We had the chance to visit the pop up demo experience for the PlayStation VR yesterday - which is open from the 12th to the 16th of October at Dame Lane in Dublin.
Inside there are seven pods with an army of helpers giving people a taste of what to expect from the new virtual reality headsets.
A fellow called Oisin introduced me to the unit, which was set up with two TVs so that people could see exactly what I was experiencing through the headset. There were also wipes to make sure everything was shiny and fresh for each new punter.
The PS VR snaps open in a satisfying way to accommodate your noggin and adjustments are very simple. There are no crazy diopters here for each eye, instead focus is achieved by pulling in the front part of the unit to a place that’s comfortable.
Then you turn a small wheel at the back of the head to cinch the rear band in tighter. Ideally you’ll have a fit that isn’t too tight but the best part is that it’s simple to do on your own, even with your eyes covered.
You can use the regular PS4 controller for many aspects of PS VR, and it’s certainly the best option for navigating menus. You’ll often see an onscreen representation of the controller, which is picked up by the PlayStation Camera using the light emitted from the front of the controller.
To get the full experience though you’ll want to use a pair of Motion Controllers. These are the same devices with the large balls of light at the top which shipped as part of the original PS Move. The things that look like bizarre ice-cream cones.
Combined with the PlayStation Camera, these Motion Controllers are picked up with one-to-one accuracy inside the games. That means their every movement will be translated into your experience- for example holding a gun or manipulating an object.
I got to see just how that worked with the first game up- Batman Arkham VR. This puts you behind the cowl of the legendary crime fighter in a series of adventures. For the demo that included getting set up with your equipments (and batarang!) as well as actually putting on the Bat-mask.
The controllers were mapped to my hands in game, with a pull of either trigger letting them pick up objects in the world, including my fancy technology like a scanner and grapple gun. It felt great in first person, and you even got a mirror moment where your movements were mapped to the square jawed majesty of Batman himself.
Up next was Headmaster which is a game about heading footballs in increasingly bizarre and dangerous challenges. The simple action is perfect for VR, though you might look like a bit of an eejit to outsiders! The levels themselves were fun and the tone of the game by Frame Interactive is all particularly tongue in cheek.
I next ran through Until Dawn Rush of Blood which pretty much ignores the original (excellent) title to create an on-the-rails shooter. And that’s just what I want in a VR experience, though it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
It starts with screaming, eviscerated pigs and doesn’t really let up from there, with plenty of demonic things to shoot and a shout out or two from the main game. The gunplay is fast and vivid and there are even some objects along the way you have to move your head to avoid.
Ancient action title Battlezone has been entirely reinvented for the PS VR and it’s one of the better experiences I had. You surface in a world very much like Tron at the controls of a futuristic tank and things try to kill you.
What sets this apart is the sense of presence inside the tank, physically looking around to get a better view of the world and your enemies. The gameplay is fast paced too and genuinely challenging as you fight off different enemies using the regular PS4 controller. This demo was definitely over too soon.
Then I loaded up PlayStation VR Worlds which is a taster disk that comes packaged with some versions of the system. There are five demos on here and naturally I started with The London Heist.
This puts you in the middle of an escape wielding a gun to fend off some Russian mobsters. There’s plenty of cursing and all out action, as well as a whole bunch of neat things you can fiddle with while being driven around in a car. It’s a lot of fun, but again over too soon.
I actually really enjoyed the other short piece I got to try which was called Scavengers Odyssey. This was played with the regular controller and saw you as an alien in charge of some kind of mecha-craft as your ship gets torn apart. Movement and shooting was keyed to where your head was looking and being able to walk around freely set it apart from most of the other demos.
Emerging after so many different experiences definitely felt a bit strange- the Sony folks recommend ‘frequent breaks’ of as much as 15 minutes per hour. I’d say after 30-40 minutes my eyes needed to focus on the real world again. The headset itself is pretty comfortable, and surprisingly light, but taking it off still feels good after a long session.
If you’re playing a single game I’d imagine you’ll be able to last a good deal longer, and it will depend on how fast paced it is too. I suffer from motion sickness but only had one dodgy moment in-game, during a literal rollercoaster in Rush of Blood. Otherwise the refresh rate and field of view made for a pleasant viewing experience.
The PlayStation VR doesn’t quite have the graphical oomph of the HTC Vive, with some of the games looking noticeably lower res, but strong art design made them all look attractive, even sometimes stunning.
And I’d much rather have a game that runs smoothly than one that’s full of eye candy, these titles are all about diving into an experience and grounding you in the world, and each managed to do that in its own way.
Personally I thought the presentation of Batman VR was the best but Battlezone was tops for gameplay and I was intrigued by Scavenger. The gyrations required for Headmaster were a little less interesting but the tone was certainly fun.
As far as first impressions go, the PlayStation VR seems to live up to its promise of providing an entry point into virtual reality. At every step it feels like it has been carefully designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, potentially also including those who don’t generally play games.
Whether it can become a phenomenon on the level of the Nintendo Wii remains to be seen but the accessibility of the system is certainly its biggest asset and the crop of launch games seem impressive enough to make VR a possibility for millions of homes.
The PlayStation VR is out in Ireland on the 13th of October, 2016. You can try it for free at a pop up location on Dame Lane in Dublin from the 12th to the 16th of the month.
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