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Our PlayStation VR first impressions

ps-vr-logoI was one of the eager gamers lucky enough to secure a launch PlayStation VR unit. I opted for the PSVR launch bundle, which came packaged with the display, two Move controllers, a PS4 camera, a demo disc with a bunch of games to try, and VR Worlds (includes five separate VR experiences) for $500. Costing more than the PS4 itself, I can see how many would take a wait and see approach. After hearing about virtual reality for the past few years I was excited to finally dive in and see for myself if this could truly be the future of gaming.

PlayStation VR Hardware Impressions

Having never tried the Oculus Rift or the Vive, I won’t be able to offer up any comparisons to PlayStation VR. It was easy to hook everything up to the PS4, and after only a few minutes I was ready to finally give it a whirl. The first thing I noticed was that the headset seemed very light and well made. Putting it on was easy, but it does take some small adjustments to not have a blurry display. Slightly moving the headset around will often clear up most of the out of focus things on the screen, however no matter how hard I tried I always had a small amount of blur on the very edges of the screen. I think this is normal, and it’s truly only noticeable if you’re trying to read text that falls into that area. Once I was playing games this usually wasn’t an issue.

I understand the PlayStation VR has some pretty good technology inside of it, but I must admit that I came away a little disappointed with its resolution. With the display so close to the eyes, it’s very easy to make out scan lines and pixels. Just viewing the PS4 menu it becomes apparent at how much worse it looks in VR than on the television. Some games manage to have some fantastic graphics, like Batman VR and the VR Playroom. Then there are some that don’t fair as well, especially VR Worlds when playing the VR Luge. There were times where this game really looked rough and almost seemed like I was playing a PS2 game. In some ways this should be expected, especially since this is new technology in a consumer device. While visual clarity definitely takes a hit, the VR helmet adds in stereoscopic 3D and total immersion, which gives the games a sense of scale never before seen in videogames. It’s difficult to state how amazing it feels to be in these environments and to be able to simply move my head to look around in real-time. This is where the VR shines and is what must be capitalized on for it to become a mainstream success.

One only has to look at the history of the console market to know that for a device to be successful it must have great software. Thankfully it looks like PlayStation VR has enough variety at launch to justify a purchase, and more intriguing games in the pipeline to satisfy early adopters’ needs. Upon hooking PlayStation VR up, the PS4 automatically downloaded The Playroom VR, which includes six mini-games that are really enjoyable. One of the smartest things Sony did was include a demo disc with 18 games on it. This is a fantastic way to let players get a taste of a wide swath of different games. In addition to the demo disc, I purchased Batman VR and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. I also received Rez Infinite and Battlezone for review. Needless to say, I have had plenty to play over the past few days and it’s been really fun to try out all of these different titles. I’ll give some brief impressions on the games I’ve played so far. Full reviews of many of the games should appear on Gaming Age over the next week.

PlayStation VR Game Impressions

Batman VR

This is my most recent VR game that I played before writing this article. I had wanted to wait to play through the game as I heard it was fairly short and I wanted to go through it in one play session. This is by far and away the most impressive game I’ve experienced on PlayStation VR. You are Batman and the game does an amazing job of making you feel like the superhero. Looking down you can see his utility belt and if you raise your hands up he’s wearing his black gloves. This game is best played while standing up and using two Move controllers. Each hand is independently controlled with the Move’s motion controllers and it works flawlessly. It feels and looks so real! I’ve never played anything like this before and was continuously in awe of the interactive nature of the game. You can pick up objects and manipulate them in any manner you want with the Move controllers. You can even take an object in one hand and transfer it to the other. Everything felt as it should and I had no problems whatsoever in grabbing levers, pushing buttons, examining objects, and solving puzzles. I especially loved that I had to reach down and grab items from my utility belt to use them. It became second nature almost immediately. I knew exactly how to grab a Batarang and throw it at a target in mere seconds. There was no learning curve and everything just made perfect sense.

