You know how you pre-order a PSVR months and months ago and forget you had it on pre-order? Then you get a call from GameStop telling you it’s ready for pickup. That’s what happened to me. There have been so many great games occupying my very little free time that I totally forgot I have a new $500 toy waiting for me.
I’ll dispense with the purchase experience because it was your typical GameStop employee assault of upsale questions. Once I got home, though, that’s when the giddiness kicked in.
I recently demoed PSVR at my local Best Buy and was pretty impressed with the quality of the headset. While not nearly as sharp and immersive as the HTC Vive (which I get to tool around with at work on occasion), for the price tag, you’re getting a high quality headset that’s leagues more comfortable than any other on the market.
The first thing I noticed when I opened the packaging is how Sony stepped up their game. They need PSVR to be a success and that comes through in the quality of the boxes. It sounds dumb, I know, but when you lift open the lid (like a goddamn treasure chest) for the PSVR housing, you feel like you’re opening a premium product. And the headset is definitely that. The Move controllers and the camera however…well, they have some issues.
When I started pulling out all the gear inside (I got the bundle with the camera and two Move controllers) I noticed cord after cord. Literally, there were 7 cables inside and I had a “you’re gonna need a bigger boat” moment. My studio apartment is pretty small, so space is a big issue. Thankfully I had already planned on altering the layout of my place and PSVR was the perfect excuse to do so. Now I have my own little “VR alley” as I like to call it.
The initial shock at all the cables necessary to set up PSVR subsided when I paged through the instruction booklet. There were 9 or so steps, none very complicated. Setup and calibration took about 35-40 minutes — barring some weird camera issues, it should take about that amount of time for most people to get it up and running. WARNING: YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE A FUCKING CORD ORGY ALL UP IN YOUR ENTERTAINMENT SETUP!
I haven’t paid money for a single VR game yet, because in the box you get a really good smattering of experiences — I spent about four hours trying out various games in an effort to discover what my first VR game purchase will be.
I began with the bundle pack-in game Playstation VR Worlds. There are five “games” on the disk: London Heist, Scavengers Odyssey, Ocean Descent, VR Luge and Danger Ball. Having already played “The Blu” on HTC Vive I was interested to see how PSVR would capture the same emotion and splendor of being submerged in the ocean surrounded by exotic wildlife. The answer? Really well. I was very impressed with the fidelity of Ocean Descent. You start off in an underwater cage while a female guide informs you she’s going to lower you deeper into the ocean in search of something hidden in the depths. You’re treated to a serene setting of bubbles lightly cascading past your eyes and unassuming fish flitting by. It’s worth noting that while PSVR doesn’t do room scale VR like HTC Vive, I was still able to walk around the tight confines of the cage. So you’re not just standing in place moving your head like a goofus. As you go lower into the abyss, the friendlier fish are replaced with a blackout followed by a discovery of a recently “blowed up” submarine. Then a giant goddamn shark starts attacking your cage and tearing it to shit. And I screamed so loud I’m surprised my neighbors didn’t call the police. Ocean Descent isn’t a game, it’s a tension simulator that’s over in 5-7 minutes, but damn if it isn’t a good one. There are two other modes in Ocean Descent, but I didn’t play them yet. Another day. I had to move on to my next PS Worlds Demo — London Heist.
If there’s a more immersive experience on PSVR than London Heist, I’d like to play it. I don’t want to spoil too much, but London Heist lasts about 15 minutes and it’s an intense ride. It by far had the best sense of presence of any of the games I played. My only gripe is that it ended too soon. It’s the perfect little slice of pizza for VR — it’s gritty, looks great, uses all the features of PSVR including some very inventive VR cigar smoking. You pull the Move controller up to your face and your character takes a drag. The coolest part I discovered is that the microphone on the earbuds picks up the sound of you exhaling so when you do, your virtual character does too. Fucking rad. (sidenote: I got a little tense playing the game, so to alleviate the stress I reached out and caressed the face of the very scary man waving a gun in my face. Then I laughed and realized he couldn’t do shit and he looked silly with me gently rubbing his cheeks. Unexpected fun with games is pretty cool).
I was eager to try some demos of full games so after London Heist I popped out the disc and loaded up the Playstation VR Demo Disc. I have to say, adding a demo disc brought me back to PSOne days. I remember being a member of Playstation Underground and getting demo discs randomly sent to me when I was a young teenager. I can’t help but think Sony included one here as a nod to die-hard PS fans who picked up PSVR on day one.
The demo disc was much less impressive, though. There are something like 15 games on there to try out and I made my way through Rez Infinite (good not great, although I didn’t get to try the freeform “Area X” because it’s not on the demo), Thumper (yup, probably buying this first), Kitchen (Resident Evil 7 experience: really fucking disturbing), RIGS (meh) and Driveclub VR. I wasn’t expecting much from Driveclub VR, but honestly, I had a great time with it. Sure, the driving is completely out of whack, but being inside a $250,000 sports car, tearing down an idyllic Bavarian road and feeling the sense of speed only possible with the headset was exhilarating. I can’t wait until a non-Driveclub racing game comes out.
