Sony’s PlayStation VR Virtual Reality headset hits store shelves next week, giving PS4 owners the opportunity to experience high-end virtual reality in the comfort of their own homes. I spent a few hours with PSVR in a proper residential setting (read: my friend Jon’s apartment) and thought I’d share my first impressions.
Here are six quick thoughts about Sony’s impending PSVR:
1. You Can Spend Hours in PSVR
Let’s start with the basics. PSVR is an excellent Virtual Reality platform that allows you to immerse yourself in digital worlds for hours at a time. In that regard, it’s a worthy competitor to the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. The PSVR headset is comfortable and easy to adjust, and while it does get a little snug with glasses, the overall effect is relatively unobtrusive. You’ll lose track of time if you get invested in a game. Right now, that’s the best that can reasonably be expected.
2. You Won’t, Because the Games Aren’t There Yet
The amount of time you spend playing a game depends on the quality of that game, and on that front PSVR is lacking. The best of the bunch is Job Simulator, a subversive, hilarious game about performing menial tasks for robots. The rest of the offerings are glorified tech demos. Some (like Batman: Arkham VR) have a bit more polish, but we’re still in the proof-of-concept phase for the platform at large.
Having said that, there’s more than enough to justify the hype and I highly recommend checking out a few of the games if you get the chance (the Shark Encounter in Ocean Descent is both awe-inspiring and terrifying). As with any console launch, the PSVR library is thin at the moment, but it will get better once developers begin to catch up with more substantial content. I suspect that will happen sooner rather than later, but until then, your PSVR probably won’t be getting a whole lot of use for those first few months.
3. VR on a (Relative) Budget
PSVR is the most affordable high-end Virtual Reality experience. That doesn’t translate to huge savings – the basic kit runs for $400 in the US or $550 in Canada – but it’s a solid deal when you measure the cost of a PS4 (about $300) against the cost of the gaming PC needed to power the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive. Combined with the ease of setup (more on that in a moment), PSVR is a much more appealing starter option for those curious about VR.
However, the math is a bit trickier here in Canada, where the full PSVR package, which includes two Move controllers and the PlayStation Camera, will set you back $700. That’s better than the competition (the HTC Vive sells for around $1150CAD), but it’s still a massive price tag for a luxury entertainment item. PSVR might be cheaper, but Virtual Reality isn’t cheap. Phone-based headsets like the Samsung Gear are still the way to go if you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to dabble in Virtual Reality.
4. PSVR is for Everyone
PSVR ships with a lot of wires and setting up the PlayStation camera does takes a bit of know how. Fortunately, everything you need comes packaged with the headset and it’s all compatible with your PS4. You don’t need to know anything about computer specs. You don’t need to worry about extra cords or adaptors. Everything works out of the box, and that makes PSVR far less intimidating (and far more accessible) than the competition.
5. It’s Time to Rethink Triple-A
Sony generated plenty of buzz at E3 when it announced that games like Final Fantasy XV and Resident Evil 7 would be compatible with PSVR, but the more time I spend with VR, the more evident it becomes that traditional triple-A games will not make for good VR experiences.
The problem is that the control scheme most gamers are familiar with – move with the left stick, adjust the camera with the right – is not well suited to Virtual Reality, as I learned while playing Scavengers Odyssey, one of the five games included with the PSVR Worlds demo disc. Scavengers Odyssey is a straightforward action game about exploring an asteroid in space and shooting the alien lifeforms you find there. You play the game with the PS4 controller, moving just as you would in any first person shooter, but the VR perspective is jarring. Your brain thinks you’re moving while your feet are planted firmly on the ground, and the disconnect is a recipe for disaster. I don’t usually have issues with motion sickness, but I had to log out when I started getting nauseous after 30 minutes.
That doesn’t mean that PSVR is bad. It’s a software issue rather than a hardware issue and developers have already come up with new mechanics that make genres like RPGs more palatable in VR. However, you should recalibrate your expectations. The best VR games will be tailored to VR, and they won’t look or feel exactly like the games you’re used to playing now.
6. The More the Merrier
It sounds counterintuitive – after all, there’s only one headset – but Virtual Reality is more enjoyable with more people in the room. Some of that is practical. You can’t see anything once the visor is on, so it helps to have someone else around to hand you controllers and make sure that you don’t bump into anything expensive.
However, there is a performative element that becomes more pronounced in a private setting, primarily because people will be more comfortable (and less self-conscious) at home with friends than they are on a convention floor. Interesting things start to happen when you remove those inhibitions. Your friends will enjoy watching you flail about the room. You’ll enjoy trying to describe exactly what it is you’re seeing, in much the same way that you’d enjoy telling a story about something cool that happened in real life.
A multiplayer game like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes takes advantage of that asymmetry, but the back and forth adds an unexpected social dimension to many single player games. Sometimes you’ll want to make a joke or an observation about something that just happened. Sometimes you just want to hear another voice when you’re about to be eaten by a shark. VR creates a powerful need to share, and that impulse should not be underestimated.