This is a “wow” moment.
Games have searched for a long time for the next big inflection point in the evolution of the medium. Incremental graphical updates no longer impress, motion controls have fizzled out, and online play has become ubiquitous. The emerging field of virtual reality seems like it could be the thing to finally move games forward as art and as entertainment.
Playstation VR is the most financially attainable version of that fledgling technology, costing $400 just for the headset that does not include the required Playstation Move controllers and Playstation Camera. It may be hundreds of dollars cheaper than competitors Vive and Oculus Rift, but the real value is that Playstation VR needs only a Playstation 4 to run its games, while the others require high-performance gaming PCs to function.
Still, that $400 price tag is no easy pill to swallow. Dropping a new console’s worth of money seems like a big ask for the new peripheral, but Playstation VR is doing amazing things that are difficult to comprehend until you actually experience them first-hand.
There are a handful of moments where the sense of scale and presence that are only possible in virtual reality really hit you. The feeling of entering the massive, sprawling Batcave in Batman: Arkham VR or zooming through a wire-frame canyon in Rez Infinite gives players an experience that’s never been possible before technology caught up to our imaginations. Even 100ft Robot Golf, which utilizes its virtual component poorly, impresses with its title screen, which places players at the foot of one of the titular robots, at actual scale. Seeing the true size of a mecha is one of those many “wow” moments I had with Playstation VR
Some of those cooler moments in VR are part of bite-sized “experiences” that mostly give you an idea of what might be capable with this technology in the future. While Batman: Arkham VR lets players have fun with the caped crusader’s gadgets, the experience is also over just as you get the hang of it.
Not all Playstation VR’s games are snack-sized; some titles have enough depth to be full meals in their own right. Rez Infinite, an adaptation of the classic audio-visual masterpiece takes full advantage of the magic of having a sense of presence in a world we used to only be able to peer into through windows. Battlezone, itself an adaptation of a classic arcade game, has players fighting in hover tanks over the course of a lengthy and challenging campaign. These two play just as they would in a non-VR experience, but actually sitting in the cockpit makes them feel immersive in a way we’ve only hinted at before.
While the controller-based titles play just fine, the same can’t be said of games like Headmaster that rely on head tracking for actual gameplay instead of just moving your perspective. Headmaster has players heading a soccer ball in a totalitarian training camp for bad football players. Trying to angle your shots based on how you crane your neck is a tricky feat.
Games that utilize the Playstation Move controllers vary independing on how fiddly your actions are. Trying to make lunch in Job Simulator, for example, makes for big problems when the Playstation VR loses track of the controllers. However, there’s something intuitive about reloading a gun as you do in the London Heist scenario of Playstation VR Worlds, by pantomiming taking a clip out and reloading a fresh one, instead of simply pressing a button.
Horror games stand to gain the most from the new tech. While it’s not out yet, the teaser for Resident Evil 7 is genuinely frightening, featuring knives being held inches from the player’s face. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood takes place entirely on a roller coaster through a virtual house of horrors, and it still manages to terrify. It’s bad enough when you can hear a monster right behind you, but it’s another thing altogether when it puts a hand on your virtual shoulder.
Out of all the VR platforms, Playstation VR undoubtedly has the strongest lineup of new games. IN fact, this lineup would be strong for any new console. Some games, like SuperHyperCube, will no doubt be ported to other VR devices later on. But for the foreseeable future, Playstation VR has an impressive array of exclusives covering many different genres that each offer something unique. Even the free VR Playroom should not be dismissed.
Pricing for Playstation VR games is all over the place. Battlezone is a full-featured title, and features the full $60 price tag to match. Batman: Arkham VR retails for a much cheaper $20, appropriate for a novelty experience. Playstation VR Worlds is a harder sell at $40 for what amounts to a collection of nifty demos, but those who buy the $500 Playstation VR bundle will get a copy included for free.
There are downsides to the current version of the technology. Setting up to play a VR game is not as simple as it should be, donning the headset, headphones and controllers, sitting or standing in the correct space, making sure the camera is calibrated to see you, and all without tripping over the cords is a hassle. My advice is to put the headset on last, so you can still see where you’re going.
You also need to make sure the headset is calibrated for each player, using the camera to measure the space between your eyes, or else nausea and headaches can result. Some players seem to get headaches regardless of calibration, and some games are harder on players than others. Any game that lets players move without a cockpit or something in their field of view to anchor their perspective seems to be the worst offenders. I had to tap out while playing horror game Here They Lie, the motion sickness was too much. Future games will need to address this problem in their own way.
Virtual reality may also not be ideal for long play sessions, at least not yet. Playing rhythm game Thumper for extended periods felt exhausting. For the time being, VR might be better enjoyed in short bursts. If you can try Playstation VR at a demo kiosk before you commit to buying it, you can get a better idea of how the headset will affect you.
However, in spite of all the drawbacks, the experience is undeniably cool. If you’re curious about virtual reality and don’t mind spending upwards of $400 on a first-generation effort, Playstation VR will definitely impress. But we have yet to reach that tipping point where anyone and everyone can jump in.
VR has the potential to bring many new players into the fold and change the way we think about entertainment. However, it’s also part of the first wave of consumer-ready virtual reality, and the devices will certainly become cheaper and more powerful as the developer iterate on the hardware. It will be very interesting to see how VR develops in the coming years and I hope we begin seeing more full-featured games on it soon.