Although the Oculus Rift launched back in March and the HTC Vive in April, the VR renaissance has been waiting for Sony’s foray into virtual reality to launch. With an impressive amount of launch titles, and a affordable price, the PlayStation VR is the best shot at getting VR to the mainstream. After playing around with the headset for the past week, here are my thoughts on the so called future of gaming.
Setting up the PlayStation VR headset is pretty simple. Every wire has a number on it, so you know which one to plug in first and there’s a handy instruction manual with big pictures in it. One thing I didn’t realize beforehand is that the breakout box of the headset is required to be plugged into a outlet. I just assumed it will get it’s power through the PS4 like the PS Camera does. So if you don’t have room to plug in one more thing to your outlet or extension cord, get ready to buy a new one.
The other inconvenience is that the breakout box takes up one of the USB slots on the front of your PS4. This makes charging both Move controllers while playing impossible, but that’s probably not a safe thing to do anyway. You can also unplug the USB when not using your PSVR Headsest for maximum charging capabilities.
The quick 5-10 minute setup of the PSVR is big plus over it’s PC competitors.
The actual Playstation VR headset looks really good. The design is elegant and smooth unlike it’s PC brother’s ugly rectangular design. It’s not a big deal, but when you’re going to be paying so much money for something, it looking great is always a bonus. The headset is also a lot lighter than I expected and the way it sits on your head, you barely feel the weight of it.
To get the perfect fit on your head you have go through a couple steps, but the on screen instructions walk you through it pretty well. One problem I noticed after setting up is that there’s a big space on the bottom that lets light in.
Since PSVR tracking works best in a dark room, closing the blinds and turning the lights off should definitely help. But even if you’re in a dark room, the bright lights of the Move and DS4 coming in from the bottom will break immersion. One way to fix it is to tighten up the headband and then slide it higher up on your head. This will remove most if not all of the space on the bottom, but there’s a negative to doing this. Once you close up the opening on the bottom, it will get a lot hotter in the headset because you just cut off the only hole allowing airflow inside.
Best thing to do is to try it a couple different ways and find a happy medium.
As soon as you put on the headset and see the PS4 home screen on a massive TV in front of your face, you will say wow. It’s an impressive achievement and it feels very real, like you just entered your own personal theater. But the immersion doesn’t last long. You will soon start to notice how low quality the screen is. Playstation VR delivers a resolution of 960×1080 to each eye, which is far lower than the Vive and the Oculus and it really shows. Non-VR games in cinematic mode look absolutely terrible. The image quality is a lot less sharp and very jagged. This is especially noticeable with text. After playing a match of Overwatch in cinematic mode and then going back to my TV, the difference was jarring.
Before getting the PlayStation VR, cinematic mode was one of the big selling points for me. Playing my normal PlayStation games on a 163-inch screen, while someone else can use my normal TV for something else sounded awesome. But after actually trying it out, I don’t really see myself using it very often.
On the other hand, cinematic mode works far better for video content. Playing movies and TV shows from Amazon Prime in cinematic mode looked just as good as it did on my TV, and the massive screen definitely added to the experience. Mix that up with a good pair of headphones or a solid surround sound system, and you could be fooled into to thinking you’re in your own private theater. I prefer it so much to watching movies on my 48″ TV that I’m pretty sure i have now spent more time watching some of my favorite movies in the headset than actually playing games.
The tracking achieved by the PlayStation Camera and the Move controllers is extremely impressive. I was surprised how well games registered twisting my hand and other small motions. I never experienced any drifting or other problems that some others are experiencing. My game room can get pretty dark and there are no light sources that could disturb the tracking. I also tried placing the PS Camera both on the bottom of my TV and the top, both setups worked equally well.
The biggest issues with tracking i have seems to be mistakes being made by developers. One of the problems with tracking is when you go out of the play area. Most games handle this well by having you stand a specific distance away from the camera, where tracking would be best for the environment you’re about to be put into (such as Job Simulator). But some games just throw you into the game without any calibration (such as Ace Banana). Even worse, Ace Banana doesn’t even notify players when they leave the play area. I frequently found one of my hands in the game flying away from my body and into the sky, only to later realize it wasn’t a glitch but the move controller was out of the play area.
Ace Banana is even more frustrating because it requires you to be at a pretty far away distance from the camera, but it never tells you this. To land good shots, you have to pull back your move controller far back, like stretching the string of a bow. This can lead to one of the move controllers leaving the play area, obviously without the game telling you this. At this point the game starts predicting where the controller is since it can’t see it, which leads to terrible results.
To fix it you simply move a couple feet back and start playing again, only to reach the first boss fight which has you shooting above and below you. Now you need to stop the game again and move even further back to adjust the camera so your move controller doesn’t go above or below the play area.
It’s surprising Sony isn’t mandating all games to have some sort of “out of play area” warning and developer’s own game specific calibration, considering the safety issues that it poses.
VR sickness is a real thing and as someone who has experienced it, it really sucks. There are important precautions to take to avoid feeling sick. First of all, try to start with games without a lot of motion. Having DriveClub, Eve: Valkyrie or Battlezone be your first VR game is a bad idea, and more than likely to get you sick. I started out by playing sitting experiences without a lot of moving and slowly worked my way up. I got through the demo of Battlezone and a race of DriveClub without any problems. But no matter how careful you are, in the end it’s up to the developers to fine-tune their controls and set up to make sure their game doesn’t make you sick. The game that finally got me was World War Toons.
It has you aiming with your head and moving around with the analogue stick, not being able to turn correctly and awkward strafing movements instantly made me sick before I could even finish my first match.
Unlike Oculus, Sony doesn’t have comfort ratings for games, so it’s up to the user to look up information about them and figuring out which ones to avoid. In my case, I would definitely recommend avoiding the VR mode of World War Toons.
The Gaming Experience
Compared to playing normal PS4 games in cinematic mode, PSVR designed games look a whole lot better. Cartoony and colorful games in particular look pretty great compared to games going for a more realistic look like Here They Lie. I heard a lot about how little graphics matter for immersion, and it’s completely true. Being in the roller coaster from Until Dawn felt just as immersive as Job Simulator.
The immersion factor is even better for games in which you can see “your own” body. These are mostly the seated experiences because it’s easier to simulate the movement. Kitchen in particular did this very well and added to the already terrifying experience. Seeing the “witch” in the demo stab your leg made me flinch my own legs in real life.
Another benefit of PSVR is that it can support some great party games. The second screen feature leads to some really cool gaming ideas, most of which you can check out in the free Playroom VR. I do wish the developers take those ideas and make more complete games out of them, since the ones in Playroom VR are very easy and short.
My time with PSVR has been filled with both disappointment and astonishment and looking at it overall I would say the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Sure cinematic mode wasn’t as good as I was expecting, but that’s just a additional feature. What the Playstation VR is built for is playing VR games and it does that really well.
Most games so far have been short experiences, mainly to prove what is possible on the system. But more meaty experiences like Resident Evil 7 are just around the corner. With these launch games proving that VR is a satisfyingly unique and entertaining platform, I’m sure more developers and publishers will be jumping in soon enough.
I can’t say if VR is the future of gaming, as at the end of the day all I wanted to play is more traditional games like Overwatch and Battlefield, but it’s a unique enough experience that as soon as RE7 and more games come out will put me back into the headset.