Batman-VR_KeyArt

The graphics are astoundingly detailed and look like they’re ripped right out of the Arkham universe. What’s unique about this game is the sense of scale. Inside the VR helmet everything looks so massive around you. The Batcave stretches out forever and everything just feels larger than life. Throughout the game you’ll come across characters and environments that are so fantastically rendered that I would simply stare at them for extended periods of time. What’s so interesting here is that you can literally move right up to the characters and move your head around them. Everything is fully realized in 3D, so it feels like you’re literally standing right next to the characters or objects and interacting with them. Even the small special effects on Batman’s gadgets look cool and the game just does an amazing job making you feel like a badass. Granted, there’s not really any combat sequences and the game is designed more like a point and click adventure, but I was completely enthralled from beginning to end. Sure, it’s a little on the short side (probably under two hours for most people), but the experience is like no other. It is the killer app for the PlayStation VR and it is the one to show to your hardcore gaming friends.

Imagine games like Trauma Center using this type of VR engine and how fun they could be. Or take traditional adventure games like Monkey Island or King’s Quest and throw them into the VR world like this one, where each object can be picked up and examined in detail and in real-time. I’m excited at the prospect of more games aping what Batman VR has been able to accomplish. This one game will sell most gamers on the tech.

 

Battlezone

Battlezone is one of those games that does a fantastic job of making you feel like you’re in a real vehicle – in this case a tank. Turning your head and looking around will reveal a bunch of instruments on a control panel. Things like your radar, your weapons, ammo reserves, and more are relegated to the bottom portion of your vehicle, making them easy to glance at while driving the tank. Looking up you can actually see which guns are deployed and even watch them change as you select different weaponry. Of course head tracking comes into play while battling as well, making it easier to spot enemies and look around you.

battlezone

I’ve played a few levels so far and I really like what I’m seeing. The graphics have a sort of Tron look to them, which are kind of minimalistic, but it works well. It reminds me a bit of Cybermorph on the Atari Jaguar or some early arcade games, but with a much better aesthetic and solid gameplay. I’m not sure how much meat is here, and I realize it’s one of the most expensive games on the system, clocking in at a full 60 bucks. I look forward to putting more time into it for a full review.

 

PlayStation VR Worlds

I’ve only played two of the five games on the collection so far. The first, Ocean Descent, is more of an experience instead of a game. You’re placed in a shark cage and you slowly descend into the depths of the ocean. The graphics are fairly good here and looking at the various sea life is relaxing and fun. You can actually peer over the cage to look below as well as all around you. Of course, the adrenaline kicks in once a shark decides to eat you for dinner. This is a perfect one to show off to your non-gamer friends, as they don’t even need to touch the controller to play.

psvr-worlds-dangerball

I mentioned it earlier, but I also played VR Luge. Here you simply lean your body left and right to control a dude riding down a road on his back. It reminded me of the early PS2 days with simplistic graphics and gameplay. I can’t say I had a great time here, and honestly I didn’t feel like the game really used the VR for any benefit. It might be fun for some, but for me it was a simplistic experience that didn’t look very pretty and wasn’t that fun to play.

 

Resident Evil 7 biohazard – Kitchen Teaser

OK, so this isn’t much of a game either as you pretty much just sit in a chair tied up. But, man, this horror experience is so captivating and scary that it’s fun to sit through multiple times, assuming you can handle it. It’s fairly short and only lasts a few minutes, but you get to see what it feels like to be placed in an environment that I hope you’d never have to be part of in real life. I won’t spoil specifics, but this was the most intense and scary thing I have seen so far, and I’m excited for the full game to release in January.

