I'm back like a vertabrae! At least for a word or two on the Playstation VR. Having been a day one adopter I have been going across the net singing its praises and Beamboom and others who have been hanging around the remnants of this community have encouraged me to come forward and talk about it and so I shall with one caveat.
I'm taking time off my work as social media director with Gamer Gloves LLC to address you guys, my favorite erstwhile community so I'd like to just get a plug in here if you don't mind. I've been pushing my VR experiences over at our Facebook website and others http://www.facebook.com/gamergloves in a mutually beneficial relationship that has garnered support from gamers and the developers of VR games like "Loading Human" and "Here They Lie" from Sony Santa Monica. Our flagship gloves, the Version II are coming out this month and they are specially made for home and professional gamers to handle all manner of grip and temperature/sweat control issues for a great price. We sponsor some great Major League teams, help players bring their stats up and gain world class status and if you are interested please check us out at http://www.thegamergloves.com
Alright with that out of the way I will weigh in. I won't be giving a standard hardware review as those no longer count on this site and I am out of that business at least for now. What I will do is tell you about my experiences so far with the Playstation VR and hopefully help anyone on the fence decide whether or not to buy it for themselves for this Holiday season for less than the price of a phone.
The first thing I did when I got my unit was plug everything in and pop in the Playstation Worlds disc to decide what to play first. I chose Scavenger's Odyssey, a wicked romp through space in a crawling and jumping craft as a determined alien. At first I was quite struck by the stability of the experience. I looked everywhere for something wrong. Down at my alien body, up at the asteroids crashing around, forward at the bugs I was shooting, behind me at the empty space. Forward, back, leap and look, a smile crept across my face. This was really it, the real deal. I started to feel the way I did when I first played "Mario 64." As I lost myself in levels of 360 shooting and platforming the screen started skipping, twitching, going black, and loading. At first I thought this was some dreaded glitch or we had already run into the PS4's lack of capabilities to run these worlds but thankfully I was wrong. It was my cables. I switched to some better HDMI cables and things went perfect, but I highly recommend that if you can afford it you get yourself some top of the line HDMI cables. Even the included ones can cause a glitch if yours are forced to bend at the back of the PS4 unit. So that's a cable issue and not a PSVR issue but I would be remiss in not telling you.
Here They Lie
If you know me you know I love horror so I was thrilled that the release date for "Here They Lie" had been moved up to the release day for PSVR, but now there are no hard copies. I downloaded it and creeped in. Tangentlemen and Santa Monica really did a number here. These early games are having trouble with voice acting but not here, and the atmosphere is terrifying. A mix of bright colors and near-black and white tones set the mood as you take control of an unknown person in the first person, led into a nightmare by a beautiful woman and the possibility of reuniting. What follows is a psychological journey that messes with your mind on just about every level possible. When you investigate areas to find out what is making noises and find yourself looking around at stacks of old bicycles, piles of grimy newspapers, cryptic notes, and photo memories you start to think you might be alone, but you aren't. Going into small, close rooms is unnerving, seeing someone that is not you unexpectedly in a mirror is shocking, and being startled by the locals suddenly reaching out of windows into your very face may have you shouting despite yourself since your brain doesn't know the difference. There are choices to make along the way that will affect your ending and I can't wait to try some other things.
So, how does it look and play? That's where the intense awesomeness of this and other games should undergo some scrutiny and where I hope the issues are confined to either A: first generation titles, or B: titles that aren't made with the Playstation 4 Pro in mind (That is what the Playstation Neo is being called).
So far I've played 5 games and the underwater wildlife tour (I'll talk about some others in a minute) and they share a few things in common while having some differences. It seems with the majority you can comfortably sit on your butt with the camera pointed in your general direction and you'll do just fine. When using the Dualshock 4 the game will instruct you how to center the game world in front of you should it be out of whack at any time: that's usually just holding the options button. Each game will tell you whether or not it plays best with the DS4 or the Motion Controls. Don't be fooled, you'll want to try both to check your play style. For instance I just played "Batman Arkham VR". You can play it sitting down and with any controller, however if you want a realistic play style then you want those Move controllers because you'll be pulling gadgets from your belt with both hands, throwing batarangs, shooting the grappler, and turning around more often. If you select the sit option then playing with the controller is probably the better option to maintain maximum laziness. So far Batman has been the only game to ask me to stand up. When I started the Sci Fi epic "Loading Human," it said that playing with the Move controllers was the best experience but while I can see how it would help in certain parts of the game, it is needlessly difficult using them to get around and crouch.
Batman Arkham VR
When it comes to graphics you have a mix of great and mediocre. You simply can't expect to have the equivalent of 1080p in the first home VR system. When you look out at Gotham City it can be breathtaking, when you look across the bleak city in Here They Lie it is truly an achievement. However, when you get up close to surfaces to examine walls you can see that corners have been cut for processing. Things look better, and sometimes fuzzier, at a distance. 3D models of people are fuzzier than other objects, including the 3D versions of real people when you are inside 360 degree videos such as Vrideo provides where you can stand in one of them with a bunch of cute Japanese pop singers all around you while they shoot a video. One way to think the visual presentation is how we once had SD graphics before we had HD graphics. The screen shots give a pretty good idea of what you'll see (I took the above ones myself with a Cell phone). Lastly, when things are very dark you can see the dot matrix of pinpoint lights that are used to construct the virtual world. I typically don't notice it but thought I'd put it out there.
