Three Days in Virtual Reality – PSVR Impressions

Playstation VR First Impressions

VR finally arrives, after what’s felt like an eternity. Starting with the Oculus Rift kickstarter (which I had neither the faith nor the spare cash to back) I’ve been waiting for Virtual Reality, and it’s finally here, in a moderately economical form in PSVR.

I’ve tried out VR briefly in the form of Google Cardboard, as a proof of concept it was powerful, but it really just made me want to get some “real” VR gear. Samsung Gear VR was never for my phone, and Vive and Oculus were a bit out of my price range. Hence PSVR came to be my first headset.

This is by no means exhaustive (I’ve only played about half of the games/experiences I own so far), but here’s a look into my first few days trying VR.

Wearing the Future

It’s definitely something you have to get used to. My first time wearing the headset I was very confused, decided to take off my glasses and wear contacts, and there was a great deal of fussing to get things into focus. The first day was clumsy and punctuated by 15 minute bursts as I checked out a game, took off the headset to tweet, look what else I had to play, etc.

By now I can put on the headset easily with glasses (the trick is to simply move the “scope” with the lenses back) and adjust it to reasonable accuracy in a couple seconds.

It gets a bit hot in there, sort of like headphones but more severe. It’s not the actual screen that feels warm, but it seems like less of your body heat escapes with the headset on. I wear slightly lighter clothes while using the headset and I’m fine.

The headset is designed to allow you to bring your own headphones as well, though non-earbuds might fit on slightly awkwardly. I wear the Sennheiser HD 598 and they fit fine but fall a teeny bit short from my ear, meaning there’s more sound escaping the headphones and I turn the volume on PSVR a bit higher than I did with the included earbuds (setting the volume is pretty much a one-time thing).

A caveat that may or may not matter is that reflective surfaces within the field of view can be a problem–tracking was slightly wonky because of a glass cabinet immediately behind my couch, quickly covering it with a towel fixed it. Picking the ideal spot for the headset can require a bit of thought, sort of like setups for a good surround sound speaker system or Kinect. But since it’s a sitting experience for the most part, reflections are all I really had to worry about.

The Unexpected

The one noticeable thing is the resolution. It’s not exactly bad, but I’d say it’s probably the lowest it could be and not be a big problem. I’m definitely interested in a higher resolution headset, but after playing a few games I mostly forgot about resolution. A higher res, cheaper headset that doesn’t need an extremely beefy machine feels like something that’s still a couple years down the road. I imagine PS5 will launch with a PSVR2.

Realistic graphics took the biggest hit, though it’s hard to tell if this is because the graphics weren’t designed from the ground up for VR. But in Resident Evil 7’s Kitchen demo andm ore severely in Driveclub VR

An odd thing I noticed is that most text looks pretty bad in VR. I’m not really sure why, but aliasing or blurred text is common, especially with narrow text. The big, wide “fan dub” style subtitles of 100ft Robot Golf looked oddly alright. I’m not exactly sure what the deal is, but reading text in VR or perhaps just PSVR should probably be limited.

The Unexpected Good

An unexpected plus, PSVR can actually accept any HDMI input for it’s “cinema” mode, which is how the main PS4 menu displays. So you can play on a super huge “screen” from any input, provided you’re willing to put up with a bit lower resolution. Since the full 1080p screen is never perfectly matching your eyes in VR, it’s always going to be a bit rougher.

Surprisingly, you can livestream in VR. You can’t do it at 60 FPS, but it doesn’t look as bad as I feared: here’s me playing 100ft Robot Golf. My biggest complaint is some combination of the onboard mic and the nose flaps (and quite possibly my seasonal allergies) made me sound rather nasally that session. You also have to hold the home button to view comments from within a menu, but hiding livestream comments isn’t always the worst fate…

The “Social Screen” isn’t quite what I expected either. The social screen is basically what’s shown on the TV, which can be just a re-formated view from the VR headset itself…or actually, something different entirely!

Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes blanks out the social screen to prevent cheating. Playroom VR presents an entirely different perspective to let the non-VR players play their part. Catlateral Damage just gives a third person view of the action so watchers get an idea of what’s going on without seeing all the head bobbing and such in first person, making a more easy to understand experience if you’re not in control.

The Games

Here’s everything I played and my thoughts so far.

SuperHyperCube

Definitely my favorite pure-VR experience so far. It combines just enough of the unique aspects of VR with simple but challenging puzzle gameplay to be extremely easy to pick up yet feel amazing.

You’re flying through a 70s retro-future “Warp Drive” effect and twisting puzzle pieces to fit through an oncoming wall. You have to “peek” around the block physically to see the wall in front of you, a kind of physical playfulness VR excels at. SuperHypercube really just feels like…the future. Smells like it too.

