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Sony’s PlayStation VR: Five things you need to know


Steve Tilley, Postmedia Network

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

I’ve riddled cars with machine gun bullets in a high-speed freeway gun battle, served slushees from behind the counter of a convenience store, blown up tanks on a holographic battlefield and solved a dastardly death in the family as the one and only Batman.

And not once did I need to leave my house. Or, for that matter, put on pants.

PlayStation VR, the new virtual reality headset accessory for Sony’s PlayStation 4 video game console, lands in stores next week after years of hype, speculation and anticipation. At $ 549 for the headset alone or $ 699 for a bundle that includes the PlayStation Camera (required) and a pair of PlayStation Move controllers (recommended), it’s a pricey push into a brand new space that the electronics and gaming giant is betting on heavily.

Over the past week I’ve put PlayStation VR through its paces in my own home, sampling a dozen games and getting a feel for its strengths and weaknesses. If you’re thinking of taking the plunge, here are five things you should know.

THE INITIAL SETUP IS A PAIN, BUT AFTER THAT IT’S EASY TO USE

Out of the box, PlayStation VR needs a lot of cables to be connected, devices to be hooked up and various calibration steps completed. The instructions are straightforward, but it’s still a bit of a complex process to get everything going, and requires having a reasonably clear area to play in, free of expensive knick-knacks and fragile pets.

But once everything is plugged in and hooked up, the futuristic PlayStation VR headset is easy to get on and off, simple to adjust and comfortable to wear for extended periods.

THE SENSE OF BEING INSIDE THE GAME WORLD IS INCREDIBLE

In The London Heist, one of the titles in the PlayStation Worlds VR compilation, I wasn’t just watching two Cockney criminals duke it out in a life-or-death fistfight, I was there in the room with them – and then deciding, gun in hand, which one of them would die. In Job Simulator, I did my best to keep up with food orders in a hectic restaurant patronized by cranky robots. And in Batman: Arkham VR, I yelped in a very un-Dark Knight fashion when Killer Croc slammed into the bars of a cage I was trapped in, inches from my face.

The sense of being a character in the middle of a game world is what makes virtual reality unique. And while PlayStation VR’s tech isn’t quite as cutting-edge as the more expensive, PC-powered Oculus Rift or HTC Vive VR headsets, the visuals are surprisingly crisp.

(As an added bonus, the headset can double as a giant virtual 2D screen for regular PS4 gaming, movies and so on.)

THE CONTROLS DON’T ALWAYS WORK WELL

Some gaming room setups have a problematic effect on VR – a lot of bright sunlight or mirrors can throw off the sensors, for instance. But even though my living room is about as VR-friendly as can be, I consistently had trouble with controller tracking in PlayStation VR. Whether I was using a standard DualShock 4 gamepad or a pair of glowing PlayStation Move batons, my virtual hands/magic wands/guns/etc. would constantly drift forwards and backwards several centimetres in virtual space, with no amount of camera adjustment or controller recalibration offering relief.

While most games were still playable, it was a frequent immersion-disruptor and made some precise in-game actions difficult, like accurately aiming my guns in the twisted amusement park ride Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, or carefully stacking a tiny block on a precarious tower in Tumble VR. Depending on your own experiences, this could be an occasional mild annoyance or a frustrating dealbreaker.

NOT EVERY GAME IS SUITED FOR VR

Good virtual reality games are developed with the strengths and weaknesses of the technology in mind. Fortunately, PlayStation VR’s line-up of more than two-dozen launch day games is mostly geared towards experiences that work well in virtual reality, and there’s something for just about everyone’s tastes and temperament.

Batman: Arkham VR – likely to be one of PlayStation VR’s top-selling games – is a perfect example of how to adapt a traditional game franchise to virtual reality, as players hurl Batarangs, scan crime scenes and ultimately solve the mystery of Nightwing’s murder. It’s short but supremely polished, with cool interactive scenes that make players feel like they’ve stepped into the cape and cowl of the World’s Greatest Detective.

FOR NOW, IT’S A NOVELTY

As much fun as it is to explore strange new virtual worlds, I don’t think PlayStation VR is going to lure people away from traditional console games in droves. Until the underlying technology is fine-tuned and the catalog of VR titles broadened to include more fully fleshed-out experiences, this is a glimpse into a future of gaming that’s definitely on its way, but hasn’t quite yet arrived.

Twitter: @stevetilley

STilley@postmedia.com

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