Playstation VR First Impressions: Killer Hardware, Lacking In Killer Applications

It seems that 2016 is the year of Virtual Reality, with three products being available on the market in Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and most recently the Playstation VR. Out of the three I have had my hands on the Playstation VR since day of release, and spent a good chunk of my time testing out how it fares.

Setting It Up
The set-up includes a lot of wires, the reason for this is you have to connect the headset to an additional processing block – where the box is not that big and looks like a mini PS4 in design, it’s just more wires about the set-up. Other than this issue, the set-up is very simple, and well explained in the manual. You have the power cable (needed to power the extra processor), a USB connection between your PS4 to the processor block, and the block also works as a HDMI splitter, so you have one HDMI from your TV to the block and then the PS4 into it as well, then your headset plugs into front of the block.

The Headset
The headset to me although it looks like it’s made out good quality plastic, it can seem flimsy in some ways. You are warned not to pick the headset up by the front unit, but personally when you have the headset with a head band around it like this does I am not sure who would think picking it up by the eye unit (with the screen in it) would be a good idea.

Again you are given very clear instructions (via a demonstration) on how to wear and adjust the headset. Once you have been through this demonstration, it is very clear comfort is something Sony have thought about when creating the headset. The padding around the headset makes it very comfortable, and the head band set-up makes it feel very light – due to the weight being well-managed by your head rather than the bridge of your nose. The eye unit is then adjustable, so you can fit it comfortably to your face. Within the eye unit is the screen, and I think it is a good quality screen, that allows for a good quality image.

On the headset wire you will find a little white box, this has the power button on for the headset and also includes the port to plug-in the ear phones (but any 3.5m audio jack headphones will work, I use my Razer Kraken). Any headphones including the little in ear ones provided that are plugged into this port will allow VR Surround Sound to be played – but, if you don’t want to sit playing with headphones/ear phones in the volume will still come from your TV, however, this does take away from the VR experience massively.

I only found one little niggling issue with the headset; although it has rubber around the edges to stop light getting in, sometimes you can get a little glare on the screen from light from underneath the eye unit. This isn’t a great deal of light, but sometimes it can cause issues with the immersion.

Playstation VR

The Games
Although I have picked up a few full titles (VR Worlds, Superstar Dust Ultra VR, Rush of Blood, and Batman VR) I have yet to sit down with them fully. What I have been concentrating on for my impressions is the digital demo available for download which includes the following games; Eve Valkyrie, Rigs, Driveclub VR, Tumble VR, Thumper, Wayward Sky, Rush of Blood, Here They Lie, Rez, Ocean Decent (VR Worlds), Battle Zones and Headmaster.

Out of the games on the demo the stand out titles were not the full retail price games, which you would expect. The games I found that stood out came in the form of the lower priced titles like Thumper, Tumble VR and Rez. However I will provide impressions on all the games available, I will start with the ones I have listed as stand out;

Thumper (£15.99) – This is an on the rail game, where you control what looks like a metallic beetle. The aim of the game is all about the timing on pressing, holding buttons and turning the beetle when required in order to progress through stages and some boss battles. Visually the game is very stimulating, to me it felt like I was playing in a very psychedelic Pink Floyd music video. As you’re on the rails points will appear where you have to time the press of the X button, hold the X button to break through barriers, and hold the X and a direction to turn corners – failure results in losing one layer of your beetle’s shell until you explode. In order to progress to the next stage you need to hit a number of the above in succession. When it gets later in the stages and the boss fights the game speeds up, and becomes more frantic in changes, in order to increase the difficulty.
Verdict: Must Try

Tumble VR (£7.99) – A return of the game that was introduced with the less than successful PS Move on the Playstation 3, but all the less a game I found was enjoyable back then. The aim is similar to the PS Move version, targets are given to you in order to build towers and knocking them down in other challenges, but other modes have been added. The big change that VR has made to it is you are in a 100% 3D environment, and you can rotate the stand and check everything is ok and well-balanced all around. As in the old versions your towers need to get higher and become more tricky to build. You also get to try one round of the topple mode where you get to place 3 explosives, and also one of the new modes where you need to guide a beam of light from one end to the other, with using glass blocks to change the colour of the beam when needed. I believe the full game will get really tricky as you get further and further into it.
Verdict: Must Try

Rez Infinite (£24.99) – Rez is the same musical game masterpiece it has always been, but VR makes it the game everyone wants it be, it’s like it has found its natural home. Like Thumper this is an on the rails shooter, but you are not 100% attached to the track, you control the recital on the screen with head movements to take aim at the enemies, taking out these enemies can change the very catchy techno type music used in the game, be it pace and/or pitch; with stringing attacks on enemies together having the better effect. You will also find yourself in boss battles which are entertaining and will expect you to look behind you to fight them with it being a 360 degrees generated world.
Verdict: Must Try

