Today, Sony’s PSVR goes on sale around the world, vindicating Virtual-Boy fans everywhere by introducing thousands of people to the many worlds of VR. But is this the future of gaming, or simply another fad due to fade away into obscurity within a couple of years?
Besides the PlayStation itself, Sony doesn’t have a fantastic record when it comes to hardware, with its other devices (especially peripherals) dropping off in both sales and support within a few years. Their first hand-held console, the PSP which launched back in 2005 sold well and was well-received, but waning sales forced Sony to evolve it into the PSP Go. Even then, the PSP Go, with its digital-only medium allowing for a smaller system and greater battery-life, failed to catch on and it was abandoned a little over a year later.
A few years later, the PlayStation Vita arrived with all the pomp and ceremony of some home-console launches. The Vita is an undeniably brilliant piece of engineering; front and rear touch pads and cameras, gyroscopic sensors for tilt functionality, expandable storage and that beautiful, vibrant, 5 inch, OLED screen. The Vita was tremendously popular and boasts a library of over 1300 titles, but just four (or five, depending where you live) years on from its release, Sony’s first-party support is non-existent and you can seemingly count the number of upcoming PS Vita releases on one hand.
This is also true of the PlayStation Move. Coupled with the Playstation Camera on both PS3 and PS4, PlayStation Move was the real precursor to VR. It evolved on what Sony had offered on the PlayStation 2 with the Eye-Toy, which used the attachable camera to project a game around your image and pick up your movement to use it in the game (basically a very early Xbox Kinect system) except instead of putting you in the game, it proffered an augmented-reality experience by placing in-game elements into your world, like with the Eye-Pet. The Move controllers could be tracked by the camera to provide greater accuracy, translating to a smoother, more enjoyable experience for the player.
These Move controllers, despite being six years old, can be used with Playstation VR. In games like Far Point, a VR FPS title set on an alien planet, you can use the Move controllers as a gun, or in the slightly absurd, always amusing Job Simulator the Move controllers operate your in-game hands so you can easily pick things up and fling them around à la Surgeon Simulator.
While GameSpew were at EGX back in September, we took the opportunity to ask some of the folks waiting to play VR for their thoughts on the new tech, which titles had them most excited and whether they thought PSVR had potential or if it was another flash-in-the-pan technology of absolutely no use to anyone.
“Overwhelmingly, the responses we got were that PSVR has a bright future. People see it as something that offers a new experience unlike anything we’ve seen or played with before”
Generally, the people queuing were VR virgins, excited at the prospect of popping their proverbial cherries all over the PSVR stand. There were several VR games available to play at EGX across various platforms, including indie games like Unseen Diplomacy – a rather amusing looking assault course where the player had plenty of clear space around them to, in the words of Patches O’Houlihan “Dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge!” – but the majority of games were from larger developers. Apart from the pretty physical Unseen Diplomacy, most VR demos were played in a seated position. Battlezone, VR Worlds, DriveClub, Far Point, RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, Batman: Arkham VR, Resident Evil 7, and my personal most-anticipated title, Robinson: The Journey, were all available to play for those lucky enough to secure a time-slot.
There wasn’t one particular game drawing a crowd from the people we spoke to, with pretty much all of them looking forward to trying a different title, although one person was as keen as us to get some more information on upcoming Star Wars game X-Wing VR Mission which was unfortunately not on show.
We asked these folks what they expected would become of the PSVR. Would it forever change gaming, becoming an essential piece of equipment like controllers have? Would it disappear from stores and living rooms around the globe within just a few years? Or would it sell well, but then sit and gather dust like those old retro consoles you swear you’ll play again one day? Overwhelmingly, the responses we got were that PSVR has a bright future. People see it as something that offers a new experience unlike anything we’ve seen or played with before. The extra layer of immersion will zone people in quicker and they can be more invested in what’s happening as it seems to remove that barrier of watching it on a screen. One person even suggested VR could lead to a new direction for films, with cinemas offering VR experiences similar to how IMAX works today.
