We recently tried out the opening levels of Border Bots on PSVR 2 and there’s a lot to love.
Set in a dystopian world that satirizes the modern corporate landscape, Border Bots VR sees you, a human, take control of a border control booth that inspects robots and approves or denies them for entry into the city.
Developed by vTime Games, Border Bots is the second game after Killer Frequency to be published by games industry veterans Team17. Thankfully, it looks like Team17 has a good eye for engaging VR titles. Border Bots is part-Startenders and part-Job Simulator, but wholly engaging. From what we’ve played so far, it’s also refreshingly polished and chock full of detail in everything from its world to its interactions.
The game begins with a tutorial sequence that gets you acquainted with the basics, introduces you to your home hub and witty robot assistant, and sets the stage for the narrative that will develop in between shifts. After that, it’s straight into inspection – a brand new day means a brand new shift, and there’s plenty of robots waiting in line.
Getting Through Your Shift
Border Bots’ core gameplay loop involves manning a border control booth where you’ll approve or deny robots based on a bunch of criteria and daily rules. You play through successive days with short shifts that get increasingly complex as you progress. It’s a simple concept – and one that we’ve seen versions of before – that can be made ever complex, stressful and varied with small changes between levels.
Any given shift might see you inspect upwards of 15 or more robots, all of which stand in line waiting to be called forward one-by-one. The inspection process goes something like this:
You ding the next-in-line bell. A robot approaches your booth and hands your an filled out entry form. It lists various information about the robot – manufacturer, model, serial number, the form expiry date and more. In your booth, you’re surrounded by information and tools that will help you determine whether the robot’s entry should be approved or denied.
It starts simple. There are a few different robot models, miniatures of which can be produced from a 3D printer to your left. For each applicant, you’ll need to make sure their appearance matches the model listed on their form and doesn’t feature any unwanted modifications. Provided the model info is all correct, you’ll also need to ensure that the entry form is still in date and not expired.
Each robot will have a manufacturer logo placed in a unique position on their body. You can bring the robot closer for inspection with a crank and lever that allows you adjust their height and rotate their body. Once you find the logo, you’ll have to check it matches the one listed on your documentation for that manufacturer – some robots will try sneak in with an incorrect logo or an unofficial homemade version.
As shifts progress, more complications and additional criteria are added into the fray. Some days include any combination of blanket banned serial numbers, models or contraband, all of which you’ll need to cross check against the robot entry forms.
After you’ve completed your inspection, you can approve or deny entry by stamping a robot’s form with a red cross or green tick. After handing the form back, they’ll be on the way and the next robot will be waiting to be called forward with a ring of your bell.
It sounds like a lot to handle, and it is – but that’s the kind of the point. There’s extra stressors too, such as time bonuses and limitations. However, even under pressure, the game does a good job at gradually introducing each new element, so you never feel out of your depth. As you progress, you’ll be able to optimize your process as you learn more – once you know what the robot models and manufacturer models look like, you can rely on intuition and experience to speed things up.
Next In Line
This type of gameplay isn’t a completely new concept and it’s something we’ve seen variations of previously with games like Startenders or Cook-Out. However, Border Bots is positioned to be the most polished and fully-realized version of the genre so far.
As part of our preview, we got to play up to to end of the game’s fourth shift, which gives a decent introduction to the mechanics and some challenging moments in the latter stages. We’ll be interested to give the game a closer inspection when we run through the rest of the campaign, but what we’ve played so far was super promising and incredibly engaging.
Not only is the gameplay balanced between stressful and entertaining, but the game’s humor and tone feels akin to the satirical wit found in Owlchemy Labs’ seminal VR title Job Simulator. On a surface level, both games prominently feature robots in a satirical corporate setting. However, the influence runs deeper as well.
Much like Job Simulator, many of the interactions in Border Bots are digetic, meaning that they’re part of the virtual world and focus on the player interaction with virtual objects over controller buttons where possible. While Border Bots doesn’t take this to the nth degree in the same way Owlchemy does, there’s nonetheless design principals that feel consistent between the two.
There’s also a level of detail in Border Bots that feels rewarding to discover and makes the entire experience feel incredibly polished. Your work radio has buttons that can adjust the volume and change channels. TVs in the game’s world all display content in 3D and with actual depth. The gaze of characters on hologram calls will follow you as you move around the environment. Decorative posters satirize robot versions of real-life musicians. The PSVR 2 Sense controllers offer meaty haptic feedback when stamping an entry form.
These little discoveries make Border Bots feel alive and its world infinitely richer. When this kind of attention to detail is paired with such engaging gameplay, it’s hard not to get excited.
What we’ve played so far is a fantastic start for Border Bots, making it easily one of our most anticipated Vr titles. We can’t wait to put the game under closer inspection for our full review.
There’s currently no set release date for Border Bots, but it’s “coming soon” to Quest 2, PSVR 2 and SteamVR. Keep an eye out for more news in the coming months.