PSX Impressions pt. 3: PlayStation VR

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While at PSX we made sure to spend as much time playing upcoming and newly released games as possible.  In this three part series I will recap what we saw in each demo and give my impressions of each.  Most of the demos were short, but gave us enough time to form some early opinions on these upcoming releases.  In part three I’ll be recapping my experience with the two PSVR games I was able to see on the show floor.

Eve Valkyrie

EVE: Online developer CCP brought their newest EVE spinoff project, EVE: Valkyrie, to PSX as a playable demo this year.  Valkyrie is a flight simulator that focuses on dog-fighting between small fighters, rather than the large capital ship battles of the main game.  Both EVE proper and Dust 514 (a shooter spinoff) focus on multiplayer at different scales and Valkyrie is no different.  While waiting in line we had ample opportunity to observe other players and get a sense of the moment to moment action and general match flow.  This demo featured two teams of four players each playing in a short death-match that played out as you would expect.  Points are awarded for kills or assists and the game ends when a target score is reached or the match timer expires.  There were three available ships to choose from and any time your ship was destroyed the opportunity to change ships was presented before rejoining the fray.

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When my turn came for the demo the station handler helped me strap into the headset and I was immediately struck by how comfortable and light the headset was.  While I was in the headset for a very short period, I never felt any fatigue or discomfort during the demo.  With the unit properly mounted and calibrated it was time to begin and the first thing that struck me was a slight dip in the game’s graphical fidelity.  Every station was broadcasting the player’s view on a monitor above their station and while we waited I took note of how the game looked.  On the monitors it was astonishingly beautiful, but in the headset it simply looked good.  There was a noticeable dip in sharpness of edges and things just didn’t look quite as crisp.  With that said, it was never a struggle to make out what I was looking at or find and track enemies.

The drop in visual quality did not bother me long as I was enveloped in gameplay.  The spacecraft handled magnificently and the controls translate to controller without a hitch.  I flew the default starter ship which was equipped with a standard machine gun and a missile launcher with a lock on targeting system.  I died a few times and attempted to try out the different ships, but wasn’t able to confirm a new selection and decided to stick with my original craft.  To select a new ship you must look down at a row of three hologram projections while on the death screen and select the one you would like to launch with.  The gameplay was fast and fun but the fun was somewhat damped by the long flight from launch bay to combat zone.  While I approached the demo with some skepticism I left very impressed by both the technology on display and the quality of the game.

The feeling of being completely immersed in Valkyrie was exhilarating.  I was worried about motion-sickness or disorientation but experienced neither while inside the headset.  Flight sims are the perfect genre to show off VR because looking around the cockpit and your surrounding is often essential, especially for tracking targets in dog-fights.  I felt that the VR actually enhanced my combat abilities and helped me pick up kills that I might not have gotten without it.  The only time the immersion was broken was when I looked down at my avatar body and felt as if my head was too far away from the rest of me.  Otherwise I felt very immersed in the action and I was able to perform well in the match despite my concerns.

Valkyrie is one of the best examples of what VR can bring to the table for video games.  VR not only creates the sensation of sitting in a cockpit and flying a spacecraft, but also enables players to be more successful when they are using it.  After my demo I now feel that VR truly has something to offer and, if utilized well, could bring us some breath-taking experiences in the future.  That being said VR is going to be costly and one game isn’t enough to fully convince me it will be a worthwhile purchase.

Battle Zone

The following day I made an appointment to play a random VR demo at Sony’s official booth.  When my turn came I was ushered into the upstairs booths and was sent to a station running a game called Battle Zone.  Off the bat this experience was far worse than EVE as the tech did not mount the headset correctly and the goggles did not align properly.  There was a gap between the bottom of the goggles and my face which let in a good amount of light but, more importantly, the screens were not lined up either.  This proved to be far more problematic than the light bleed as it created blurry spots in the image because my eyes could never sync them up properly.

Battle Zone puts players in control of a tank in an arcade-like battle arena that looks like it took it’s styling cues from Tron.  The game was very straight-forward, kill all the enemies thrown at you to complete the demo.  My time with Battle Zone lasted all of 5 minutes and felt like the exact opposite of Valkyrie.  While that experience is something I would willingly go back and play more, Battle Zone is something that feels designed as a technology show piece.  It was fine for the short time I spent with it, but I have no desire to play it again much less spend money on it.  Headset seating issues aside, the technological aspects of the experience were once again very positive and I’m impressed with the headset that Sony is prepping for market.  Sony has curated demos that show off the quality of their headset and have crafted a comfortable and pleasant piece of equipment.

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PlayStation VR still has no confirmed release date or price point and I was extremely surprised that nothing was said about either at the PSX keynote on Saturday.  The longer companies wait to announce pricing, the worse it is for consumers who might need to start saving up (this equipment won’t come cheap).  I am of the opinion that the unwillingness to announce a price stems from a desire to find a way to decrease the cost to consumers or the fear of being undercut by competitors.  VR is still a work in progress, as we saw at the PSX keynote, and the cheapest headset will probably be the early front-runner as it will be most likely to pull in customers beyond hardcore enthusiasts.  Price will be a huge determining factor for myself and many others, but I believe virtual reality has a big future.  Technology has progressed to a point at which virtual reality feels full of opportunity for unique, impactfull, and enjoyable experiences.  The tech on hand at PSX was incredibly impressive and if you have the chance to experience it for yourself I can’t recommend it enough.  If developers are able to take advantage of the opportunity to create new and exciting experiences l believe VR will drastically alter the gaming landscape.  All I’ve heard is that seeing is believing when it comes to virtual reality and now that I’ve finally experienced it for myself I have to agree.  Like it or not, VR is coming and I think this time it’s here to stay.

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