When I got to try my hand at VR I was delighted to be offered a choice of which game I’d like to play, so naturally I picked Robinson: The Journey. Having been shown to my seat, briefed on how to use the VR (it’s very simple) and the headset had been adjusted for my noggin, I was informed that the code being used was still very early on and that it would be very far removed from the finished product. That made me a little apprehensive but I quickly settled in to how the VR system worked. The demo I played was an on-rails experience with my only control being where I looked, a small amount of movement left or right and how fast I moved forwards or backwards. The visuals were clearly not on the same level as some other VR titles but again, this is hopefully due to the early code. The experience itself was, by definition, marvellous. I summed up my thoughts in more detail on the game previously as VR was one of my nominations for our Top Ten Highlights of EGX 2016.
It’s safe to say that Robinson: The Journey had sold me on the concept, but it wasn’t alone. I also tried my hand at BattleZone; the flagship PSVR title and remake/modernisation of the arcade-cabinet classic and its Periscope view-finder from 1980.
“The feeling of immersion was astounding. I remained conscious of how I looked in the real world but I was happy to have a proper look around and revel in the experience”
Excitedly, I sat in the chair and the attendant talked me through the PSVR. He showed me how to adjust the size of the headset, simply holding down a single button while sliding the headband forwards or back. Once that was done, he adjusted the focus to what I needed, again using a single button and I was ready to go. It must have taken 10 seconds, if that! The game loaded and I found myself squarely in the centre of a beast of a machine, being carried through a hangar full of other tanks and soldiers scurrying about. This was a good chance to familiarise myself with the VR, being able to look around the full 360° with information and action happening all around. Screens with unique readouts surrounded the cockpit alongside my ammo and heath readouts in my HUD. The feeling of immersion was astounding. I remained conscious of how I looked in the real world (damn sexy, of course) but I was happy to have a proper look around and revel in the experience.
Once my tank reached the battle zone (see what they did there?), the game began and one by one tanks began appearing on my radar which was just in front of me. I could see the red blips and using the left-stick to scoot around, the right-stick to aim the turret and my own bonce to scope out the area I quickly racked up a few kills, growing in confidence as I dodged the missiles that had begun to come thick and fast. To my surprise, I pulled off a few nifty kills by dodging incoming fire, aiming and then firing as I moved, all while looking away at the next enemy. PSVR had added a new dimension to my gaming! Slowly but surely, more and more enemies appeared and I succumbed to the tempting button labelled EMP. Pressing it, my tank became the last one standing and the round wrapped up.
These were just a couple of VR experiences and doubtless there will be many more to come in the future. Sony has already announced 50 PSVR titles would be available by the end of 2016. There are also existing titles like Rise of the Tomb Raider and Volume that will add PSVR compatibility through additional modes and missions.
The headset will also allow you to play your normal games by streaming the image to the headset’s screens. That’s got to be great news if you have a single TV in the front room and someone else wants to use it; let PSVR be a second screen! You can use it for most applications too, including things like Netflix, although it’s worth noting the screens will be blockier than a crisp HDTV image and there will be a black background surround the image. Still, if it means you can play while someone else watches the TV then great!
“Does this mean a bright future for PSVR? I can’t say, but from what I’ve experienced, I certainly hope it sticks around for a while.”
A lot has been made of the sound, too. The suggestion has been bandied about that if you have a VR headset and use the TV’s sound, you will lose some of the experience and that’s probably true. While you do get a small pair of ear-buds in the box (complete with inconvenient wires), the PSVR experience we’ve had at EGX 2016 has been accompanied by some big, comfy and pretty expensive, wireless headphones. Still, a good quality pair can be picked up for around £20-£30, so it may be worth taking the plunge. There’s even a processor within the headset that’s designed to produce 3D audio with any headphones so whatever you have at home should work just as well – pretty impressive stuff.
PSVR has already escaped into the wild, and if you haven’t already, you’re going to be able to try it for yourselves. We’re excited to see where PSVR takes us as Oculus and Vive are prohibitively expensive and PSVR doesn’t require any additional tech besides your trusty PS4 to run it, so it’s considerably cheaper when you factor in the price of the competition plus a high-end PC to operate it. Does that mean a bright future for PSVR? I can’t say, but from what I’ve experienced, I certainly hope it sticks around for a while.
Are you buying PSVR? Have you played it already? Let us know what you think of it in the comments section!