Thumper

A fantastic game in or out of VR, Thumper goes to show how much a game can gain without really changing its gameplay or even perspective much for VR. The extra immersion and perception of depth really matches the gameplay well, and while I already adored the visuals, I regularly found myself looking up in awe at a new boss or structure winding down towards me.

I was already quite engrossed in Thumper, but the feeling of presence and awe brings it from great to a nearly religious experience. Also, it really made me want Star Fox (the old clean polygonal one) in VR. Then it made me sad that it will be at least 10+ years before Nintendo even considers such a thing.

Playroom VR

Much like the PS4 Camera, Sony Japan has provided a few cute mini games to play on your new hardware for free. Most of them are multiplayer and are played with players on the TV seeing something different than the VR player, with the VR player controlling solely with their head.

The mini games play sort of like Mario Party or Wario Ware multiplayer mini games, very easy to pick up, fun, but not something you’d play more than a few rounds of each at a time. They’re a great demo of the potential for social VR, but it also means there’s not too much here for solo play.

The one game you can play single player is really great though. It’s a third person platformer that, unlike what you might expect, takes good advantage of VR. I really enjoyed it, and my only complaints are it’s really quite short (one level, less than ten minutes), and it gave me a weird feeling of motion. I was playing in a rolling chair and I kept felt like my chair was rolling forward when the camera moved forward. It might not be the best game to play first, I didn’t feel nauseous but it was a bit weird.

I do hope the platformer is expanded on at some point.

DriveClub VR

This one is a rollercoaster of emotions. Within seconds you’ll notice the extreme visual toll that’s been taken to get Driveclub running at 60FPS and in VR. The assets look plain or even ugly and resolution feels like it must be lower than other PSVR games.

Then you get put in the cockpit of a car (the one in the demo is a bit claustrophobic…which in itself is rather impressive—it’s all fake, but I feel a bit cramped!). You can adjust your height/position in the car so it feels just like you do in your real car. The feeling of presence is pretty solid. I watched a piece of trash fly for a full minute before the first race started, just enjoying the ability to move my head around.

This is the “meatiest” game I’ve played in VR and it’s an easy one to recommend, but it really shows that AAA games will need to design assets with VR in mind, because “down-porting” extremely beautiful assets targeting 30 FPS just doesn’t work. The simpler look of other games works a lot better.

GNOG (Demo)

I’m in love with this one, the feeling of childlike wonder when you’re poking and prodding at things is really great in VR, and this game lets you poke and prod to your heart’s content.

The visuals in this game are fantastic and contrasting with DriveClub, they show how well a cartoony or surreal look can be pulled off in VR.

It’s only out as a demo for now, but I truly can’t wait for the final thing.

100ft Robot Golf

A really fun, really ridiculous golf game in it’s own regard, the VR mode feels a tiny bit tacked on but works decently well. A lot of angles you experience seem more intended to “wow” at the scale rather than help you play the game (it defaults to a “from the ball” view when you’re about to swing, when the “where the ball will land” view is much more useful).

This is a fun game overall, but it’s VR experience is a bit of a wash. It’s got some cool stuff, but it’s a teeny bit harder to play in VR as well. On the plus side, I surprisingly didn’t experience nausea at all despite “riding” on the heads of the robots as I ran about.

Volume Coda

A neat, simple spin on the original game. Basically it’s traditional Volume, played on a large holographic board in front of you. You can skew and scale the board to your heart’s content then look about for a closer look or leave it all within peripheral vision.

Coda doesn’t add a ton in VR (more exciting is the entirely new levels!) but it shows how a top-down game might be adapted to feel a bit better in VR than the basic “Cinema” mode allows.

PS VR Worlds Scavenger’s Odyssey

The only VR Worlds game I’ve played so far, it feels like a peek into how a mid or AAA tier game might work out in VR, it has more realistic visuals without looking nearly as rough as DriveClub VR does, and it manages dual analog controls without much nausea. You can see your character in VR (and their body even leans as you do) and it creates a very effective illusion that minimizes nausea (for me).

The gameplay is a bit simple but effective enough. It feels like an appetizer for what higher-budget, traditional experiences may come down the road. But on the other hand…I’m not super into VR for the traditional experiences to begin with.

Catlateral Damage

This one most significantly shows the limits of PSVR’s potential for Room Scale. It feels very much designed for Vive, and while playing standing I’d often find myself turning in real space and moving around with no real knowledge of when I was too turned around or out of scanning range until something went wonky.

Catlateral Damage is a fun game on it’s own out of VR, and I’d recommend trying it’s VR mode if you have it anyway, but it’s hard to recommend as a purely VR experience on PSVR. I still had fun, but a very fussy sort of fun that feels more like a prototype than a finished product.

Job Sim (Demo)

Another game primarily designed for Vive it would seem, this one has less issues than Catlateral Damage because the perspective is more or less sitting/standing in place anyway. Interacting with objects behind you is still an issue, but you get a good 270 degrees of motion with no major tracking issues.

