PlayStation VR is off to a strong start, but Sony still has a ways to go to make their virtual reality solution the best it can be
One week ago today, Sony made history by releasing the PlayStation VR, making the PlayStation 4 the first console to successfully bring virtual reality into the living room. After seven days of blasting baddies, exploring top-secret labs, and embarking on journeys into the murky deep, I’m happy to say that Sony’s HMD is one hell of an amazing piece of kit. It’s sleek, comfortable, and does a great job of immersing players into a wealth of virtual worlds – all for significantly less money than the competition. However, while I’m mostly floored by the potential of the PlayStation 4’s new headset, there are still a few things Sony needs to address before it becomes a must-have addition to your collection.
Without further ado, here’s what we love, and loathe, about the PlayStation VR:
Eureka! It works!
Sure, it may sound like I’m stating the obvious here, but it’s hard not to stress enough just how exciting the advent of console-based virtual reality is. As a gamer born in the early 80’s, I’ve been waiting for this moment since I first saw The Lawnmower Man 24 long years ago. However, instead of director Brett Leonard’s vision of a monolithic mess of computers, torture device-like apparatuses, and weird spandex suits lined with glowing traces, anyone with a PlayStation 4 is able to experience the magic of vietual reality. What a time to be alive!
The PlayStation VR doesn’t just in a rudimentary sense, either – it shines! The ease of setup and use really can’t be rivaled by the other VR alternatives out there, and it’s intuitive enough that you can comfortably pass the headset around to non-gamers who come to visit and watch them instantly become overwhelmed by the lifelike experience it provides. Simply put, it’s awesome.
The launch lineup makes great use of the hardware’s strengths.
Whether you’re cruising around and lobbing flaming death at enemy tanks in Battlezone or simply shooting a friendly game of pool with friends in Sportsbar VR, you’ll be amazed at just how well suited Sony’s headset seems for the task at hand. The superb stereoscopic 3D effects the PlayStation VR provides makes things like Until Dawn: Rush of Blood‘s jump scares infinitely more intimate and terrifying experiences, while the headset’s impressive 3D audio capabilities ensure you’ll always know where the next killer clown or flesh-starved wendigo is coming from. Out of all of the game’s roughly two-dozen launch titles, the vast majority of them make extensive use of the hardware that goes beyond simple gimmicks, making a great case for the benefits the new medium provides.
If you have any naysayers in your midst, simply make them sit through the first 15 minutes of Batman: Arkham VR and they’ll be sure to walk away a believer. If they don’t, just cut them off. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your new, virtual life.
Bring the movie theater experience home with Cinematic Mode.
One of the PlayStation VR’s most exciting bonus features is the Cinematic Mode, which allows you to play any non-PSVR apps and games on your headset using a simulated theater-sized screen. PSVR owners are able to choose between displaying the image in simulated big screen, movie theater, and IMAX-size displays. And while this mode comes at a cost – the visuals are more jaggy and obviously display at a lower resolution than your fancy new TV set thanks to the limitations of the hardware – watching movies on Netflix on a Jumbotron style screen from the comfort of your couch is a thing of absolute beauty.
Performance is King.
When it comes to VR gaming, performance is an integral part of the experience. At a bare minimum, games need to display at 60 FPS to avoid the judder and blurring that occurs when you move your head faster than an image can render the next frame. Both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift shoot for a target framerate of 90 FPS, to get around this, and ultimately avoid the nasty side affect of motion sickness that many players experience when a game falls below that threshold. Sony has taken things a step further by utilizing a technique known as reprojection, which ensures games run at a consistent 120 frames per second.
The finished result for the end user is a stable of lovely games that run as smooth as butter, and won’t cause you to barf in your headset. An added bonus, for sure.
While my overall experience with the PlayStation VR has been extremely positive, my week-long honeymoon with Sony’s HMD hasn’t been all wine and roses. Here are a few nagging issues that have reared their head from time to time, reminding me the technology is still in its infancy, at that the PSVR’s affordable price does indeed come with some trade-offs that can hurt the overall experience.
Blurring the lines between games and reality.
As much as I love the PSVR, sometimes I can’t bear to look at it. That’s not because I don’t want to play its surprisingly robust stable of launch titles, but rather because the visuals being pumped out of its 120hz OLDED display can look blurrier than Sonic the Hedgehog on a bender of espresso-dipped methamphetamine. While you get used to it over time, this overall fuzziness can actually make your eyes become rather uncomfortable over extended play sessions. And it can even take a half hour or so after I take off the headset before my eyes feel like they’ve properly adjusted.
Thankfully, this seems like more of an issue from game to game, rather than a major fault of the hardware itself. For instance, games like Batman: Arkham VR, Pixel Gear, and Battlezone look vibrant and clear, and don’t suffer from the same abundance of eyeball-shredding jagginess and aliasing that other games are inundated with. Hopefully developers are able to make the most out of the limited hardware capabilities to ensure most releases are as easy on the eyes as possible.
PSVR is weighed cobbled together with ancient, ill-fitting tech.
While the technology that powers the PlayStation VR and its sleek, ergonomic design are impressive, the Frankenstein-like hodgepodge of dusty gadgets that pin everything together proves to be a major problem for the device. The HTC Vive’s controllers and Oculus Touch immerse players in the game by putting innovative, cutting-edge tech at their fingertips. Sadly, The PSVR instead is stuck in the past in this regard, forcing players to make use of their aging PlayStation Move controllers to come to grips with the latest games. Considering these relics of the PS3 era were already dated when they were released back in 2010, it goes without saying that these sphere-topped wagglesticks are a less than ideal method for the demands of VR gaming.
Additionally, the hardware uses a single PlayStation 4 camera to track a player’s movements, and the field of view can often feel uncomfortably small. This problem, coupled with the lack of support for a second camera, means that occlusion and imprecise tracking are are not at all uncommon, which can be a massive headache at times. Here’s hoping Sony releases better aftermarket controllers and support for a second camera down the road to ensure players can enjoy the optimal VR experience.
The PSVR needs more first-party content badly.
It’s always an uncomfortable feeling when you purchase a new piece of hardware only to find that the manufacturer’s first-party studios are largely out of the picture. Sure, Sony London Studio’s glorified tech demo, PlayStation VR Worlds, was packed-in with PSVR deluxe bundles, and Driveclub VR sputtered to the starting line alongside the hardware’s October 13 launch, but apart from those titles the publisher has had a decidedly hands-off approach when it comes to the software side of things. Of course, it’s only been a week, but it’d still be great to see major releases from Naughty Dog or Sony’s Santa Monica Studio working on something exclusively for PSVR.
After all, given Sony’s track record for abandoning platforms such as the PSP and Vita at the first signs of trouble, it’s hard not to fear they would do the same with PSVR if it fails to meet their sales projections. A strong show of support from major franchises would go a long way towards showing Sony’s confidence in the hardware, and as of right now the lack of major releases until January’s release of Capcom’s VR-ready Resident Evil VII: Biohazard is quite worrisome.
Despite these issues, I have to say I’m mostly a happy camper when it comes to the PlayStation VR. If Sony can iron out the nagging kinks and release some more efficient peripherals to make gameplay less of a hassle, the PSVR could have what it takes to become the king of VR despite its stature as the lowest on the technical totem pole in terms of gaming headsets. With 50 games slated to release in the coming months, I’m certainly excited to see where the platform goes from here.
So, have you picked up a PlayStation VR? If so, how are you liking your unit? Do you think Sony has what it takes to climb to the top of the VR throne? As always, we’d love to hear what you think. Be sure to sound off in the comments section below and let us know.