 

Rez Infinite

I had never played Rez before, so I was excited to give it a shot in VR. I listen to the guys at 8-4 and they’ve obviously put a lot of work into this one and often talk about it on their podcast. I sort of knew what the game was about – a rhythm shooter with psychedelic graphics. After playing a few levels I began to find my groove and was really enjoying myself. The game has a lock-on shooting function, similar to Panzer Dragoon, and so far it’s really addictive. I look forward to putting more time in and reviewing it soon. I like what I see so far, and I think everyone should try out the demo, as it deserves some love!

rez-infinite-13_23517908496

 

Thumper

As much as I enjoyed Rez, if I’m being totally honest, I think I might like Thumper even more. This game has you control a steel beetle down a tubular track set to music. Pressing buttons at just the right time and maneuvering around corners is essential to success. The graphics here are simply too weird to describe. There are strange colors, weird huge bosses with tentacles, and, well you just need to see it for yourself. The game is intense and moves faster and faster. I don’t think I’ve felt so consumed by a game since Tempest on the Atari Jaguar. For sure try out the demo!

thumper

 

Tumble VR

I have Tumble on the PS3 and it worked great with the Move controllers and in 3D. It was a fun block stacking game. The VR version kept giving me issues. Granted I only used the Dual Shock – I’m assuming the Move is supported as well but I didn’t have them charged yet. For whatever reason the game kept stuttering on me and I had a difficult time controlling the blocks. I am going to go back and play more of it to see if I just had a bad viewing angle or something. I’m hoping the game itself is fun, but as of now I wasn’t too impressed.

tumble-vr

 

Until Dawn: Rush of Blood

This is one part rollercoaster ride and another part skeet shooting gallery. Actually, if you’ve ever been to Disneyland or Disneyworld and rode the Toy Story rides you’ll have a general idea of how this plays – except replace the cute and cuddly with scary and gory. You ride around in an amusement park car and have two guns, one in each hand. You score points by shooting various targets, many of which are hidden around the environment and will require you to really move your head around to find them. There are some legit jump scares in this game, which is all the more terrifying because of the VR helmet. I only played the first level of the game, but I was digging it and thought it was a good time. It’s not as intense or scary as Resident Evil, but it has enough of the horror element to it that it should please fans of the series.

rush-of-blood

 

The Playroom VR

There are six activities in this free download. I didn’t expect much from this game, but I must admit there are some fun things to do here. I was especially impressed with the Robots Rescue game. It’s a 3D platforming game where you control a small robot that is searching for his lost comrades. The viewpoint is from behind and above, and you are actually inside a bigger robot, sort of like if you were inside Lakitu in Super Mario 64. There are coins scattered about the world and you can collect them by jumping around and gathering them. The little robots that are hidden will make sounds when you get close so you know to look for them.

the_playroom_vr

The graphics in this game are exceptional – super high res and colorful. The game makes fun use of the Dual Shock 4 as it shows up inside your VR helmet and accurately shows the buttons and sticks being pressed. It’s also used as an item in the game – you can shoot out a grappling hook that has a rope attached to it and then your little robot dude can jump on it to get across big gaps. As you rescue the other little robots, you’ll kick them and they’ll go flying into the Dual Shock’s touchpad. The game is a blast to play, and I love how it pays special attention to little details, like how when you move through a cave and it’s a bit too tight, your VR helmet hits the top causes rocks to fall down. Also, be sure to look everywhere. You can even move right to an edge of the floating landmass and look over and down to see what waits below. As with all of the other great VR games, the sense of scale here is simply astonishing and I could easily see myself playing a full-fledged game based on this one small experience.

 

Conclusion

It’s still early days for the PlayStation VR, but I came away impressed with what I’ve played. I’m a little worried that it will be a long time before we get game experiences that last longer than a couple of hours, but so far I’m excited by the prospects of the technology. Even though the graphic fidelity might not quite be to the point where I’d like it to be, there are still some fantastic looking games on the platform – especially Batman VR and The Playroom VR. So far I haven’t had any motion sickness, which is something I was somewhat concerned about since I often lose my stomach when I fall great distances in games on a regular TV. That’s not to say there won’t be a game or two that test my limits.

I’ve had a few instances of the games losing my position and refusing to re-center themselves. I wonder if that’s due to shoddy programming on the software versus a hardware issue because I played through all of Batman and never once had an issue over the two hours I played it, whereas games like VR Worlds seemed to give me problems over and over again. Despite some growing pains, I think the future is bright with VR and I’m excited to see what’s on the horizon.

PlayStation VR Launch Bundle


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