I still have several games to try out on the demo disc, but Thumper is the only one I would buy right now. The quick basics: It’s a rhythm game where you control a metallic scarab on a narrow track. Think Rock Band and you’ve got the idea. The level in the demo disc is very basic — teaching you how to turn, slide and tap the “x” button to the beat. Then the intensity ratchets up about 3/4 of the way through and that’s when the game shines brighter than its silvery scarab. The music, visuals and controls combine in a symphony of awesome and by the time I reached the end boss, I was eager to play the next stage. Unless I can somehow try out Arkham VR before I buy it, it’s looking like Thumper is going to get $20 from yours truly.
I also downloaded every VR Video app available in the Playstation Store just to see what they had on offer. Word of advice — don’t even waste your time. Unless you’re on a fiber connection, the 360 videos are a pixelated, janky mess. The resolution is so bad it reminded me of early YouTube videos, only with lots of buffering and a really bad interface to boot. Such a missed opportunity. I get 40MB download speeds on my connection, so I don’t know if it was my PS4, the apps themselves, or just a shitty connection, but everything hurt my eyes. If any of the VR video apps allowed you to download the videos, I’d probably be exploring their offerings a bit more, but right now it’s kinda crap.
PSVR Overall Pros:
Super comfortable: I have a huge head, so initially I put the headset on and tightened it down way too much. The pressure got really uncomfortable around my forehead and temples. After a quick adjustment, though, I found out how to have it rest on my forehead while the back of my head absorbed most of the pressure. It’s incredibly light, so I barely noticed it even after extended play.
Tons to do (for the time being): Since I got the package, I have so many demos and experiences to burn through. Is it $500 worth of content? No, not even close. So this opinion might be tainted by the newness, but I’m not having any buyers remorse yet.
Theater Mode: Honestly, one of my favorite features is watching Netflix, HBO Now or playing a non-VR game with the headset on. As I mentioned before, I have a tiny studio. With PSVR I can turn my headset into an IMAX theater with 360 sound. Sure the resolution isn’t as crisp as my TV, but it’s a really cool novelty. I’m going to use the web browser later tonight to read this post, because I can.
— it should be noted that in my 4 hours with PSVR I experienced very little of the jitters and janks that several people have been reporting. If that changes I’ll add it to the cons list, but so far so good for me.
CORD CITY: I mean, just look at this shit. It’s the same picture, I know, but LOOK AT IT!
Charging Controllers: The headset itself doesn’t require a charge (thank the gods), but both move controllers and your PS4 controller will. Since the breakout box that attaches to the PS4 takes up one of the two USB ports on the front of the PS4 you’re only able to charge one controller at a time. And here’s the best part — the Move controllers use Mini USB instead of Micro USB — meaning you have to swap out charging cables if you want to charge your PS4 controller and then your move controllers. Sony should have at least added a couple extra USB ports to the breakout box for this purpose.
Headset Orientation Issues: I didn’t experience the parkinson’s syndrome shakes of the controllers very often. I know that’s been a big issue, but maybe my PSVR is just better than everyone else’s. However, several times during play the orientation of where the PS4 Camera thought my head was caused the perspective to abruptly shift in my headset. It’s difficult to describe but imagine that you’re facing your TV and then all of a sudden your TV teleports three feet to the right. You can hold down the Options button on the controller to recenter the screen back in front of your face, but for some reason it wouldn’t work.
All around it’s really impressive, is it worth the $500 price tag. Not yet. But there’s a lot of potential here. I don’t know if the PS4 Pro is going to solve any of the performance or fidelity issues I’ve come across, but I doubt it. I imagine most of the jaggies and lower-resolution feel are limitations of the headset itself. Still, if you’ve already got a PS4 and don’t want to invest in a rig capable of running HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, it’s a solid investment– but I have a dreadful suspicion that there won’t be a steady flow of games in the coming months. With that in mind, if you don’t NEED one right now, wait and see what comes out down the road.
I’m excited to check out the rest of the games on the demo disc and VR Worlds. What I’d like to see more of in the future for PSVR is how it’s going to handle social interactions. There’s a huge amount of potential to create some really immersive friend experiences. I feel like the social revolution that will gain mass appeal is how it handles social media. There’s a reason Zuckerberg pad $2Billion for Oculus, right?
This isn’t my first foray into VR, but it’s the first time I’ve had it in the privacy of my home. It’s a completely different experience than when I mess around with our Vive at work or hop over to Best Buy for a public demo. I can allow myself to become fully immersed in my surroundings while looking really dumb and getting scared shitless and yelling like a baby as a crazy woman brandishes a knife in my face in the “Kitchen” demo. I’ll keep you guys updated with anything pertinent in my VR journey over the weekend. But in the meantime, thanks for reading my over-2000-word rundown of PSVR!