Border Bots VR Preview: Charming, engaging and ready for closer inspection

By | August 14, 2023

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 entry into the city.

Developed by vTime Games, Border Bots is the second game after Killer Frequency to be published by gaming industry veterans Team17. Fortunately, Team17 seems to have a keen eye for engaging VR titles. Border Bots is part Startenders and part Job Simulator, but totally engaging. From what we’ve played so far, it’s also refreshingly polished and packed with detail in everything from its world to its interactions.

Border Bots VR is coming up for inspection soon on Quest, SteamVR & PSVR 2

Play as a human border agent inspecting robots in Border Bots VR, coming soon to Quest, SteamVR and PSVR 2.

The game begins with a tutorial sequence that familiarizes you with the basics, introduces you to your home hub and smart robot assistant, and sets the stage for the narrative that will unfold between shifts. After that, it’s time for inspection – a brand new day means a brand new shift, and there are lots 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 bots based on a bunch of criteria and day-to-day rules. You play through consecutive days of short shifts that become more and more complex as you progress. It’s a simple concept – and one we’ve seen versions of before – that can be made ever more complex, stressful and varied with small changes between levels.

Any given shift will likely see you inspect upwards of 15 or more robots, all lined up waiting to be called out one by one. The inspection process looks like this:

You call with the next in line. A robot approaches your stand and hands you a completed registration form. It displays various information about the robot – manufacturer, model, serial number, form expiration date and more. In your booth, you are surrounded by information and tools that help you decide whether to approve or deny the robot’s access.

It starts simple. There are a few different robot models, miniatures of which can be made from a 3D printer to your left. For each applicant, ensure that their appearance matches the model listed on their application form and does not contain any unwanted alterations. Assuming the model information is correct, you should also ensure that the entry form is still up to date and has 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 handle that allows you to adjust their height and rotate their body. Once you’ve found the logo, check that it matches what’s listed in your documentation for that manufacturer – some bots will try to sneak in with a wrong logo or an unofficial homemade version.

As shifts progress, more complications and additional criteria are added to the match. Some days include any combination of banned serial numbers, models, or contraband, all of which you must cross-check with the robot’s registration forms.

Once you’ve completed your inspection, you can approve or deny access by stamping a robot’s form with a red cross or green tick. After returning the form, they will be on their way and the next robot will be waiting to be summoned by ringing your bell.

It sounds like a lot to handle, and it is – but that’s kind of the point. There are also additional stressors such as time bonuses and restrictions. But even under pressure, the game does a good job of gradually introducing each new element so that 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 and producer models look like, you can rely on intuition and experience to get things going.

Next in line

This type of gameplay isn’t an entirely new concept, and it’s something we’ve seen variations of in the past with games like Startenders or Cook-Out. However, Border Bots is positioned to be the most polished and fully realized version of the genre to date.

As part of our preview, we played up to the end of the game’s fourth shift, which provides a decent introduction to the mechanics and some challenging moments in the final stages. We’ll be interested in giving the game a closer look as we run through the rest of the campaign, but what we’ve played so far has been 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’ groundbreaking VR title Job Simulator. On the surface, both games feature robots in a satirical corporate setting. However, the influence also runs deeper.

Like Job Simulator, many of the interactions in Border Bots are diegetic, meaning they are part of the virtual world and focus on the player’s interaction with virtual objects over controller buttons where possible. While Border Bots doesn’t take this to the nth degree that Owlchemy does, there are nonetheless design principles that feel consistent between the two.

There’s also a level of detail in Border Bots that feels rewarding to discover and makes the whole experience feel incredibly polished. Your work radio has buttons that can adjust the volume and change the channel. TVs in the game world display all content in 3D and with real depth. The gaze of characters on hologram calls will follow you as you move around the environment. Decorative posters satirize robot versions of real musicians. PSVR 2 Sense controllers provide meaty haptic feedback when you stamp 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 great start for Border Bots, easily making it one of our most anticipated VR titles. We can’t wait to put the game under closer inspection for our full review.

There is currently no firm release date for Border Bots, but it is “coming soon” to Quest 2, PSVR 2, and SteamVR. Look out for more news in the coming months.

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