Thumper VR
Thumper – Image taken for IGN

EVE: Valkyrie (£54.99) – It is hard to pass impressions on this from the demo as it is very short, it looks very detailed graphically, but there is not enough of the actual game play you’d expect included in the demo. EVE is based on space dogfight type combat, and you get very little chance of doing this for a prolonged time in the demo, I know it is there to give you a taster of the game but it’s just not enough. Meaning this could be a great title, but I couldn’t justify getting it at full price from the demo experience.
Verdict: Don’t Try (due to the little experience given in the demo)

Rigs (£49.99) – Another full price title, but one that made me feel very motion sick after a very short amount of play-time. You are warned at the beginning to play it in short stints at first to build up the tolerance to the sickness, but after about 2 minutes of the 5 minute half I had to stop. I did revisit it and manage to play the full half the demo allows without the motion sickness kicking in. From my view on the game from the demo is this is something you will a friend with Playstation VR as well to get a good use of the game. The demo gives an idea of what to expect from the frantic combat and sports element of the game, and to me was the best looking demo visually. Maybe once the motion sickness is controlled fully and if you have friends to play it with this could be a strong title but its hard to say.
Verdict: Worth A Try

Driveclub VR (£29.99) – This one quite surprised me, although it wasn’t enough to be stand out from some of the others. It seems that they have made the gameplay a bit more arcade like to suit the VR, rather than sticking with the main mechanics of the original game. Visually inside the car the graphics look amazing, but then the surroundings are very plain and bit less striking, and the road is very blurred (which at times makes it hard to tell when a turn is coming up). Another big surprise to me was this game caused no motion sickness for me, this was one of the games I had in my head would be a big issue with the reported motion sickness from playing it. Also please note I am not big racing game fan, so to someone who is a fan of cars and racing games you may find this to be an essential purchase.
Verdict: Worth A Try

Wayward Sky (£15.49) – For me Wayward Sky tries to be something different to what is on offer with VR, but where it works in some places it fails in others. There is a mix of both third person (while moving), and first person when solving puzzles and pressing button/pulling levers. Where you would think this would make the game feel fun, it does it in very drab way, the third person is point and click to move the character, and the puzzles are pretty simple. From the visuals I feel that this game is aimed at the younger audience, but is definitely not one for older generations.
Verdict – Don’t Try

Rigs
Rigs – Image taken from Game Informer

Until Dawn: Rush of Blood (£15.99) – Another on the rails shooter, and its very literally an on the rails shoot as you find yourself on a roller coaster, with the jump scares you would expect from Until Dawn given the original game. What makes this different from just a VR roller coaster simulator is you have weapons and there are targets, collectables and enemies to shoot with them, and as mentioned previously Supermassive Games have done well with jump scares to make it that much more scary.
Verdict: Worth A Try

Here They Lie (£15.99) – A nice little Horror title included in the demo (to me this is where I expect VR to be a huge hit). But, what is hard to explain is what the game is actually meant to be about, it seems you are in a world of animal/human hybrids, but I am not sure what the story is meant to be; but I suppose that is expected in a demo. You start in a what looks like a subway tunnel, and you’re in a first person view with just a torch, and you basically wonder these tunnels with the occasional jump scare through out, but they are good ones. One thing that did surprise me with this game was the slight feeling of motion sickness it caused, as it is not a fast paced game, but it is only very slight and goes quickly.
Verdict: Worth A Try

Ocean Decent (Part of VR Worlds) – I wasn’t sure whether to list this as a game, but as it comes in with VR Worlds for the full game I decide to talk about it in the games section. This is basically just you in a shark cage going down under water observing the wildlife. So there is not much to it other than looking around taking in the scene, but it is a pretty scene to take in and did take me by surprise how stunning it looked – I did not list a price on this because as mentioned it comes as part of VR Worlds which is £29.99.
Verdict: Worth A Try

Battlezone (£49.99) – Battlezone is an old game re-imagined for VR, this is a tank combat game, in which you are placed into the cockpit. As the game starts you will find yourself looking around the cockpit, as there has been some detail put into the interior, even behind you has little details even though you will hardly be looking back there. The game plays like and arcade type shooter, using left stick to move and your head movements to turn, and the right stick to control the aiming. Visually the levels are made of bright neon like colour schemes but this does not take anything away from the game – from my experience with the full price releases, I would say this was the most enjoyable experience.
Verdict: Worth A Try

Here They Lie
Here They Lie – Image taken from Gamespot

Headmaster (£15.99) – Headmaster is a simple concept with some great humour thrown in to make it more appealing. The concept of this game is you have been put into a training camp to learn how to head a ball (the setting is very much like a jail yard), and you are given goals for points to be scored, then balls are fired at you at different speeds, and you get points by scoring goals and hitting the targets provided for extra points. As you would expect the game is just controlled by the heading motion you would use when normally heading a football, there is some very good humour provided by the speaker system on the big screen as it berates you, this adds to the game but I am not sure of the longevity of this game.
Verdict: Worth A Try

As well as the games there are some applications on the demo that I wouldn’t call games, these come in the form of Harmonix Music VR and Alumette.

