I’ve been pretty ‘down’ on PlayStation VR since it was announced. Not because I dislike it or thought it wasn’t any good, but simply because I’d used VR before (albeit quite some time ago), and wasn’t entirely convinced by the experience.
In the early 90s, I tried out the Virtuality 1000CS system at London’s Trocadero. The headset was huge and weighed in at over 3Kg, but the graphics were amazing for the time; as bland as it looks today, solid 3D worlds were very new, which meant that it was extremely impressive.
I remember walking away afterwards feeling exhilarated by the technology – clunky as it was – but rather flat about the actual gaming experience. Considering that the tracking system in these old machines is better than that in any of today’s systems (you can read about that over on Kotaku), I wasn’t holding out much hope – especially as PSVR is the cheapest of the new generation of VR systems.
However, a friend of mine bought a PSVR when it was released a few weeks back, and a few days ago I got to try it out. I have to say I was very impressed.
The first thing I tried was the VR Worlds Ocean Descent demo, and it was probably the most impressive thing I saw all night, at least in terms of the visuals. Looking up at the boat as you descend, seeing the light gradually fade… it’s certainly a heck of an experience. For me the only negative was that I couldn’t reach out and touch the manta rays as they swam past.
It was at the end of the Ocean Descent that I realised another of my concerns had been put to rest: the weight of the headset. Although at 0.5Kg it’s much lighter than the old Virtuality headset, I was still concerned about the weight of PSVR hanging off the front of the head. It turns out that it really isn’t an issue. It’s extremely comfortable, even with glasses, and after those few minutes I could no longer tell I was wearing it.
I also tried out football-heading Headmaster (a good bit of fun), the demo of RIGS (very impressive, even if I was ridiculously bad at it), and EVE: Valkyrie… which, with the launch sequence, actually made me feel like I was flying a Viper from Battlestar Galactica! I enjoyed all of them, and fortunately didn’t experience any motion sickness at all.
The only thing really lacking was the amount of tactile feedback. When you’re immersed so thoroughly in a game world, a simple rumbling controller doesn’t really cut it. Someone needs to come up with more versatile input devices for VR, with much better feedback.
Which brings me on to the final game I played: DriveClub VR. I have the standard DriveClub game, and have spent many hours – hundreds, probably – playing it. However, in VR, with the gaming seat, wheel and pedals which my friend has, it’s a completely new and exhilarating experience. Because you have the tactile feedback of an actual wheel and pedals, it’s totally immersive, and as an over-all experience, was by far the best of the titles I tried.
Will I be buying a PSVR of my own? Well, no… not at the moment. I’m going to wait a while to see how well (and how long) it’s supported, and if there are any ‘must have’ titles released for it, which for my personal tastes, there aren’t at the moment. You see, I bought a Move, and when support for that died off, it wasn’t too big a deal as it wasn’t that expensive. I also bought a Vita, and the frankly scandalous way in which Sony stopped supporting that with first-party games was harder to take, as it was significantly more expensive. Then there was the massive push by Sony (among others) on 3DTV, which was short lived; fortunately, I didn’t buy into that one.
So to be honest, as impressed as I was by PSVR, I’m not currently ready to drop £350 on something which, without some absolutely killer titles, may be sitting idle and gathering dust in a year to eighteen months time. For me, they’re going to have to offer some truly compelling games.
In much the same way that 3D never really (in my opinion) offered a meaningful improvement to most movies, I’m not yet convinced that VR offers much benefit to most current styles of video game. Driving and flight simulators, certainly; if you play enough of them to have warranted a wheel/flight stick etc., then yes, VR will undoubtedly enhance the experience further. Perhaps even FPS games to a slightly lesser extent. But when I think of other styles of game, I’m still not convinced that there’s any significant reason why I’d want to play them in VR as opposed to on a flat screen from a nice comfy chair.
I guess only time will tell!