Sit back, put a weird looking helmet on your face and embrace the future
Reporter: Joe Carey | Sub-Editor: Jack Leslie
PlayStation VR isn’t the first virtual reality headset ever made, but it is the first with the potential to get in the hands of mass-market consumers. The device went on sale this month and the Voice of London got the chance to have dogfights in space, drive a supercar and be submerged deep in the ocean: all in virtual reality. We also spoke with Brett Phipps, games editor at Trusted Reviews, on why VR is something you need to try.
Most people who haven’t tried a VR headset see it as a gimmick akin to motion controls and 3D televisions a few years back, I was one of them. But VR is the first big change to gaming since the transition from two to three dimensions were made during the 1990s. Experiences are fundamentally changed when you’re given this level of immersion — these headsets are the first steps of VR and they’re already tricking our brains into thinking we’re places that are completely fictional. “You can be sat in the driver’s seat racing and you can look out the windows, look out the rear view mirrors. It’s a much more immersive way to play games.” says Phipps.
Just taking a look at the headset gives off the impression you’ve jumped into the future — the PlayStation VR headset is made almost entirely of plastic but still manages to deliver a feeling of ruggedness that will stop you using the device like it’s made of glass. The headset isn’t intimidating either, it gives off an approachable feel with its blue lights and cushion for your head to rest on. This is also an incredibly comfy headset.
At the first test event we visited, the instructor put the headset on me within seconds, using the button below the screen to adjust where the eyepiece came to my face and the wheel on the back to make sure it rested securely on my head, you really can get this headset on quickly. The next day I put the headset on myself with similar ease.
Sony have even taken into account those who wear glasses as Phipps described: “I find it the most comfortable one (VR headset) because it’s sitting on your forehead, it’s the only one I can wear glasses with and still feel comfortable.”
Not only is PlayStation VR the most comfortable headset on the market, but it’s also got some of the best exclusives too: Batman Arkham VR, Driveclub VR and PlayStation VR Worlds are just some of the awesome games available at launch. Putting the cowl on and becoming the Dark Knight or taking a Ferrari for a spin in VR will get a smile on your face quicker than a child on Christmas. You could feel the palpable excitement in the air about the future of technology on both days of VR testing — after seeing what this technology can do everyone is wanting a headset of their own.
Phipps similarly agreed that the launch lineup of games is stellar: “Rez Infinite is definitely the shining star of the bunch, that’s incredible to play, it’s so good. Anyone who likes Batman will really enjoy Batman: Arkham VR, that’s another really, really good game. I haven’t had a chance to play much of RIGS, but what I have played I really enjoyed.”
What’s most exciting about this headset is that it only costs £400 — because most people will need the added camera and motion controllers. This is considerably cheaper than the two other competitors on the market with the Oculus Rift costing £550 and the HTC Vive coming in at £800. This is assuming you already have a PC capable of running the hardware too. The best thing about this kind of VR is it runs on a box you probably already own.
Although you really do have to try virtual reality yourself to understand why it’s so hot at the moment, let me take you through my Driveclub VR experience:
I put my headset on and I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of a Ferrari FF. I look at the detail on the steering wheel, then set my sights on the passenger and back seats, taking in the leather detailing that sits in the extremely flashy interior. I then look to my left and right to see the cars I’m up against — before I know it I’m launching off the line and hearing the 6.3-litre V12 roar as I execute well timed flappy-panel gear changes that sit on the racing wheel I’m using to hurl the Ferrari around bends. Initially doing all this in virtual reality throws my body off — my eyes think I’m racing alongside the coast of a beautiful European city while my body is questioning why it’s not being thrown around if I’m cornering at 70mph.
After the first lap my body seems to be more comfortable with what’s going on. With each overtake I habitually look out of the side window for a few seconds and watch the golden sun in the sky setting. On the last lap I seize first place and hold the position until the last corner which I take far too wide. I’m then left for a final tense sprint to the finish, looking on both sides of the car in the hope I’m not overtaken as I red-line every gear change.
I cross the line in first place, take the headset off and the guy manning the booth says to me “How was that?” — my response is just a gleaming smile. This is what I’ve always wanted.
The only caveat of virtual reality at this point is that it’s still early tech — that means you’ll have a tonne of snake-like wires all over your floor while you’re playing this thing. The first generation of PlayStation VR also comes with an external processing box that isn’t much smaller than the PS4 you already own. These things are a nuisance but you won’t be seeing them once you escape that unwanted reality.
Phipps had a similar cable nightmare while playing his headset for review: “In terms of the cables, the ones that go from the PS4 and the TV into the processing unit are fine, the only one that can be troublesome is obviously it needs an awful lot of cables to go from the processor to the headset itself so that you’re able to sit far away from the camera and also be comfortable.”
And of course, there’s the nausea issues that come with experiencing this kind of tech. During testing it was games like Driveclub and RIGS: Mechanized Combat League that threw my body off and caused me to feel queasy. You get the feeling in games where you’re doing activities your body is used to doing in real life, like driving a car, when your eyes think you’re in one place but your body thinks it’s in another. It’s still too early to tell if this problem will be alleviated with longer exposure to VR — but perhaps this is going to be a platform that you don’t sit and play with for hours on end with smaller bursts of play being more preferable.
During his testing Phipps didn’t experience any kind of nausea but it seems even the strongest have issues with the tech: “This is the weird thing, you’re definitely not alone in Driveclub — I know a few people who reviewed the game that got really nauseous but I haven’t and it’s just one of those things where different people react to it in different ways. The only time I feel nauseous is if I’m looking behind me and then I turn around really fast and face forward again…I literally feel my brain trying to process that information.”
Phipps feels that to alleviate any kind of sick feeling there should be a rating system on how immersive the experience is: “There needs to be like a rating system, which they do on the Rift, in terms of severity and how powerful the VR is in it. PEGI has age ratings and perhaps they need to let you know if it’s a comfortable experience or more intense experience. That might help people because you don’t want people buying a game and then taking it home and not being able to play it because the VR is too much for them.”
VR is the hottest topic in gaming, but Phipps doesn’t believe playing with a traditional controller and TV setup is ever going to be replaced entirely:
“The problem is when people get very excited for these kinds of products and you see these headlines that say ‘it’s the future of gaming’, it is in a way but it’s a future or one of the futures…I know when I come home, especially when I’m tired, I want to sit down with a controller in front of a telly. I don’t think there’s ever going to be a replacement for that — VR is going to play a big role in gaming but it’s not going to replace anything.”
Usually the first generation of any kind of technology is the one you miss and wait until the hardware has been refined. Sony is the first company to give the masses virtual reality at a fraction of the cost of other competitors. The headset doesn’t have the best resolution and is a mess of cables, but you won’t be thinking about that when you’re putting on the Batsuit.
After testing out PlayStation VR it’s clear that virtual reality is real, it’s awesome and you’ll be reaching for your wallet the moment you take the headset off.