PSVR Hands On
A new dimension of console gaming looms large, writes Andrew Whitehead
Sony is in a unique position when it comes to virtual reality. Of their console rivals, only Microsoft has expressed interest in actually entering the space, and that won’t be until the end of next year when its Project Scorpio console is released. Sony's nearest competitors, Oculus and HTC, both have quality headsets of their own, but they’re relying on the high-end PC market and are far more expensive devices.
Meanwhile Sony has sold around 40-million PlayStation 4 consoles worldwide, and each one of those units is a potential PlayStation VR customer. And if gaming history has taught us anything it’s that victories aren’t dictated by superior technology: just look at the PlayStation 2 versus the Xbox and GameCube.
It’s about connecting with an audience. And that’s something Sony is clearly aiming to do.
THE HYPE TRAIN
The first thing to get out of the way is the hyperbole that surrounds VR and the three major headsets competing for gamer eyeballs. The most telling difference is the screen. The Vive and the Rift have a screen resolution of 1080x1200 per eye, while the PSVR runs at 960x1080 per eye and uses a single 1920x1080 screen.
But PlayStation VR is on equal footing in terms of build quality. The headset is well-built, futuristic-looking, and comfortable. And it comes with a bunch of quick-release buttons for fast adjustments and a clicky tightening wheel that keep the hunk of plastic firmly on your head.
TAKE ME BACK TO HELL
Surprisingly, what sold me on PlayStation VR was Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. By now you’ve probably downloaded the demo from the PSN Store or seen the reveal trailer and know this isn’t the same Resident Evil fans know and love. With a renewed focus on horror and a shift to a first-person perspective, it’s a remarkably different game then what the series has become of late.
Even on a TV screen it’s a tense game, but as I was walking around that creaky farm house in VR, there were times when I had to stop and remind myself where I was in the real world. I know how bizarre that sounds, but there’s something about true one-to-one head movement that immersed me into the world of Resident Evil 7 more than any other horror game has before.
Initially, all I could focus on was how the edges of everything had that low-resolution jaggedness to them, but by the end of the demo I was frantically hurrying to the back door exit. I literally jumped out of my chair during the final jump scare and gasped as a crazy old man pulled me back into his run-down home after I thought the nightmare was over.
I’d heard talk of people who played Resident Evil 7 on PlayStation VR feeling sick and nauseated afterwards. Even the helpful PR representative let me know it’s okay to bail and to give them feedback on how I felt. But I didn’t experience anything like this. The only part that made me feel sick was the fear I felt from playing the game in the dark and not wanting to go up to the attic to see what was making all that noise.
It was a group of mannequins and, no, I don’t want to talk about it.
Way down on the other end of the emotional spectrum is Rez Infinite, a game that continues to be relevant some 15 years after its initial release to the point where I’m convinced Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s masterpiece was made for the PlayStation VR. My demo was an abstracted version of Area Four, which fans will recall is the one with the most visually stunning boss battle of the game, the ‘running man’ made up for hundreds of transforming cubes.
Rez was always a simple on-rails shooting game, but VR gives it a new-found sense of depth and scale. A nice side effect of the VR head tracking is the ability to aim wherever you’re looking. Holding down the X button, I was able to chain groups of attacks much quicker than I could with the thumbstick, though I could switch between the two at any time.
Then came the area boss. As the game pulled me around tight corners and threw me down long tunnels, I couldn’t help but feel like I was falling, then being pushed forward like on a rollercoaster. And I loved it. This feels like how this Rez Infinite was meant to be played: a fully immersive journey through a bizarre early-2000s vision of cyberspace.
DEAL OR NO DEAL
So should you buy a PlayStation VR? That’s a hard question to answer, but I strongly encourage everyone tries it. Personally, and depending on how finances are at that time of year, I plan on getting one. And not just because it's the more affordable VR option. Sony appears committed to its new device with a number of big titles confirmed for PlayStation VR including Farpoint, Batman: Arkham VR, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, 100ft Robot Golf, and Gran Turismo Sport.
Early adopters of new technology know what it’s like to be burnt and know to be sceptical of bullshit claims about products claiming to redefine entertainment. (Remember 3D TVs?) But I can confirm PlayStation VR is no gimmick. It’s a step forward in gaming as important as the introduction of optical storage, thumbsticks, or online multiplayer, and it’s one I want to be a part of... after my new credit card arrives, naturally.