Connect with us

Game Reviews

Kayak VR: Mirage is Surprisingly Awe-Inspiring

Kayak VR: Mirage is a fantastic showcase for the power of Sony’s PSVR2, a realistic kayaking simulation that is utterly gorgeous.



Kayak VR Mirage PS5 PSVR2

Kayak VR: Mirage PSVR2 Review

Developer: Better Than Life B.V. | Publisher: Better Than Life B.V.
Genre: Simulation, Racing, Virtual Tourism
Platforms: PlayStation VR2, Steam |  Reviewed on: PlayStation VR2

Rounding the bend of a narrow river, the mouth opens into a wide pool. It is peaceful; chattering cicadas fill the trees, just out of sight, as a brightly-beaked toucan swoops into view briefly. You dip your paddle into the water to slow your momentum and gradually drift to a floating stop. The water is clear; you can see right to the bottom, where silvery fish dart around. The kayak rocks gently, as treetops sway in the wind. You could stay here forever; but then you’d miss out on everything else that Kayak VR: Mirage has to offer on the PSVR2.

A fantastic launch title for the PlayStation 5’s VR venture, Kayak VR: Mirage showcases the strengths of Sony’s hardware and the potential of virtual tourism.

Kayak VR Mirage PSVR2 PS5
Image: Better Than Life

Take Me To the River, Put Me In the Water

For those inexperienced with virtual reality, Kayak VR: Mirage can be overwhelming. The game drops players into their kayak in a massive swimming pool right from the start, where they can opt to complete a short tutorial. From there, they are free to drop into any of the game’s four locations: off the coast of Antarctica, a jungle in Costa Rica, King’s Canyon in Australia, or at the base of a cliff in Norway. Each location feels unique, but the developers have gone above and beyond to provide not just a visually stunning experience but a mechanically diverse one as well.

But first: the physics of the kayak itself are immediately impressive. Movement feels sharp and responsive, and players can dictate how immersive they want their experience to feel in the settings menu. One can choose the degree to which they want their headset movement to affect the physics of the watercraft, and can even link the paddle to how the player’s hands are positioned. It is well worth messing around in the settings menu to find what feels optimal. A note of caution: despite this game being highly optimized for the PSVR2, it can still induce motion sickness instantly for the weak-stomached. The same things that make Mirage amazing can also induce vertigo; if you’ve got a fear of being out in the deep ocean, this game may be the slightest bit traumatizing.

Kayak VR: Mirage PS5 PSVR2
Image: Better Than Life

Once the player has optimized their settings, they can choose from a buffet of experiences. Every location offers multiple modes of play. One can choose Free Roam, where they can kayak to their heart’s content before they reach an out-of-bounds spot; they can select a racecourse and compete globally against other VR enthusiasts; or they can choose to simply relax and take a gentle, guided tour without touching the paddles at all. Locations also have different display options, from Day to Night to Sunset to Stormy.

It is truly amazing to drift through King’s Canyon, ducking under fallen trees and paddling through a breathtakingly realistic environment, and then to do it all over again in the nighttime setting. The same locations feel meaningfully different, even if the experience of movement is largely similar. One exception is kayaking through Norway during stormy weather, which is a legitimate, stomach-churning thrill. Haptic feedback on the PSVR2 headset and handgrips feel fantastic, creating an utterly immersive experience as raindrops patter and thunder rumbles from afar. At its best, this game feels like a magic trick, and a perfect opportunity to show off this incredible technology to virtual reality skeptics, or non-gamers who are easily overwhelmed by current controller configurations or visual stimuli.

Kayak VR Mirage PSVR2 PS5
Image: Better Than Life

The developers have included additional modes of play, with mixed results. Racing, while fun and exciting, can take the player out of the experience with the slightest technical hiccup. Building up speed and leaning around corners to glide through checkpoints is an incredible feeling, but frequently marred by the slightest pop-in texture or misplaced headset setting.

Mileage may vary here; the leaderboards are currently full of players who have clearly optimized their setups and configured their hardware to allow them to blitz through courses at record speed. There are unlockable skins for the kayak and paddles, and even different hats to display- these are all, thankfully, earned through simply playing the game, rather than shelling out any additional funds. The PSVR2 version of the game offers trophy support too, encouraging players to fully explore each location in different settings to earn their platinum.

Kayak VR: Mirage works best as an immersive simulation. It is almost a moot point to mention just how breathtaking everything looks. The water, from the swimming pool training area to the choppy, storm-flecked sea, looks as real as can be. For as much as Sony has lauded the leadup to the PSVR2’s release, there is truly nothing as effective as slipping the headset on and experiencing genuine awe at seeing a breaching whale just yards away.

Kayak VR Mirage PSVR2 PS5
Image: Better Than Life

There are some moments that break immersion: for as gorgeous as the water looks and as realistic as the rock textures tend to be, the wildlife in Kayak VR: Mirage occasionally looks and feels outdated. Up close, birds in flight look stilted rather than majestic, and there’s a German Shepard in the Norway location that never moves from its predetermined spot, even if the player sets the weather to stormy. These are hardly dealbreakers but they can be jarring when compared to how thoughtful and considerate the rest of the game is.

Even with the inevitable technological hang-ups that come with new hardware, it is easy to suspend disbelief here. One can’t help but swoon the first time they explore the Costa Rican jungle at night and happen upon the winking lights of a hundred fireflies as moonlight filters through the canopy. For those feeling cooped up at home or who lack the budget to book a kayaking tour near the coast of a tropical island, Kayak VR: Mirage is a beautiful way to experience a new environment.

One of the great strengths of virtual reality is the transportive nature of the experience when the hardware is applied correctly. Kayak VR: Mirage is frequently able to take players to another world entirely. On the PSVR2 there are occasional hiccups, but the overall takeaway is a feeling of genuine wonderment- don’t forget to pause and look up from time to time. There are moments where the player can nearly feel ocean spray on their face, or the wind in their hair. It may sound trite, but if forthcoming titles for the PSVR2 can match even a fraction of what this launch game from Better Than Life brings to the table, the future of this PlayStation 5 experiment will be bright.

Cameron Daxon is a video game evangelist and enthusiastic reader. He lives in Los Angeles, California and once nearly collided with Shigeru Miyamoto during E3. His favorite game is Bloodborne, but only when he’s not revisiting Super Mario World. He’s also in the writer’s room for YouTube personality The Completionist and other places on the internet.