PSVR: Imperfect Future
Will Sony be crowned king of virtual reality?
I'm sitting in a musty pub somewhere in a nasty part of London. On the table in front of me is a cigar and lighter, so I take a few puffs before my company arrives. Once he does, he shows me what I needed to see. I reach out to grab it, but he snatches it back. Wait. Was he programmed to do that, or did I just time that perfectly? I’m not actually sitting in this pub. I’m not actually smoking this cigar. And I’m not actually trying to snatch that pocket book out of my partner’s hand. I’m sitting in my apartment, 3000 miles away from London, and I’m using PlayStation VR.
As you all know by now, PSVR is the last of the trinity of premium Virtual Reality headsets to drop this year, proceeded by the father of modern VR Oculus Rift and the much cooler, fun uncle HTC Vive. PSVR is the teenage son of the family. At times, he’s a God damn rockstar. At others, not so much.
Why PSVR rocks
PlayStation VR overall has way more pros than cons, the first being the price. Now, let’s not kid ourselves: this is an accessory and it is still very much an accessory, is not cheap. The PSVR unit runs at $399 for the base version and $499 for the bundle, a steep price to ask. Especially when the machine that runs it starts at $299. However, compared to the Rift and Vive, the ask is much easier. Those retail at $599 and $799 respectively, and the former doesn’t even include motion controls at that price. Plus, the PC needed to run either headset runs at around $900 for minimum specs. Overall, the cost of PSVR is around half that of its competitors, and you likely already own a PS4 at this point. If you already have move controllers and the PlayStation Camera, you’re good to go ahead and purchase the $399 headset. If you were one of the many PlayStation owners that didn’t pick up those accessories, go ahead and spend the extra $100 and grab the launch bundle which includes them. You also get a copy of PSVR Worlds for free, which includes The London Heist experience I opened this article with among other games. Both options also include a demo disk with trial versions of a substantial amount of PSVR games.
After the price, the next boon of the PSVR headset is the design. This is hands down the most comfortable and sleekest VR headset on the market, which is crazy to think when it’s the cheapest one. It just goes to show that Sony’s long standing history in the hardware sector pays off in dividends. The rubbery material that braces your cranium is so much nicer than the foamy materials of its competitors. The headset is heavier, but that weight is moved to the back of the machine, resulting in a much better balance. The Rift and Vive have all their weight in the visor, where as the visor of the PSVR is essentially floating in front of your face. It’s a noticeable difference. Also, it just looks cool. Instead of being a black brick strapped to your face, this actually has some style. It looks like the future it’s trying to emulate.
PSVR’s launch library is also solid. In fact, it may be the strongest launch line up for a console, let alone a VR headset. With experiences like Batman Arkham VR, Eve Valkyrie and Thumper (which will get to in a bit), you’d be hard pressed to find something that isn’t going to amaze you on the headset. Especially if this is your first VR experience! To go into this a virtual reality virgin is an experience I wish I had, which leads to my only real con of the device.
Why PSVR sucks
There’s only one real complaint I have about the PSVR, but it might be enough to dissuade some people from picking it up: it’s the fact that the tech is just nowhere near as powerful as the Rift or the Vive. This is to be expected, since it is half the cost, but the difference is stark. Compared to my experience with a Vive, which allows me to move around a whole room with super sharp imagery blasting into my eyes, the PSVR’s fidelity is simply lacking. Nothing looks ugly. Thumper is actually exquisite, and Batman Arkham VR does everything it can to realize Gotham City in high resolution. But the limitations are noticeable.
This is compounded with the fact that the tech in the motion controls and camera are at least 6 years old. Many times I was unable to track my hand movements because of the limitations of both the controllers and the camera. It wasn’t occurring all the time and I am in a cramped apartment playing these games, but no matter how I set it up the experience wasn’t seamless, something I’m able to say about the Vive. Again though, you can play PSVR in a cramped apartment which would be impossible with HTC’s offering. At the end of the day, if you want the most premium Virtual Reality experience, PlayStation VR isn’t it. However, it is the most well rounded experience, which for more casual gamers is perfect. Like I said, if you’ve never experienced VR before this, these cons aren going to be nearly non existent.