Only played the demo of this one, not sure if I’d get bored slow enough for the $30 to be worth it yet. But the 5 minutes the demo let me play was pretty funny, in a very visceral “throw things at people and break stuff” way. I cloned a coffee cup in my scanner and threw it at my boss, who is a floating CRT monitor. Not bad.

Godzilla PSVR Experience

This was free off Japanese PSN. It’s only a couple minutes long, but it’s quite dramatic and does a great job of showing the sense of scale VR is capable of.

Allumette

An absolute must-watch. It’s free for PSVR and it’s a short stop motion animation that’s really lovely and surprisingly emotional. The ability to peek and view the set in 360 degrees is really fantastic (play it standing up). As someone who doesn’t watch many movies (animated or otherwise) I’m now pretty excited to see what non-game media people create for VR.

Invasion!

A cute cartoony animation that’s a bit more effective in VR as you can look around and you feel a bit like you’re part of an animated play. Not as breathtaking as Allumette, but it’s free and worth a watch.

What I have yet to play

I haven’t played everything yet, I’ll be doing video or text impressions or reviews of everything at some point. Watch this space and my Youtube.

  • Rez Infinite (physical copies are delayed a month)
  • The rest of PSVR Worlds
  • Kismet
  • Hatsune Miku Future Live
  • Harmonix Music VR
  • Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
  • Bound (looking forward to this!)
  • Headmaster

I also haven’t solidly formed an opinion on Move since few of the games I’ve played really use it. It seemed to work fine in Job Sim and a bit iffy in Catlateral, but neither of those experiences seem designed with Move in mind.

Conclusion

VR is here. It’s not incredibly accessible, but the price really isn’t too bad either (compared to other gaming hardware) and the launch lineup is already pretty great.

If PSVR was something you were interested in, you’ll probably enjoy it. If you’re skeptical, I think it’s turned out a lot better than many thought/feared. It truly does nail the feeling of a whole new experience and evoked in me the more childlike feeling of exploration I too rarely feel in genres and games I’ve grown extremely accustomed to.

Critically, I don’t think the “PS4 pro only exists to make VR viable!” thing was true at all, games can be improved on PS4 Pro apparently (thumper has higher IQ apparently, but the same 90 FPS framerate), but I would hardly say it’s bad on PS. PS4 Pro seems to be exactly the “nice but hardly essential” device it needs to be to not disrupt the existing PS4 base and harm goodwill.

New Platform, New Risks

But at $400-$500 for PSVR, there are two major caveats to know.

The first is that you should think of PSVR as a new platform, not a PS4 accessory. Buying a new platform (console, PC, whatever) is a bit of an investment so to speak, so much of your potential value hasn’t solidified yet. It’s a move that mostly enthusiasts do, because they’re more sure they’ll enjoy the future games and are more comfortable spending a good chunk of change on their hobby.

Over the next few years I have no doubt I’ll get my $500 worth of fun, but if you’re expecting a day-one library matching the existing library of the non-VR PS4 (that’s been out for three years) then no, you’re going to want to wait a bit. What’s here is great, but it’s just like any platform launch: if you’re not 100% sure a lot more games you love will be coming in the future, it’s always safer to wait.

The second biggest caveat is that if you have motion sickness you should try it out at a Best Buy or something first (I’ve barely felt a hint of nausea in any game at all, but I know that’s not a universal experience). I’m not sure how well people get over simulator sickness…because I don’t seem to get it. Quite surprised I never felt nauseous, which is great! But I might just be weird. It’s really hard to tell with this stuff.

Which Bundle Should I Get?

If you’re absolutely sure you want PSVR but not sure which bundle to get, both have their ups and downs.

The $500 Launch Bundle includes two Move controllers (MSRP $50 each), PSVR Worlds (MSRP $40) and the new PS4 Camera (MSRP $60). On paper it more than justifies the higher price, but Move controllers and old model PS4 Cameras can easily be found at around $30 each. But in the rush for PSVR, prices of the old stock of Moves and Cameras is going up.

The $400 Core Headset option is obviously cheaper by itself. At the time of writing, it is also normal price on Amazon unlike the Launch Bundle, but scalping should cut down soon enough. The caveat is it technically doesn’t have all you need, as you will require a PS4 camera.

The Core Headset is a great option if you already have a PSVR camera, either don’t want or already have Move controllers, and you don’t want PSVR Worlds. If less than two of those conditions are true, the Launch Bundle will easily be cheaper. In my opinion it mostly boils down to whether you want PSVR Worlds, as you can (just barely) find two moves and a camera for cheaper. If you’re willing to shop used you can definitely find cheaper. But if you prefer new gear or want everything, the launch bundle is a good value. Just don’t pay a scalper and wait for it to actually cost $500.

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Author: Sir TapTap

Opinionated gaming spikeball dedicated to showing cool games and making games more enjoyable for everyone.