First Impressions: Sony PlayStation VR (PSVR) for PlayStation 4 (PS4)
Sony’s PlayStation VR (PSVR) for PlayStation 4 (PS4) has a convoluted setup, as well as a mediocre headset and controls. It’s also one of the most extraordinary gaming experiences around, genuinely transporting its players to amazing virtual worlds.
Even though I already had two working PlayStation Move motion controllers from the PlayStation 3 and a PlayStation 4 Camera (although the original squared off model), I decided it was still a better deal just to get the Launch Bundle of PSVR, which also includes the PlayStation VR Worlds disc.
Armed with the complete set and some ginger candy for my unfortunate motion sickness sensitivity (can’t read in a car, etc.), I was ready to go. Unfortunately, it really is a lot to set up.
Basically you need to intercept your PS4’s HDMI output with a breakout box that also has a separate power supply for the headset. Once you have the headset plugged into the breakout box, you also need to plug in the included wired headphones (or any headphones). Only then are you set before onscreen calibration.
PlayStation VR Demo Disc
Anyway, as stated, the Launch Bundle comes with PlayStation VR Worlds, as well as a Demo disc, which is supplied with all versions of the headset (if you have PlayStation Network, you can also upgrade to Playroom VR for free; a few other titles can also be upgraded to VR for a nominal fee). The Demo disc hearkens back to the days of the original PlayStation’s demo disc and provides a surprisingly robust sampling of most of the VR title offerings now available, including PlayStation VR Worlds:
- Allumette (Penrose)
- Battlezone (Rebellion)
- DriveClub VR (SIE WWS)
- Eve: Valkyrie (CCP Games)
- Gnog (KO_OP)
- Harmonix Music VR (Harmonix Music Systems)
- Headmaster (Frame Interactive)
- Here They Lie (SIE WWS)
- Job Simulator (Owlchemy Labs)
- PlayStation VR Worlds (SIE WWS)
- Resident Evil 7 biohazard — Kitchen Teaser (Capcom CO., LTD.)
- Rez Infinite (Enhance Games)
- Rigs Mechanized Combat League (SIE WWS)
- Thumper (Drool)
- Tumble VR (SIE WWS)
- Until Dawn: Rush of Blood (SIE WWS)
- Wayward Sky (Uber Entertainment)
- Within (Within)
So far, I was able to sample Battlezone, DriveClub VR, and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. In fact, the very first experience I had was with Battlezone, and it blew me away, immediately converting me to the wonders of VR.
In Battlezone, as you would expect for a game loosely based off the arcade classic, you’re placed inside of a tank. The neat thing is is that you have a 360 degree view. Look behind you, you see the back of your cockpit and seat. Look up, you see the ceiling or sky. Look down, you see the bottom of your cockpit. It’s absolutely immersive.
I wasn’t terribly impressed with DriveClub VR. It also made me feel nauseous after only one race. No amount of ginger candy would be able to stop that. While a lot of people are criticizing the visuals, I’d say they’re serviceable enough, but in this type of game you’re virtually tossed about too much, which is rather hard on the old brain when your body is mostly stationary.
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is a rail shooter with terrible visuals. It’s also absolutely terrifying, causing me to yell with terror a few times. That’s the power of VR. In fact, it’s so scary that my middle daughter and wife bailed even before it really got going. This is best played with two of the PlayStation Move controllers, which act as your two mini shotguns and help further enhance immersion.
PlayStation VR Worlds
This is actually a great title to show off VR. Even the lobby is incredibly immersive, both surrounding you and allowing you to interact with some of the environmental effects. The collection of games and experiences are as follows:
- The London Heist
- Ocean Descent
- Scavengers Odyssey
- VR Luge
- Danger Ball
I first tried Ocean Descent, which places you in a shark cage and lowers you deep into the ocean in more or less real time. It’s a mostly passive experience, but quite engaging for what it is. I especially liked walking around the shark cage by walking in a small area in my room.
I then tried Danger Ball, which reminds me a lot of the games I used to play on Kinect. In this case, you have to head butt a ball back to the other side to defeat your opponent. While it’s little more than an evolved Pong, it’s still – and here’s that wording again – incredibly immersive. It’s also nice to have an athletic experience as well.
Finally, I tried The London Heist, which I think is fair to say makes perhaps the greatest case for VR. You’re placed in a very adult London underworld as a gangster in the thick of a convoluted heist plot. The best part here is that while most of the other VR games scream out for some type of hand or body tracking, this game actually translates holding the two Move controllers into in-game hands. While not perfect, it does work, and soon enough your brain is fooled to the point where it really does feel like your arms in the game, picking items up, loading and point your gun, lighting and smoking a stogie (be sure to use the headset’s microphone!), etc. The 3D depth effect is also really amazing when you’re doing the laser targeting mini-game within the game. The only downside here is that the main story experience is really short, clocking in around maybe 30 minutes or less. Nevertheless, it’s something I’ll be going back to again and again, and would immediately buy a full blown game that’s just like it. This takes the boring out of first person shooters by letting you duck and cover by actually ducking and covering, so this too is a pretty physical experience. I will admit though that I didn’t know if I was supposed to sit or stand for the game, so I mostly stood, which was kind of awkward when sitting in the virtual car.
Both thumbs up. Way up.
The downsides are that there are too many wires and a clumsy breakout box, and the initial setup is convoluted. It’s also a bit hard to fit the headset perfectly, and it’s something my wife and kids have particularly struggled with most of the time.
Once you’re passed that, though, and actually using it (with a good fit), the immersion is extraordinary. You literally feel like you’re in another world, with everything wrapping around you in all ways.
While it’s undeniably immersive (I found myself spontaneously giggling at times in various games at how delightful and transformative the experience was), the actual controls when you’re in the virtual world sometimes leave something to be desired. This just screams out for full body and hand/arm tracking, which it doesn’t have (and no solution has to this point). It can track the controller for the most part, and does a good job of tracking your head, but that’s about it beyond a precious few games supporting Move controllers for rudimentary hand tracking. There’s kind of a disconnect there, i.e., you want to reach out and touch stuff, but you usually can’t, and, even when you can, not necessarily in the most optimal manner. When someone in the future solves the problem of full body tracking (and preferably ties it to some haptic feedback), then we’ll nearly have the equivalent of the vaunted holodeck.
I’ve played a handful of games so far, including the ones mentioned above (and Playroom VR, which is also quite immersive, but I haven’t found much to do with it yet), and I’m anxious to try more. Unfortunately, I can play for roughly 30 – 60 minutes a day before it gets to be too much. It’s telling how amazing the experience is that I’m willing to put up with that level of discomfort (I also hope that my tolerance will build up and my natural motion sickness will lessen over time).
I can see the difficulty of set up scaring some people off, but I think if they get to try it, they’ll be blown away like I was. It really is the type of thing you have to try rather than be told about. I guess that’s why it’s called an “experience.”