In terms of motion sickness, I personally have not experienced it a great deal. I would recommend using the move controllers whenever possible. It’s the way VR is meant to be played. When you are controlling a character with the analog sticks of the Dualshock 4, and your brain is tricked into thinking you are that character in that game, that’s when I begin to feel a little sick. However, I’ve heard reports of people unable to last two seconds with the headset on their face, so it’ll most likely be a different experience for you.
My biggest fear however is disassociation. After a few hours playing, I texted my friend to hang out and for some reason, I was convinced my hands weren’t real. I felt like I was looking down at Bruce Wayne’s hands in Batman Arkham VR. I tried to shake it, but it took a few minutes to correct. I have read of people’s experience with this, but it’s hopefully something I adjust too over time.. still, something to think about. Needless to say, don’t spend all day strapped in. Take breaks often.
Which games to play
There are a huge amount of games built for PSVR or with VR capabilities, that have launched alongside the device. Hell, you may already own a few of them. Rise of the Tomb Raider 20 Year Celebration includes a VR mode where you get to explore Croft Manor, which is a neat addition to a game already crammed with neat additions.
“But Tom, I already spent 500 dollars on this headset! I can’t afford any extra games!”
Don’t fret, dear reader. I can safely say there’s enough content between PSVR Worlds and the demo disk to keep you preoccupied for the time being. The demo disk is actually really awesome and gives you a satisfying taste of what’s available to the headset. I was actually so impressed by the Until Dawn: Rush of Blood demo, a game I had initially written off, that I picked up the full game. It’s the scariest experience I’ve had with Virtual Reality, and I’ve played the Resident Evil VII demo! The PSVR Worlds games are even larger in terms of playtime, although there’s only five different games. All of them show off a different aspect of how VR changes gameplay, and they’re all in their own unique way worth checking out. The London Heist gives you an idea of the way VR plays with vertical and lateral movement and Into the Deep is for the scary thrills as you come face to face with a great white shark. Danger Ball and VR Luge shows off the 3D depth mechanics, and Scavenger’s Odyssey realizes the potential for space simulation.
If you can spend a little extra cash, there are three other games I’d recommend picking up. The first is Batman Arkham VR this is my second favorite VR experience (the first will be revealed with an interview next week) and it is expertly made. Created by a large portion of the devs at Rocksteady, this experience is the closest you’ll get to being the Dark Knight, and it does a phenomenal job of doing that. The controls are some of the best of any VR game I’ve played, and the story is actually really cool. Because of the machine’s limitations, you’re exclusively the world’s greatest detective, but the mechanics are so cool you don’t care that you don’t get to pummel goons to a pulp. Once the story is done, there’s a bunch of extra content to unlock including the infamous Riddler trophies! The puzzles aren’t simple and take some time to complete. At $20, this is a definite must buy if you have the money to spend.
Thumper is a genuinely awesome rhythm game, or rhythm violence game as the devs behind Thumper have taken to calling it. You take control of a metallic beetle zipping along tracks and interacting with them to the music. It’s very Amplitude-esque, but so much more intense in the Virtual Reality space. It is again a cheaper game at $20, but features a multitude of levels giving you that longer experience compared to the demos.
My final recommendation is Eve Valkyrie, it’s a full fledged 60 dollar game that takes the space simulation aspect of Scavenger’s Odyssey to the next level. VR and commanding a fighter jet go hand in hand, and the game plays so fluidly there’ll be times you forget you’re not actually a clone pilot taking down enemy spacecraft. Of course, there are a multitude of other games to be bought and played on the system, but if you’re on a tight budget (who isn’t) these are my recommendations.
Should you buy PSVR?
Yes. Virtual Reality is the future and for it to improve it means some of us have to be early adopters. I’ve heard people say they’ll wait for generation 2, but the problem is there won’t be a generation 2 if generation 1 doesn’t sell. So, if you have more than a mild curiosity to Virtual Reality and more importantly have the cash to spend, absolutely do it. It’s not a gimmick, it’s the future of everything; Medicine, education, social interaction.
In fact, gaming may be the least interesting application of VR, but it’s the one that makes the most immediate sense. The more time I spend with it, the more I’m convinced. I don’t think PSVR going to be the saving grace of the tech. That I think is reserved for the sub $100 headsets you can buy for your phones, something even more accessible to the mass market than a PS4. But I think it will play an important role in the development of Virtual Reality, and that’s an exciting prospect to be a part of.