a game that has been around this long, to not have the game modes scale properly for single and co-op players is really quite sad.
That being said, online multiplayer is what Pavlov has always been about and players looking for that will find a lot of modes to choose from. Of course all the staples are here, from deathmatch and team deathmatch, to seek and destroy, gun game and of course online zombies. There are also a bunch of other modes, including some which don’t even show up in the game’s mode filter list. In a bizarre and frustrating game design choice, the game does absolutely nothing to explain to you what the acronyms for certain modes are or its rules. Of course, you can jump blind into a match and figure out what the mode you’re playing is or ask someone, but you shouldn’t have to. Even the loading screen fails to tell you anything about the game you’re about to enter. It’s this vagueness and feeling of being unfinished that plagues Pavlov as much of the games’ U.I. and menu system is barebones. Matchmaking is underdeveloped, not allowing players to party up and join matches together, and instead must try to join on each other before a match fills up. Additionally, nowhere is there a menu listing all the available weapons, attachments and their stats, nor is there an ability to create preset loadouts. Instead the game simply throws players right into a match and gives them a simple weapon wheel for which to quickly select amongst the available weapons, attachments, consumables and armor – and this is often done live. This is a real pain in the ass considering the game’s respawn system is very hit or miss, and depending on the mode or map you’re in, it can spawn you right next to enemies while you attempt to give yourself anything other than a pistol. Available weapons and gear are purchased so you are limited by the funds you have on hand, which are earned based on performance. I found this system pretty weak, and it only really felt appropriate in a few select modes. I desperately wanted a proper loadout screen to gear up in before jumping back into the fight, not to mention some kind of progression system in place to entice me to keep grinding out matches. Unfortunately, Pavlov has none of these.
Pavlov has a lot of possible game modes, enough to potentially keep players interested for a very long time. However, without the PC mod support, Pavlov on PSVR 2 only has 10 maps and, though these 10 maps were designed well enough and offered some nice variety in size and gameplay style, I did find myself wishing for a bit more map variety. Unfortunately it would seem developer Vankrupt Games has relied on community made maps over on PC over the years, resulting in an anemic selection of base games at launch on the PSVR2. Thankfully the developer has said they are looking into options to bring some sort of modded content over, but no word on when that will happen or what it might look like.
Now where Pavlov definitely brings its A-game is on the weapon side of things; offering up an awesome selection of handguns, SMG’s, rifles, shotguns along with some bigger stuff too. A while back on PC Pavlov also added in WW2-era weapons, which also make an appearance here on the PSVR 2 version. Additionally, weapons can be manually modded with new sights, grips and suppressors. It never goes as deep into the weapon customization seen in the Onward, but it gets close. Speaking of weapons, while Pavlov may play like a run-n’-gun shooter, its weapons and gunplay lean much more into the simulation side of things, and is the better for it. New players, or those looking to try out new weapons, are highly recommended to spend some time in the game’s shooting range to learn how each gun handles and reloads. For example, belt-fed machine guns must be manually fed and revolvers must be loaded 1 bullet at a time while being pointed down so the bullets don’t fall out. I found this out the hard way while reloading with 4 zombies bearing down on me; I went to snap the moon clip into place, Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners style, only to empty my clip into my lap. I love the gun handling here in Pavlov, with one exception: I cannot understand why Pavlov insists on making the non-dominant hand use the trigger button for grabbing clips and chambering a gun. I can understand chambering with the trigger in order to avoid accidental grabs of the gun, but grabbing ammo feels so damn unintuitive – especially when no other game does this. Of course, as is par for the course with Pavlov, you can’t change this to your preference. Another thing you can’t change (for some this will be a deal breaker) is that Pavlov can only be played standing. There are no accessibility options for seated play and no crouch button either, requiring you to literally crouch when seeking cover. Unfortunately, unlike Meta and Steam VR, Sony hasn’t included a height adjustment option, so for those who can’t stand to play or simply prefer not to, the developers of Pavlov don’t care. You need to play it their way or not at all. Now I can understand Onward taking this approach as it is intended as a hardcore military sim, but Pavlov is definitely not hardcore. I mean c’mon, players who want to play seated are only at a disadvantage to those standing, turning, and crouching, so why not let them play the way they want.
