The act of console gaming has always been evolving: controllers got more buttons, then they went from digital to analog control. Games were on cartridges and then CDs, before upgrading to DVDs and Blu-ray discs. The biggest change in recent years was the adoption of motion control: Nintendo Wii, PlayStation Move, and then Microsoft Kinect.
With the introduction of virtual reality to consoles comes the next step forward, but does PlayStation VR solidify virtual reality as an integral part of the future for gamers? Or will it be forgotten by the majority of players, like the Kinect?
Setting up PSVR does take some time, but it is relatively painless. You plug the processor box into the TV, connect the PS4 to the box, then connect the headset to the box. If you don’t already have the camera on your PS4, you just add that. Then plug in the included earbuds or your own headphones to add three-dimensional sound. A quick bit of calibration and you are ready to go. Not too bad.
And the first impressions of the headset? It is pretty comfortable to wear and it is easy to position to find the sweet spot where the picture is as sharp as possible. The camera does a good job of tracking the headset, though it obviously becomes less accurate as you go too far away or to the side of the camera’s view.
But as a console gamer who has been playing since the days of Atari, I know that the worth of PlayStation VR comes down to the games. Luckily, Sony included a demo disc with PSVR that includes over two dozen demos, a huge variety to give you an idea of what is possible. So what will gamers find in these demos and amongst the launch titles themselves?
Actions fans will find the tank game Battlezone or the team shooter RIGS. Driving sim fans have Driveclub VR. Flight sim fans have sci-fi dog-fighting with EVE Valkyrie. Puzzle fans have physics-based Tumble VR and block game SUPERHYPERCUBE. Music game fans have Harmonix Music VR, the action of Thumper, and the rebirth of the psychedelic classic Rez Infinite. Horror fans have the story-driven Here They Lie, on-rails shooter and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood.
For those with more esoteric tastes there are some interesting off-the-wall experiences on the demo disc too. Job Simulator is a quirky game that uses VR and motion controls well, Hustle Kings VR lets you play pool, Headmaster has a series of games where you hit a soccer ball with your head, and then there is the beautiful dancing platformer Bound.
If you look at other launch games or 2016 games not on the demo disc, there is just as much for a serious gamer to be excited about. Batman: Arkham VR lets you put on the cowl and truly become Batman. You can explore a planet with dinosaurs in first-person with Robinson from Crytek. Ubisoft has you and three friends working together on missions with Star Trek: Bridge Crew. There is the story-based science conspiracy title from nDreams called The Assembly. A zombie title called The Brookhaven Experiment from Phosphor Games will freak you out. Into 2017 there more games to look forward to, such as sci-fi FPS Farpoint, the imaginative, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, and the exploration puzzle game Xing: The Land Beyond.
Sony has also worked with partners and its own developers on casual experiences for the PlayStation VR platform. Such content is great to show friends and family, to give them a taste of what virtual reality is all about without them having to know any complex controls. The demo disc includes a brief sample of PlayStation VR Worlds, which features a deep sea dive called Ocean Descent. There is also Within, the VR video app, including Invasion!, a Pixar-esque shortfilm named Invasion! about a bunny having an encounter with aliens. The demo disc includes Kitchen, Capcom’s short experience giving a glimpse into Resident Evil 7. And previously mentioned games like Harmonix Music VR, SUPERHYPERCUBE, Headmaster, Job Simulator, and Tumble VR can be picked pretty quickly by casual gamers.
For those interested in gaming with others however, choices are more limited. Overall, PSVR games tend to be single player experiences, considering the use of a single headset. But some have online multiplayer like Battlezone or EVE: Valkyrie, and some have local multiplayer, where the other players use the television, like with Tumble VR or The Playroom VR.
So there is no shortage of games worth checking out, no matter what your tastes are. But what about the virtual experience?
VR is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t tried it, but what it does well is immerse you somewhere else, giving you a sense of presence in an imaginary world. You can look all around in a three dimensional space. The camera detects how you move your head, so you can also lean and kneel and sidestep in the space. It makes you feel like you are actually there. Add in two PlayStation Move controllers, and now your hands can interact with objects three-dimensionally as well. Some games are played with the Dualshock controller, but those that use the Move have that extra layer of immersion.
The next question then becomes how does the virtual experience of PlayStation VR compare to the two other big VR headsets out there: the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, both for use with PCs. Pretty favorably, actually. PS VR feels generally similar to the Oculus Rift, though with the Move controllers already on the market, Sony has a slight edge over Oculus in terms of pure functionality until their Touch controllers come out later this year. The HTC Vive comes with motion controllers, like the PS VR, but beats Sony’s device with its more immersive room tracking.
The real comparison is on price and power. Oculus Rift costs $599 and the HTC Vive costs $799. PlayStation VR costs $399 for the headset and wires or $499 for the launch bundle that adds the Camera, two Move controllers, and a copy of PlayStation VR Worlds. Point, Sony. The Vive and the Rift require a PC, which can cost anywhere from say $800 to $3000. PSVR requires a PS4, which if you don’t already own one, only costs $299. Point again, Sony.
Of course for the difference in price, a PC can be more powerful and the games will have better graphics than the three-year-old PS4. But the November 10 release for the PlayStation 4 Pro, which will be priced $399, will bring additional power to the PlayStation platform, resulting in games that look closer to the fidelity of a PC game (as far as we can tell with Farpoint.) So those gamers who really want to jump into VR may want to consider the PS4 Pro instead.
Whether you are interested in the PS4 Pro, or were interested in VR enough to try or buy a VR headset for the computer, there is no denying the fact that with the launch of PlayStation VR on October 13 console gaming has taken another step forward. The false start of VR arcades in the ’90s and with Nintendo’s Virtual Boy of 1995 can be forgotten. The 40 million+ PS4 owners worldwide will soon have a reasonably priced method to see what a difference VR makes to gaming.
Even if PSVR does not sell tens of millions of units and become the next big thing, it will remain a vibrant niche that game developers and hardcore gamers can become lost in. And who knows what VR will mean for consoles like Microsoft’s Project Scorpio in 2017, the inevitable PlayStation 5 years later, and even further out. VR may become part of every new console from here out. Either way, this gamer with 30 years of playing under his belt is ecstatic that virtual reality has finally come home.
You can read our full, detailed hardware review here and many of our game reviews can be found here. For more information about upcoming PlayStation VR titles, you can read the entries in our 50 Days of PS VR countdown.