First Impressions — Pavlov VR

March 9, 2022
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Is this real life, or is it just fantasy?

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m definitely a latecomer to VR. Up until about two weeks ago, I was part of the masses of people stuck in regular reality, but a decent tax return and a temporary abundance of free time changed that. Now that I’m living in The Oasis, though, I have an insane backlog of games to play, and a technicality in Jump Dash Roll’s style guide means that I get to write “first impressions” instead of Brutal Backlogs for many of those titles, regardless  of how long they’ve been in Early Access. The first one on my list is Pavlov VR, which has no reason to still be in Early Access, but it did leave a great first impression on me. 

For anyone who’s unfamiliar with Pavlov, it was one of the first shooters developed for virtual reality. It came out almost exactly 5 years ago, and is currently playable through Steam VR and the Quest store. In that time, the title has had a ton of features added, with the most recent one being a World War 2 mode called Push. However, my first time playing the game was well after all those updates, and honestly, I’m glad I waited until now to pick it up.

I spent my first hour in the game getting used to its controls. Unlike some of the other VR shooters I’ve played, the title is attempting to mimic Counter Strike and Garry’s Mod more than it is Arma. While there’s still plenty of realism to be experienced, it’s not quite as serious as something like Onward (check back soon for our review). Reloads are simple, the default movement speed is a smidge faster than in other titles and you have a much more generous inventory.

Hitler had a unibrow?

However, this makes the game feel absolutely fantastic. Once I summoned the courage (and lower body strength) to try my hand at a standard multiplayer match, I was amazed at how much it felt like, well, Counter-Strike. All the guns feel great to use, the controls are surprisingly intuitive, and the game looks great compared to Quest-exclusive titles. There’s also an insane amount of content to play through in the vanilla game, ranging from standard search and destroy maps to the Among Us mode called Trouble in Terrorist Town. 

This all benefits from being in VR, too. There’re a lot of design choices in Pavlov that wouldn’t make sense for a regular PC title, but when I had a headset strapped to my face, those choices made me fall in love with the game. Things like having infinite-ish ammo, the ability to dual wield literally any gun and a lack of waste-high cover made the game feel like it’s clearly designed for VR instead of simply being a VR port of a Valve title.

But from what I played, which admittedly was a lot, the real greatness of Pavlov comes less from its gameplay and more from its community. Even though the game is still technically in Early Access, the amount of fan-made content it has is astounding. There’re servers running everything from search and destroy on a Dunder Mifflin map to Nacht der Untoten zombies from Call of Duty: World at War.

Seriously, Nacht der Untoten in VR is surreal

While the base game is a lot of fun, there aren’t words to describe how surreal it is to shoot zombies in a map that I spent hundreds of hours in as a tween or to plant a bomb in somewhere that I’ve seen thousands of times on Netflix.  The community has ported the best maps from the classic Call of Duty games into Pavlov VR, and there are also sporadic attempts to make games like Halo a virtual reality too. These modes are what define Pavlov for me, and they’re what’ll keep me coming back to the title in the coming months.

The community itself is also great. Anyone who’s played a virtual reality title knows that many of the people who play Slayers are on the younger side, but this works in the game’s favour. While Counter Strike and Insurgency are bogged down by want-to-be Chris Kyles, in Pavlov, people just want to enjoy themselves. The title’s amazingly functioning proximity chat and radio system lead to some silly moments that simply aren’t possible in the likes of Squad or Arma.

Over the past three weeks, interactions with strangers in Trouble in Terrorist Town and search and destroy were a big reason why I kept playing, and what’s great is that it can only get better from here. While Pavlov is an Early Access title in the same way that the version of Not for Broadcast that I gave my game of the year award to was, developer Vanktrupt Games has proven that it still wants to continue adding features to the title going forward. While I’m not exactly sure what the developer has planned, seeing as there’s already more than enough content to justify its $25 price tag, I’m excited to see what happens with the title in the future. 

Yeah, I definitely just missed every single one of my shots 

But even in its current beta state, Pavlov VR is already one of my favourite VR titles. It’s long since had the fundamentals of a great virtual reality shooter, there’s an astronomical amount of stuff to do and the community seems hell bent on making me feel like a tween on Xbox Live again. The cost of entry is a bit steep, and the offline bot mode leaves a bit to be desired, but it’s also the only virtual reality game with an active playerbase and a Trouble in Terrorist Town mode. If you’re on the fence about picking it up, don’t be. And if you’ve already picked it up, please start a dedicated Call of Duty zombies server so I have someone to play co-op with.

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Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.