So, it’s finally here. This time five years ago, Palmer Luckey was knocking together a VR prototype in his parents’ garage. Now the VR revival is complete, with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive in homes and offices the world over (widely documented delivery issues notwithstanding), and both HMDs promising to bring about the biggest shift in videogames in 20 years.
The pages that follow appear to tell a different story. It’s true that neither the Oculus/Facebook partnership, nor the Valve/HTC one, has yielded an instant classic to justify the purchase of this tremendously costly new hardware. But it doesn’t really need one: VR’s USP is VR itself. Games’ shortcomings can be offset by the experience of playing them from this astonishing new perspective.
In the almost four years since Luckey’s newly founded Oculus took the Rift to Kickstarter, the development community has focused on how to overcome a set of challenges inherent to VR. Over time, consensuses have been reached on reducing latency, on mitigating motion sickness, on camera management and player movement. Few of the games that feature in Play this month fail to address these technical challenges. But VR is a consumer product now and, as ever, that means quality is a question not only of presentation, but also of design.
And so EVE: Valkyrie (p110), for so long a standard bearer for VR’s tremendous potential, falls short for a good old-fashioned lack of depth. The similarly Rift-bundled
Lucky’s Tale (p119) is held back by being a by-the-numbers 3D platformer. But perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from this month’s crop comes from Final Approach (p120). As a proof-of-concept tech demo, it was astonishing, but as a final game it’s miserable. Crucially, there’s much more to a good VR game than simply being good in VR.