Palmer Luckey’s long-held vision for VR is no longer a dream. How does the reality hold up?
After several years of enthusiastic, if professionally detached, experiences with virtual reality, it has finally happened. We’re sat behind a desk in a plush winter lodge having just managed to foil a poison-gas attack. An elk’s head sits mounted above the roaring fireplace, and we recline to light a celebratory cigar. In the process, an intriguing panel catches our eye. It’s just out of reach so we attempt to steady ourselves on the desk in order to reach across, and nearly fall face first into the floor as our arm passes through the decidedly unsupportive polygons. Later, as we remove the second-generation Touch controllers from our hands, we also try to take off a virtual hat – snagged a little earlier from a hatstand while pondering a puzzle – before tending to the Rift headset itself. Jesse Schell’s virtual spy simulator I Expect You To Die may be cartoonish and camp, but that hasn’t prevented it – with the help of Oculus’s consumer-ready technology – from achieving virtual reality’s holy grail: presence.
In fact, it happens several times during the time we spend with the finalised Rift hardware: an inescapable sense of vertigo while clinging to a rock face; recoiling from an object or character that looks like it’s going to collide with us; and even accepting as our own an in-game reflection that perfectly tracks our head movements. Rift has come a long way since those first nausea-making, pixelly DK1-enabled steps around a Tuscan villa. And it says much that we spend hours ensconced in the retail headset with very few instances of discomfort. Even when they do occur, it’s down to the game rather than the hardware itself.
The headset is sleek and pleasantly weighted (it’s hard to tell if it has shed many grams since Crescent Bay, but its substance feels well distributed), and easy to put on. A comfortable plastic cradle supports the device at the back of your head while three adjustable Velcro straps, one on each side and one on top, make it easy to finesse the fit without having to continually remove and replace the headset. The integrated headphones pivot back and forth to accommodate variously shaped heads, and can even be swung out for those moments when you want hear what’s going on outside of the virtual space – a surprisingly useful consideration. A small slider underneath the screen housing, meanwhile, adjusts for interpupillary distance (ie, how far apart