Harmonix Music VR (£11.99) – This application puts you in locations like a beach and you can look around using the VR headset and look at set objects to activate visualisation effects. The demo also gives two other modes, one of them you’re in a party room with creatures that you can move points of their bodies and it records the moments and makes them look like they’re dancing, and one that is just like you are travelling through an old Windows Media Player visualisation and just look about using the headset. It does state on start-up it works with any music of your choice, but I am not sure how much use people would get out of this, because to me music is something that normally goes hand in hand with doing something, and that would not be possible with a VR Headset blocking your vision.

Allumette (Free) – This is on the demo, but it is listed as free on the store as well. Allumette is a movie made for VR, similar to a stop motion movie. I have downloaded the free version off the store, but have yet to check if it is the full movie or not. The demo lets you watch some of the movie to a set point, and then states get the full movie. If it is the full movie for free on the store it’s worth a download and watching as it’s not costing you anything and offers another example of what VR can done.

Also included on the demo was Job Simulator, but unfortunately because I don’t have the Playstation Move controllers at the moment, this demo was unplayable because this is one of the few games that requires them.

So, I would say from the experiences with the demo’s that there are three games you must try, a lot that are worth a try, and a few to give a miss. Luckily the ones that are must try and not the full priced games, so if you agreed with my views it wouldn’t be too expensive to get them.

Please note the prices for this games are the digital versions from the Playstation Store, so they could vary in stores.

Harmonix Music VR
Harmonix Music VR – Image taken from Game Informer

Other than the games there is a nice little application in the videos section called Littlstar VR Cinema, this application gives you an example of what is possible with VR and TV. Placing you into live on scenes from the news, Myth Busters, VR music videos, and a Paranormal Activity scene where you are in the garage as stuff happens, to name just a few of the experiences offered through this application – this is free application and is worth taking a look at.

Playstation VR allows for a cinematic experience for anything that is not supported directly with the VR, all this does is project a big screen in front of you, where you can play games, or watch movies etc. I have tried this with Netflix, Twitch, a Bluray, Pro Evolution Soccer 17 and The Last of Us Remastered, and overall that experience has been solid. The few issues I came across were with Netflix and Twitch the image seemed to be a bit grainy, but the Bluray seemed in normal quality. Then games wise Pro Evolution Soccer seemed to have a ghosting effect on the players movement at times, but The Last of Us again seemed fine, and I can not wait to play the game again, and experience it with a screen as big as is generated. As reported earlier in the week another good thing about the Cinematic Mode is it works with other platforms, not just solely the Playstation 4.

The all important question, is it worth it?
From my experience if you are interested in Virtual Reality and what it is all about, and own a Playstation 4 already, then the Playstation VR is a viable cheaper option than its competition on the market, at £349.99 – £399.99 depending if you own a Playstation Camera already. But, its important to remember if you don’t own a Playstation 4 you have to factor that into the cost as well.

As the title of the article suggests I believe it is a good piece of equipment, but it does seem to have a lack of killer games/applications at this moment in time. As mentioned through talking about the games on the demo there was three that made me think they worth buying, with a line up with a decent number of games it is not the perfect start. However, these are just demo’s and maybe the final products have had some extra polish, but from what I have seen in the demo’s it seems like these are all just short tech demo’s to show what its possible with the new technology.

I have picked up a few full games, and one of them is what is apparently the game to play on it at the moment in Batman VR, so maybe they are some good games outside of the digital demo, but with the majority of the ones currently being available being on the demo it doesn’t say much at this moment in time. That being said looking at the games that are set to come out in the coming months like Robinson, GT Sport, and Resident Evil 7 to name a few it could soon have a strong line up – only time will tell.

If you are a hardcore gamer and want to get yourself involved in VR, or one who is an early adopter of new technology, I would say that buying the Playstation VR is worth it. Then, on the other hand if its something you would just like to try, and have a little interest in it, I would recommend to look into either finding a demo in a store, or waiting to see what the list of upcoming AAA titles bring to it; before making your final decision on investing it.

Paul Manton

I have had an interest in Video Games and Video Game Journalism for long time, and also moved into the YouTube and Twitch side of gaming. Basically video games are my hobby and passion, whenever I have spare time it is normally given to anything video games.

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