Movement inside the games seems to be something developers are struggling with. In "Until Dawn: Rush of Blood," this is taken out of your hands. And it's refreshing. This game is $20 and you get an at home twin gun multiple level scare ride that surpasses the kind of thing I would expect you to have to go down to a Super mall or theme park and pay $30 to sit in a fake cart with fakey guns to shoot at a ¾ coverage screen. In the game you can take up your incredibly accurate Move sticks which very quickly begin to feel like real guns as they appear in your virtual hands and rumble as you shoot with the trigger and reload with top button/hammer while the game takes your coaster through terrifying houses filled with benign targets, extra weapons, insane clowns, bats, the Until Dawn killer, rushing saw blades and more, you'll need to dodge and duck or shoot things out of the way to survive. “Rush of Blood” is not just a name.
So in that game you move your head to look, duck, and dodge. "In Here they Lie" and "Loading Human" and Batman we have movement issues that I'm really hoping can be addressed and deleted either with better programming in the coming years or with the power of the Playstation 4 Pro. "Eagle Flight" isn't out yet so I can't imagine it's a problem there since you fly and I'm looking forward to seeing if and how this problem is dealt with in "RIGS", or if it exists as it doesn't in Scavenger . The problem I'm speaking of has to do with what I call a soft-turn and a hard-turn . Now, in "Here They Lie" when you look in a direction and then start walking in that direction everything is just fine, look right and walk right and it will center and that is a soft-turn . It's actually a great way to get around most of the game. But in close quarters you want to look around at your surroundings or look in a box to open it up to look for notes, or face a window or door that you want to lean forward and stick your head out of to make sure the coast is clear. So, at first I was very annoyed by these options presented to us due to the following.
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood
In the hard-turn , you hit left or right on your stick and you expect your character to turn as they do in any first person game right? Wrong. We got a problem. For whatever reason we aren't at that stage yet at least in some games. Instead the game goes gray for a split second and then shows you what is directly to the left or right of you. Pressing down on the stick turns you around in a flash, which is handy, but at first that split second takes you out of the gamet. To be fair, "Here They Lie" presents you with an option to turn this off, but when you then go to turn, the screen has to compensate and so the world turns into a sniper's scope while turning. I decided to stick with the hard-turn and the quick gray screen because it ultimately slipped right into the feel of the game and out of my notice while the narrative, the scares, the lighting effects, and the compelling 4 dimensional world (time can matter when awful things are happening in front of you), overwhelmed that relatively minor drawback. So far in Batman, while it is an incredible game with sweet visuals and fun gadgets and good detective work I'm only moving around by flitting from one position to another by button press. So, while there are many games out there I haven't played yet including the VR portion of the new Tomb Raider (love this game), I really hope in the future the hard-turn is something that can be overcome.
So let's talk about other features and illness. You can play your other games in the VR and watch shows and movies in the VR and it will simulate a great seat in a huge movie theatre. It is damn cool. However, as with the games I would advise against playing for more than 2 hours. Doing so has caused me a slight headache. While I have heard that some people get motion sickness in this thing I haven't had a single instance of it it after all this time. However you should know that my history is clear of any motion sickness in a car or on a plane.
The extra cords and little black box are annoying, but at least the main cord is kept off to the side of your head by the visor (which is very light). I suggest you use your own ear buds instead of the shorties that come with it and those hard-turns can be bothersome but the drawbacks typically pale in comparison to these virtual experiences. Using the Playstation camera is typically an easy, loosey goosey experience. If it ever needs adjusting I've been able to do it by reaching out without even taking off my headset. If you sit across the room one position will do ya unless you move to a standing game. Without a history of motion sickness and with a healthy view of what an at-home VR system can provide I stamp this thing enthusiastically with my approval. I love it and you need to try it. It's not a gimmick, it's incredible stuff. It's not the next level of gaming that will end console gaming but it is a different level of gaming that provides an all new way to experience interactive entertainment in the comfort of your own home. These experiences can't be reviewed in the old fashioned way so I wouldn't put too much stock in reviews for the next 2 years. Enjoyment is always a balance between what it means to be there and the quality of the experience as well as the controls you choose. Study up, find people who have played the game, and then go with your gut if it's an expensive one. "Rush of Blood" and "Here They Lie" are so good and so cheap you can't go wrong.
After spending time in this machine I began to look at things differently. I could see 3 dimensions in 2D images. I also realized that my brain was remembering the things that happened to me inside the virtual world the same way it remembers things that happen to me in reality. I began to dream differently. For a short time I wondered if this was dangerous, but after returning to these worlds again and again to experience a very different kind of gaming than we are all accustomed to I am convinced that it has expanded my understanding and definition of reality while giving me access to endless worlds where I am no longer on the outside but a powerful and vulnerable part of the story. I feel like I've been to space, inside a horror story, under pursuit, beneath the ocean and I want more!
For now, I wait patiently for Star Wars where I could maybe pilot a Starfighter and have my Light Saber and feel the Force flow through me.