I’ll admit, I was originally skeptical of VR. High prices, limited software compatibility and the need for beefy and expensive hardware made me doubtful of the technology’s ability to catch on to a more mainstream audience.
However, things have drastically improved over the last year or so. Low cost solutions such as Gear VR and Google Cardboard leverage the power and adoption rates of smartphones to introduce people to virtual reality for a fairly low price. Furthermore, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have seen successful launches, even if they cater towards a very niche audience.
And then we have the PlayStation VR, or PSVR for short. Marketed as the holy grail of VR, with a relatively low launch price compared to its competitors and compatibility with the existing PlayStation 4 hardware, Sony seemed to be promising more than they could chew. But then I got my hands on it….
Once you get the chance to slip on the display portion, the entire world kind of melts away in a sense. If it wasn’t for the loud noise of a busy show floor, I could almost forget that I was even at a convention in the first place. As expected, there’s a little bit of an acclimation period. Before you can jump into any games, you’ll need to adjust the headset and screen distance to your liking. The process itself doesn’t take long, though you’ll want to spend the time to make sure the headset fits in the first place. While that’s a little bit more difficult to do during a timed demo, I imagine it will be much easier in the comfort of one’s home.
The head tracking is really what draws you into the virtual world you’re playing in, and thankfully for PSVR, the head tracking implementation works rather well. By combining the PlayStation 4 camera with lighting on the headset itself, the system does a solid job of keeping track of where you are looking and what direction you are moving. Some slight ghosting and blurriness occurred during one of my demos, but that can be chalked up to me not taking the time to ensure the headset was on perfectly.
While our time with PSVR was relatively brief, we did get to run through a few quick demos. Headmaster was an experimental title of sorts. Dropping you in the middle of a ‘football improvement’ center (by which I am referring to soccer), you control the game solely through head and upper body movement, by mimicking the act of ‘heading’ a soccer ball. The game starts simply enough, tasking you with heading soccer balls into a wide net. Things quickly ramp up though, with special targets that are worth points and obstacles such as goalkeepers blocking your shots.
A point and ranking system keeps tabs on your skill, and there’s plenty of room to master the game’s rather unique control scheme. Outside of that, there is a rather humorous side story; reminiscent of the Portal games, there is an automated, robotic voice speaking to you throughout the whole ‘experiment’. However, an off-screen scientist does attempt to get in touch with you, sneaking you notes and attempting to derail the rather stringent experimental process. It’s a surprise for such a game, and a humorous one at that.
The other game we had a chance to demo was Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. Originally released as a PC title, the game is a sort of multiplayer exercise in bomb defusal. By splitting players up, it sits one person in front of a bomb, which only they can see. In an exaggerated version of bomb defusing, there are wires, panels, keypads and more puzzles that need to be solved. The trick is that the one doing the bomb defusing has no idea what they are doing. This is where all the other players come in. By sitting off to the side and perusing a printed out bomb defusing manual, they relay instructions and ask questions to the one defusing, in order to defuse the bomb before time runs out.
This asymmetric form of multiplayer works well, and the VR version works even better. While Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes can be played without a VR headset (which requires players to sit away from each other so as to not see each other’s screen and manual), the second screen provided by PSVR allows the bomb defuser to concentrate on the bomb by looking through the headset. Rather than using a printed out manual, the other players can now consult the manual by looking at a second screen, which in this case is the TV the PlayStation 4 is hooked up to. The use of two screens works wonderfully here, and this idea of asymmetric gameplay is a big draw for many developers; expect to see plenty of two-screen games like this one.
PlayStation VR might be a few months out, but the current iteration is truly something special. An affordable VR headset is a big draw for those looking to dip their toes into this particular world, and Sony has produced a solution that strikes the perfect balance between affordability, accessibility, and processing power. Consider us impressed.