VR Drunk: My Lonely Weekend

I hope the title isn’t misleading, I didn’t get wasted this weekend and disappear into the virtual void. Although I did pour myself a drink Friday night after work, took three sips and poured it out. Booze just doesn’t do it for me at 32 anymore — too many side effects. Loss of motor skills, wobbling sensation and lingering effects that can consume an entire day. Which is kinda how I feel about Playstation VR right now.

As I wrote earlier, I picked up my PSVR bundle last Thursday and have since sunk an inordinate amount of hours gaming with a piece of $500 plastic resting upon my face. I have been eager to have a headset of my own in the privacy of my home since Oculus Rift came out earlier this year. Like many people, I can’t afford a PC capable of running VR so I placed my bets on the more cost-effective PSVR. I’ve really enjoyed my time so far, but I can’t help but feel like I went into the experience expecting a Porsche and instead drove off with a Honda Civic.

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Playstation VR — the Honda of VR

PSVR is functional, sure. It does what it’s supposed to (most of the time), but where I really feel PSVR comes up short is in the immersion department. Namely with games that utilize the Playstation Move controllers. I’m looking at you Arkham VR.

I recently pre-ordered “South Park: The Fractured but Whole” solely to get my free copy of “South Park: Stick of Truth.” Ubisoft delayed the Fractured but Whole (still the best name for any game, ever) and offered refunds to those who pre-ordered. Having handily bested Stick of Truth, I opted for the refund instead of keeping the pre-order. So I had $60 of credit on PSN. Yearning for a more in-depth full-body VR experience, I put the credit toward Arkham VR — because who doesn’t want to be Batman?

To use Donald Trump’s favorite word, Arkham VR is a disaster. For some reason this game more than any other PSVR game has a really difficult time keeping the game world centered in the headset. Up until playing Arkham VR I haven’t had the slightest inkling of motion sickness — but when the ground you’re standing on suddenly glides two feet ahead of you and your virtual hands, once in front of your face, flit around the screen, you get the feeling you’re in a tumble drier. And it’s not pleasant.

No matter of tinkering with the camera, closing my shades, dimming the lights, upping the lights, repositioning the headset or recalibrating the Move controllers alleviated the problem. Moving the Playstation camera to the top of my TV made it slightly better, but not much. Compound that with the fact that I finished this $20 “game” in an hour and some change and you can see how I’d deem it a disaster. After you complete the experience you can go back through and rifle through the five/six settings in search or Riddler clues. So you get more reason to go back into the tiny portions of Gotham City you just finished rifling through, but with such terrible positional tracking, I have yet to fire it up again.

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Now my TV has a hat!

The shittiest part is that when the game does work, it’s one of the finest showcases of interactivity, graphical fidelity and atmosphere building available on PSVR. Now I’m wondering if my forearm tattoo of (an Arrested Development quote, initially) “I’ve made a huge mistake” isn’t somehow becoming a through line for my adult life.

In the past two months I’ve (possibly mistakenly) ended a four-year relationship, moved into a too-small studio, am on the brink of being laid off from my job and despite sacrificing friendships and relationships in an effort to work and pay off debt from my 20’s, have actually accrued more debt. So instead of doing the hard work of taking an honest look at my life, I’m replacing self-exploration with escapism — because who wants to deal with real life issues when video games are always there to pull you out of reality?

Now, I’m not so entitled to say/think/postulate that my disappointment with Arkham VR on the whole and PSVR to a lesser extent deserves to be added to that very real list of issues above. I’m not saying that. In fact, the expectations I placed on VR making a splash in interactive entertainment and coming up short (so far) are no one’s fault but my own. Sony made a fine piece of hardware that’s great if you’re not moving around your game space, but the use of outdated technology (Move controllers/PS Camera) and the promise of a transformative experience come up a little short. And when I’ve encountered disappointment around every decision I’ve made as of late, it doesn’t make it any more pleasant.

The Final Verdict?

If I were into numbers ratings I’d probably assign PSVR as a whole a 7/10 — but that’s grading on a curve. There are some truly remarkable set pieces for VR (Thumper, London Heist, Kitchen, Rez Infinite, Super Hyper Cube and even Until Dawn: Rush of Blood — don’t listen to critics. an on-rails carnival shooter with massive squealing pigs and murderous pig-clowns attacking you is a goddamn rush). Just wearing the headset and watching a movie on a screen the size of the Chinese Theater is pretty damn cool. In fact, that’s how I handled my first viewing of Deadpool. Also, fun side note, you can tear up at a movie while wearing the headset like I did watching DEADPOOL OF ALL GODDAMN THINGS! “Playstation VR — yeah, you can cry wearing it” should be Sony’s slogan.

My biggest fear surrounding Playstation VR is one I’ve heard many people exclaiming — I hope they continue to support it with fully fleshed-out experiences that last more than an hour or two. Resident Evil 7 gives me hope, because “Kitchen” was so damn good, but other than that Sony needs to get messaging out now that there are “X amount of PSVR games” coming out in 2017 — otherwise I fear us early adopters will be left crying (quite easily) in our headsets.

If I come off sounding bitter or that I regret my purchase I’m not and I don’t. I will still get hours of enjoyment out of PSVR, but with tempered expectations. The thing I’m most excited about is showing it off to people who haven’t tried it yet. I had the fortune of doing that this weekend with my buddy Mickey. I wish I would have filmed it when the “bloody hands” happen in Kitchen. Watching people play VR is pure internet gold.

It’s easy to sit here and rag on Sony for shipping something that’s 3/4 functional. I know because I just did. But I’m hoping that through some kind of firmware upgrade or maybe the extra boost in power from PS4 Pro can kick PSVR into overdrive and fix the jankiness. Again, 90% of the games I played had little to no tracking problems, but Arkham VR was a special case.

As the first PSVR game developed by a heavy-hitting studio like Rocksteady, Arkham VR had high ambitions, but set the bar low. My only hope is that developers don’t ditch VR because it’s not the millions-selling phenomenon they expected it to be…yet. Now is the time for people to make mistakes, release shit, find out what works and what doesn’t work so in 3 years when the newest versions of these headsets come out, it’s not the wild west of VR game development. As long as people continue to support the medium, I’ll continue to play and report on it.

I got drunk on VR this weekend so I think I’ll return to my regularly scheduled gaming for a bit. I don’t want VR to be the only thing I talk about here since most people don’t have it yet, but for those who do, let me know your thoughts.

SIDE NOTES:

  • Something about PSVR reminds me of the early days of the Playstation 1. Maybe it’s the demo disc, maybe it’s that the games are weird and experimental and lack a certain amount of polish, or maybe it’s that this is Sony’s first step into unfamiliar territory. They’re the new kid on the block and they don’t have the most powerful machine, but they’re confident something will stick.
  • The initial hassle of “gearing up” every time you put on the headset dissipates after a while.
  • 3D sound is fucking rad.
  • Caressing the VR face of “bad guys” never gets old.
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“Love that Joker”
  • No, I still haven’t tried VR porn yet — something about that seems too “Demolition Man-ish” for me. Also, I have an irrational fear of someone breaking into my house while I have the headset on. And I don’t want to be literally caught with my pants down (dad joke).
  • Really looking forward to watching Westworld on a big-ass screen the rest of the season.
  • I still have $20 credit left over from my South Park refund…do I buy another VR game or do I finally download Inside or Firewatch?…hmm…

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