I originally posted a Playstation VR (“PSVR”) thread here. Recently, I have had the chance to sit down and test out the PSVR for myself. I have had no prior experience with any other VR, as I have not personally tried the Rift or Vive as released, so it was my first interaction with the medium.
The first thing I noted was that the PSVR was easy enough to set-up. The headset comes with a step-by-step guide that very easy to follow. There are quite a few cords, as you have to run a cord to the headset, which connects to a cord that runs into an additional processor block, which then connects to the TV and the PS4. You then connect headphones to the headset cord. Further, you have the USB charging cords for the Move controllers in play, given they are used heavily in PSVR (but they are cordless when actually used).
Once we had the PSVR set-up, the next step was actually putting the thing on. Again, it was made super simple: you simply push a button on the back which adjusts the headset as you pull it over your head. The front portion also has a button that adjusts the actual viewer’s distance from your face. I tried wearing the headset with glasses initially, but it was way more comfortable after switching to contacts.
We set up the PS4 in a typical family room – couch facing a TV mounted on the wall, entertainment center holding the cable box, DVDs, etc underneath. The PS Camera was set up on top of this unit, with the visor-wearer sitting on the couch or occasionally standing. We never encountered any real issue with space, or the camera picking up the lights for the controller, Move, or headset.
Once you boot up the system, the headset wearer can look around in “cinema mode” at the basic PS4 launch screen and menu. Fellow onlookers can see what is occurring on the TV as usual.
We had the packaged demo disc, Batman Arkham VR, and Job Simulator available. We started with the demo disc. We had not previously charged the Move controllers, so initially we were limited to just using games that relied exclusively on the controller or the headset. The first such demo was that for “Kitchen” which is the preview demo for Resident Evil 7.
“Kitchen” ended up probably being the most played demo, as we had multiple people/family wanting to try the new gadget out. The “game” is a horror sequence where you are bound in a grungy room and see someone stabbed to death in front of you. And when I say in front of you, I really mean it. After watching the sequence play out on the TV, it simply cannot replicate what the actual VR experience provides. I didn’t think it would be such a big change, but the immersion is drastically increased.
Given the scares in the demo, it was amusing seeing the different reactions the game elicited. There were screams, yelps, and people closing their eyes. Despite these same people watching, and therefore knowing where the jump scares occur, they were scared all the same. VR really does offer a special something.
I then tried the Rush of Blood demo, again a game with a horror theme. It probably did the best job at being a “game.” The basic premise is you are on a carnival ride (on rails) and you shoot targets as you go along. The graphics are fairly strong for VR, and the presentation is immersive. However, immersion was quickly disrupted as centering on the Move controllers got completely out of whack. At the end of the demo, I was facing forward but holding my arms out behind me in order to shoot forward. Frustrating. However, other participants did not have the same trouble I did with the tracking.
To finish off the horror theme, I tried the demo for Here They Lie. This was the first game where I used the controller to move with the analog sticks instead of a “warping” or “on rails” movement. While this may seem like a natural way to incorporate free movement, it did end up giving me a bit of motion sickness, and I do not normally get motion sickness. As for the game itself, it seemed like it was trying a bit too hard to be serious and scary, and I was not really impressed. I could have also been a bit burnt out from the other horror titles.
I gave EVE: Valkyrie and Batman a quick playthrough as well. EVE was awesome initially, sitting in the cockpit, ready for takeoff. However, once I got into space, it felt like everything moved very slow, and it was somewhat difficult to see (perhaps I have been coddled by 3rd person views for flying games?). I did not completely play through Batman, but it seemed to the most polished (as it was also a complete game). The Move controllers appear as hands in front of you, making movements, such as grabbing or throwing, incredibly natural.
Overall, I was very impressed with the technology, and with the optimistic future it can achieve. However, it was not without downsides. As mentioned, I got a little whoozy from the controller movement, and also had the “screen door effect” where it felt like I was looking through a grayish filter, or that there was a bit of a haze in front of my eyes. The people I was playing with did not mention having a problem with either of those issues though.
The big impediment I saw was that none of the games were a fully fleshed out experience. Batman, one of the only “full” titles for PSVR, is only about an hour or two long to “complete” it. Looking through the PS Store, there are not yet a lot of must-have full-length titles available. Given the infancy of the technology and the hardware, I was not surprised, but the hardware needs a flagship title (perhaps Resident Evil 7 will deliver).
PSVR was an awesome experience and truly provided an immersive experience separate and distinct from traditional couch gaming. 360 degree vision, audio and visual trickery, and movement controllers add a layer that is hard to explain without doing it yourself. The hardware will probably undergo a few iterations before it lands in the sweetspot for price and clarity, and developers will need to get a bit more creative in their use of the technology, but PSVR is a very promising first step for VR. While I cannot comment directly on the Vive or the Rift, PSVR has laid a solid foundation for VR’s strong push into 2017.