Now, all that being said, standing up and getting fully immersed in Pavlov is undeniably a blast. In fact despite it feeling so antiquated and unfinished in other areas, it is still awesome to play. Player speed is good here, with running being possible when your gun is lowered. This keeps matches moving but never makes it feel like an arcade shooter. Like I said, crouching must be physically done and there is no jump button, but vaulting over some things can be done by simply walking forward over them. Weapons aren’t easy to shoot either and players must get good through practice and learning the maps, their guns and watching their corners. A little persistence does pay off though, and once I found a few guns that worked for me, Pavlov’s punchy gunplay really started to click for me. Weapons are loud and kills can be very bloody, giving Pavlov a definite visceral quality I didn’t get from games like Contractors, Onward or PSVR shooters like Firewall and Alvo. This fun weighty combat is made all the more potent by Pavlov’s excellent use of the dual sense controllers and head haptics. Guns really kick here with the dual sense and the weighted triggers feel different depending on what gun you use. In addition, game use of haptic triggers also communicates to players if their clip is empty or their gun isn’t charged, as the trigger goes completely loose. PC players won’t like to hear this, but the controllers are a game changer for me. If the PSVR 2 version gets mod support, this will be the version of Pavlov I play moving forward.
Visually, Pavlov on the PSVR 2 is right on par with the PC version running at max settings, offering console players sharp visuals and a silky framerate with no discernible reprojection. Now to be fair, Pavlov’s base game levels won’t win any visual awards as they are simply serviceable, coming off a bit lifeless and bland at times. This isn’t helped any by a fairly meat and potatoes lighting system that really doesn’t go above and beyond the essentials. Regardless, gun models look awesome as do character models which, surprisingly, animate incredibly well, often looking more like something from a AAA shooter than your average VR shooter. Smoke effects are also a highlight offering what is most likely the best smoke grenade effect I’ve ever seen in VR. While Pavlov may not be a graphical showcase, it absolutely nails the shooter fundamentals.
Sound wise? Pavlov knocks it out of the park when it comes to weapons sounds. This can also be said for the way the game handles special audio as gunshots and footsteps are replicated great here with some of the best positional audio I’ve heard from a VR shooter. Short of one issue – your own footsteps sound seemingly off to the side, which often freaked me out in thinking that I had someone right next to me. Outside of this oddity, the game is very solid with in-game proximity chat also being utilized well and really adding that next level of immersion to team play, with a radio on your shoulder being utilized to communicate with your team when out of range.
And that brings me to my final thoughts and review score. Pavlov has stood the test of time, being a staple shooter on PCVR for over 6 years. It is for this reason that I am surprised and disappointed at how barebones and underdeveloped its matchmaking, menu and U.I. systems are, offering players little guidance to its weapons and game modes, and few control options to play the way they want. A total lack of a progression system, a useless single player offering, and a fairly limited map count only further illustrates my concerns. However, Pavlov on the PSVR 2 looks great and is a lot of run-n’-gun shooter fun, as its gunplay is first rate, accented beautifully by a solid sound mix and a wonderful implementation of the dual sense controllers. Popping brain bags is often a blast here, especially if you can find a group of friends, as Pavlov can often be more a social experience than a hardcore shooter.
Pavlov has a lot of modes to keep players busy, so I hope we see the injection of some new maps either by the developer or through mod support to keep the party going. For many PSVR 1 owners moving over to the PSVR 2, I totally get that this might be exactly what you want, so of course take my criticism as simply wanting a good game to be great. For players looking for an online military shooter, this is still highly recommended.