Panoptic has been floating around in various pre-release forms for a little while now, but it’s definitely a perfect game for a pandemic. It’s a two-player game where one wears the headset in an effort to vaporize the other, who is traversing the landscape on their computer. Panoptic is a creative, intimate game of hide and seek where any unnatural movements can give the hiding player away.
Panoptic is a pretty simple set up. The VR player is a god-like giant overseer, who stands in the void around the level watching over everything. They are looking for an interloper whose goal is to destroy glowing balls of power.
All the little beings of the world look identical, including the player. These hapless denizens wander about the level doing, well, something, while the player exists among trying to look nonchalant. There are also watchers. These are guard creatures that can feel out the player and move today them, but they can’t attack the player. They only serve to point the overseer in the right direction.
The PC player can hide in groups of citizens and even engage in simple work actions (they like to gather around energy spots), but to win they have to creep toward the power points and destroy them.
The VR player views the entire level, standing in the middle of the sprawled-out, multi-level structures. Within this sphere of perception, their job is to find the single interloper and kill them. This giant entity is really just a set of eyes. Its piercing gaze is also its weapon. Wherever you look a red translucent spot appears. Press the trigger on the VR controller and that spot focuses into a tight circle, whereupon you can unleash a sniper shot.
The recharge for the shot is configurable to make it faster or slower, and therefore more or less challenging. Hitting a moving target this way can be trying and aiming under pressure is surprisingly intense. Since the Overseer exists just outside the levels, there’s a limit to what they can see. You can raise an lower the maps, peer in close, but there are spots where the PC player can be mostly hidden.
The overseer can’t interact with the environment in anyway either. Aside from shooting at the citizens, they’re largely passive observers and there are definitely times when it would be fun to grab the little beings of the world for a better look or just to shake them. The VR controls are kept simple. The trigger on the control charges your shot, the secondary trigger lets you move the map around for better views.
On the PC side, controls are much like any first-person perspective game. Using the mouse and keyboard or control pad, they must blend in with the rest of the citizens as they move closer to the power orbs. Walking in groups, interacting with the environment in certain spots to look they’re AI, and just generally not running, jumping, and frolicking around are all vital for survival.
The game is dark in both theme and aesthetic design. The handful of distinctive levels have a dreary fantasy/industrial vibe, with a low poly bent and beautiful mood lighting. Seeing the entire map from VR really shows off the graphic panache in its full scale, though seeing it from the PC player’s perspective really enunciates the oppressive nature of the world. The game is also almost too dark on the PC side.
Key options can be set before the match to accommodate player skills. Aside from the recharge rate of the overseer’s shots, there are options to limit the amount of wrong kills they can make, which really amps up the pressure for the VR player, and choices for the effectiveness of the watchers.
Panoptic Review Final Impressions
Panoptic definitely feels like an experimental game. Its design is kept simple and direct, but it’s polished and entertaining. Unless the developer releases additional maps in the future, it’s still sadly unlikely to hold most players’ attention for the long term. Still, Panoptic is exceptionally good at what it does. A challenging and fun game with a lovely minimalist design, its same-PC multiplayer functionality is perfect for being cooped up in the house with someone you love, yet still want to (virtually) snipe.
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You can find Panoptic on Steam now for $16.99 with support for Rift, Vive, Index, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets. This review was conducted using a Steam copy of the game on an Oculus Rift. You can find more details on the game’s official website.