Catan VR (PS4) Review
Release Date: June 25, 2019
Developer: Experiment 7
Platform: PlayStation 4 VR (reviewed), Oculus Rift, Vive, Go
While virtual reality can envelope us in the realms of the fantastic, it can also allow some more mundane moments to be a little more exciting, or bring people together who couldn’t normally. Catan VR attempts to take the classic board game and update it with modern technology that allows gamers from around the world to sit down across a table and play this strategic board game as if they are in the same room.
Catan VR allows players to customize a room (basically choose between two themes and a variety of artwork) and sit down to play online with three other opponents. Catan itself is pretty straightforward, with a randomized board that you build roads and settlements on, with the roll of the dice determining resources you get each turn, followed by bartering and trading with other players to try to get enough Victory Points to win. If you know Catan, there’s not much to say beyond this, so the main part of the review has to do with interface.
Gamers use the Move controllers to navigate the field. You have a main game panel you can grab and put wherever you want, so you can shuffle it over the board to see what could benefit you, or near the opponent you are going to trade with to make sure you get numbers right. You can choose to have a dynamic board with special effects or one based upon the traditional tile set pieces. You can opt for the default pattern (which has been determined the “most fair” by years of Catan play) or play a true game with randomized hex land pieces. Two Move controllers can work, one for both hands, but by and large the game could be played with a single “ping pong ball.”
The game is aesthetically pleasing, with beautiful chairs and tables. AI players (used for solo play) depicted by framed animated pictures, whilst playing against other players allows you to pick an avatar head or helmet to represent your general head gestures. I had one game that stuttered a bit, feeling a shake to the environment, but that could have been a calibration error on my part. another time my camera backed up a hair behind my “mask” and I saw wireframes in my way until I calibrated. When running smoothly, the beautiful graphics and soothing music were easy to get lost in for the hours you would spend playing such a game. It’s easy to dive into a VR game and disappear for a while, but of course most VR headsets recommend playing for short bursts. You may want to find a team willing to take breaks with you for general well-being and if you get nauseous in VR easily, though it’s easier on you than most heavy action VR titles.
As for finding a group: The developers actively offered three codes for Catan VR to The Gamer’s Lounge in the hopes of allowing us to get together for a stream and some good review time. Somewhere very close to launch, it appears that PlayStation has changed something to where easy matchmaking isn’t available on PS4, meaning all online play AT THIS MOMENT OF WRITING is in random battles with players on other platforms. This is to change soon with a general update, but it could be sad for any gamers who are excited to play with buds right now. Just check the update history, or keep an eye on our streams for when we finally get to play online in one room.
Also, while this is the prettiest way to play with your friends, it’s by far not the most complete. Expansion sets have been made for traditional Catan board game players, and the Switch edition has the Seafarer’s expansion included in it’s $19.99 price, with the Cities and Knights DLC available for an additional $5.99. As of right now, I don’t see any expansion options for the game, meaning traditional play and rules. Again, this could change in the future.
Another hurdle the game has to overcome is sadly the VR. It makes the game wonderfully beautiful, but it fragments the user base. You will be able to cross-play with non PlayStation gamers, but the Venn diagram of VR users, board gamers, and your personal friend circle is a lot slimmer than it could be if any one of those requirements were left out. The game could theoretically be played with a controller off-screen, but that’s not possible. From what I know of Catan, there’s not a lot of hiding cards or secret works. It could be set up for local play. It isn’t. Add on the current hiccup in linking up with friends on PS4, and it just is frustrating to sit down and know you might be getting the prettiest experience, but you won’t get necessarily the BEST experience. Overall, Catan VR is a blast to play. It’s the best way I could see playing a board game with friends you can’t get together with easily any more. Unfortunately a few hiccups keep this settlement from being established as a permanent rotation in your online play.
-Absolutely beautiful environment feels like a royal room where dignitaries are deciding the future of the land
-Wonderful interface that’s easy to run and doesn’t bog down gameplay
-Honestly the best way to virtually play an excellent board game
-Other non VR versions may allow multiple gamers on one system, or even the expansions unavailable in VR at this time
-Current release issues prevent PlayStation gamers from getting in one room together (though this appears to be a Sony problem, not a developer issue, and should be rectified soon)
-If I’m using motion controllers in my hand, let me throw the dice instead of aim at a button!
Special thanks to Experiment 7 for providing codes for The Gamer’s Lounge to review. Be on the lookout for our live stream of a game once the update goes up on the PlayStation Network!