If you’ve been hiding under a rock in Actual Reality, you won’t know much about Virtual Reality coming to Playstation.
Being a major launch for Sony, selling out well before launch, the VR unit is undoubtedly going to be a must-have this Christmas. The unit is sleekly designed, lightweight and perfect as an in-home VR device, especially as a bolt-on to Sony’s existing console base. The form factor is nicely designed and very reminiscent of the systems Playroom robots with its black, white and blue light scheme.
Setting the unit up is as easy as 1, 2, 3 and 4. In fact it is exactly that. Because the cables and plugs are all very clearly numbered in sequence of connection. As soon as the unit is turned on it can take over the UI being piped to your tv, extending the goggles/headset and ensuring a snug fit may take a little getting used to, but its those millimetre adjustments that make all the difference in image clarity and your experience. Once nestled into the headset, earbuds plugged in or full sound headphones if you are that way inclined all it takes is a quick press of the options button on your controller and you are away.
So, yes it works and its easy, which makes it accessible to the masses and while VR isn’t going to shake the world up it is here and able to enhance gaming experiences beyond the 2d. Where the console power sits along this first generation tech we are a while away from getting full on games that support VR with the level of detail expected today. However, there is wonder, there is an immense amount of immersion and even in short bursts that can still have quite a magical effect.
As far as software goes, Sony managed to launch an immense amount of titles on day 1, that is impressive in itself, add to that number the sheer volume of titles that are coming over the next months and we’ve eclipsed the whimper that Kinect and Move first brought to the table. These games have opted for a wide range of experience led environments, often short lived or quirky, but enough to show off the ability of VR without feeling over gimmicky.
Take Batman, an hour long and a must buy for most people if only to get that buzz of seeing their virtual self dressed as the only and only Dark Knight. Or Job Simulator, a fun diversion, clever? Yes, but its a short lived thing. More cleverness can be seen with Sony’s own titles, VR Worlds offers a range of experience mini games that introduce you to the unit, but after the initial delight I find the menu the best place to be and incidentally it’s probably the worst Screen Door example, giving your eyes that peeking through a net curtain feeling if you focus in the wrong spot. The shark cage encounter of The Deep is a standout, but I’ve always loved underwater titles – give me a VR rehash of Subwar2050 and I’m not coming up for air. The physics and depth of Dangerball highlight what can be done, crisp controls not really getting past the lack of depth. As for VR Luge, The Heist and Scavengers Odyessy, all competent titles that offer some clever tricks, but not really convincing as a long term value proposition. VR Worlds is a good warm up, but once its back in the box, It will be the go to disc when you want to scare Granny for the first time.
Driveclub VR on the other hand offers a full game experience, with wonder and without apology for the compromises it had to make moving away from Driveclub non-VR. I liked Driveclub and I liked what it did for social competition, but not being a car nut meant I’d never get a steering wheel and play it properly. Now here’s the amazing thing, once I don the VR unit I can drive in Driveclub with the controller in first person. The environment just makes sense, steering, braking and jostling your way to the front has never been so effortless. Not forgetting that wearing the VR helmet puts you in a 3d cockpit, yes you can check your mirrors as if its real, you can turn your head and check out the car on your outside. This is where VR games will go, its best when you are in a thing that moves, not being the thing that moves.
The first time you get into a car in Driveclub you can’t help but look around the cockpit, the love and detail that has been lavished on the interiors is stunning, forgiveable then that the world outside has had a downgrade graphically and those famous weather effects are no more. Mind you a dawn race around the Scottish lowlands is more glorious than a nighttime thunderstorm race.
The jewel in the VR crown for me as an all encompassing way to introduce people, entertain the suffering onlookers on the sofa nad not really notice any graphical imperfections has to be the under the radar title Playroom VR. A family targeted bunch of mini games that should have been pushed more, the fidelity of the graphics is shiny and beautiful in its joyful cartoon way. The depth when you first start peering around the playful diorama of the playroom is a great thing, being able to get up close with minibots doing their thing, then look up at the glass ceiling to see a huge dino lizard looking back or turn around and wave at the gang of minbots gathered around you. If you had fun with the camera and original playroom, you’ll get fun out of this.
And its free.
Also worth a mention is the 10 minute shock demo The Kitchen, bot for the faint hearted it shows where Resident Evil is headed. It is not for the squeamish and shows that VR can make you jump, certainly not for the kids. Its not all games either, try out the Littlstar Cinema app for some great 360 degree movies, while the free samples don’t have great levels of definition, but being able to look all around in places you’d never go opens up educational experiences and the future will only make the world smaller.
Overall, I’m really impressed and really happy. VR will never be a StarTrek Holodeck, but as an accessory that lets me experience games I can lean into and inspect, lean over high balconies without fear of falling, race immersive driving, pilot an X-Wing and wander around Croft Manor I can see it has much longer legs than Kinect ever did. Whether the new PS4 Pro offers much improvement with its new grunt remains to be seen, but its good enough for me right here, right now.