Virtual Reality, it has been the ultimate dream of computer games progression for many years and now that it has become a reality, opinions have been varied at best. Regardless of your opinion of the current offerings and the future of ‘Altered Reality,’ the fact is that it is here now, and things can only advance. The question is, when will you get on board?
As a long-time gamer, I have dreamt of the day that I could immerse myself further into video games and numerous movies, books and TV shows over the years have only fuelled this desire. Lawnmower Man is the first example I can think of, I could list a bunch more, but you get the idea. Recently I bought the audiobook version of Ready Player One and I was hooked all over again, I can’t wait for the movie this year. Yes, I might be a little obsessed with it.
I have had a small taste of VR over the last couple of years with my Samsung Gear VR as well as a small sample of the PSVR at EB Expo 2016. Although these devices did provide an enjoyable experience, I was still wanting more, and I will explain why.
The Gear VR was immersive, especially for an accessory for my mobile phone but the biggest downside is the limited assortment of games and the lack of controller. I know the new version does include the controller, but it is still a far stretch from being able to reach out with my hands and touch anything in the virtual world. The other downside is the inability to support physical movement, so you are left sitting or standing in one position while playing. Again, this is a very cost-effective introduction to VR and may or may not suit your needs, but it was not for me.
My very brief experience with the PSVR was less than exhilarating. I tried a shark dive game but again I was standing in one spot not doing anything, it was basically a CG 360-degree video. The other time was with Batman Arkham VR. This was better with actual motions required but it was such a short demo, it did not sell me on the product. I also found the graphical output wasn’t as good as it could be, this led me to the conclusion that ‘if’ I was to get a VR unit, then it would have to be an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. The issue I had with them at the time was the need for a fairly high-end computer of which I did not have.
Fast forward to the present where I do happen to have such a PC and a little extra cash, I decided to take the plunge and invest in a VR unit, at least to try it for myself and make an educated decision on whether it was for me or not. This was not a quick decision as I had to weigh up which unit was both cost-effective and met my needs. I was excited to hear the announcement of the HTC Vive Focus which is a stand-alone unit requiring no external computer or sensors but since that is not being released outside of China, that option quickly evaded my grasp. I ended up choosing the HTC Vive due to its higher specifications over the Oculus Rift+Touch and it seemed to suit my requirements better. Thankfully most games are available on both platforms which means that I wouldn’t encounter too many titles that I would miss out on.
Speaking of titles, this has been the biggest issue people have been verbal about in regard to whether VR is going to stand the test of time, and one which discouraged me from jumping on board much earlier. Up until very recently, the majority of titles have been basically elaborate tech demos consisting of very short experiences, which were exciting for a few minutes, but we were generally less than satisfied afterwards, we don’t need any more of that in our lives.
Thankfully, the offerings are growing, with more immersion, longer gameplay and much better graphical presentations than ever before. As we all know, any video game takes a substantial amount of time to develop, especially decent ones. VR games are no different and now is the time that we’ll start seeing some of these added to the current library.
The experiences are very exhilarating in varying ways, depending on the games that you play and what genres suit you. Personally, games with fast movement are not suitable as they very quickly cause vertigo and I have to turn them off, so I steer clear of those. Alternatively, horror games generally are enjoyable and get your heart racing, wave-based shooters are also a lot of fun. Although you, more often than not, are standing in the one spot, you are turning around quite often while blasting away the enemies. These are also usually quite lengthy though with a number of different stages, difficulty levels, weapon assortments etc. One great example of a good shooter is SuperHot VR. The base game was a huge success and it was only a matter of time before you could start swinging and shooting your way through it in VR, and it is glorious.
Another favourite genre of mine is Escape Room games, which are plentiful and also the ones where the most movement is required. You have the freedom to walk around, pick things up and operate gadgets in order to solve the puzzles. Vacate The Room and Belko VR are classic examples of this, where you are required to look behind and under desks for objects which really is a great use of the motion tracking. Don’t be surprised to find yourself lying on the floor to crack open a safe and then a moment later jumping up to see if anything is sitting on a cabinet or high shelf.
There has been a bit of debate about the recent release of Skyrim in VR which touches on a subject I wanted to discuss, and that is the removal of the walk feature in this version. I can certainly understand this decision based on my personal experience with games that involve movement, whilst I physically am not moving. Although it may not affect everyone, vertigo is a big issue with VR and this is a good way that every player can enjoy the game without getting sick or limiting their play time dramatically. The alternative to this is something that the TALOS Principle did. Giving the player the option to either play with teleports or without. It clearly can be done and would be achieved with virtually no more programming than what has already been done by including the teleport function. Either way, fans will have many hours replaying Skyrim on yet another platform, as if there aren’t enough options already.
There is simply a massive amount of games available that should satisfy even the pickiest gamer out there. The Steam Store has over 1700 alone varying in quality and genres. Also, you have more available in the VivePort and Oculus Stores respectively.
Overall, I can confidently say that as the platform is right now, Virtual Reality gaming is a very fun experience even in its infancy and I believe/hope it has a strong life ahead. Technology will advance and get even better however it will need the support of the gamers. If you have not tried it yet, then I would recommend at least give it a go. Try a few different types of game and then make a decision on whether it is something for you. Who knows, it may get to the point where full haptic suits become an affordable and compatible accessory allowing us to play without hand-held controllers and increase the immersion VR can offer, but maybe that has become my new future gaming dream.
“OK VR, load The Oasis.” – Future me.