When you think about advancements in gaming in the past few years, the jump from old consoles to the current ones in 2013, there really hasn’t been a moment that makes a gamer say, “Woah! This is the future.” Games that we have played to date on the PS4 and Xbox One are mechanically not that different from what we played on the 360 and PS3. Motion controls have been fairly well received, but always felt like something was missing. 3D gaming on televisions is cool, but nothing revolutionary. Virtual reality has always been a little out of reach, too expensive for the average person to jump into and carting with it a steep learning curve in the setup. Along comes Sony with PSVR; their attempt to bring virtual reality to the living room. For a company who could just sit on the success of its current console, to bring something new to the playing field of video games is a fair feat and a large gamble, and I think they have pulled it off.
When I received notification from the folks at PlayStation Canada that Girls on Games would get their hands on a review unit of PSVR, I immediately pondered how I could review this experience. I have had demos on different forms of VR in the past, and was hooked on the concept as a whole. I didn’t want my excitement to curb my review, so decided to enlist some other gamers in on the process. Catherine was my first invite, a natural fit since she has also tried the other VR units that I have, along with the demos of PSVR, but suffers from pretty severe motion sickness. I also roped my husband Mike into the review, as he was a complete VR noob, never having tried any form of virtual reality before. They also both represent different types of gamers in the genres they enjoy to play. Though I had the most time with the unit, I made sure Catherine and Mike had ample time to mess around, pretty much leaving them to their own devices once I had shown them how to put the headset on.
At first glance, PSVR is an impressive looking piece of tech. The headset that comes in the box is very similar to the image we have been seeing in the press since its announcement and the headset Catherine and I tested in demos. The industrial design behind the piece feels futuristic and much more attractive than other VR headsets that we have tried to date. The blue tracking lights are not only functional but aesthetically pleasing, bringing the blue PlayStation branding to the unit without painting the full thing in said colour.
The PSVR headset is also quite durable. When first setting up the kit, I was afraid about how fragile the piece would be. I handled it gingerly at first until I realized that it’s pretty darn solid. The headset contains some delicate tech, but the encasing is strong and never felt flimsy when placing it on my head and then removing it.
Ergonomically speaking, it is the most comfortable of all the VR headsets that I have tried to date. It’s deceptive at first to put on, making the user think that the ring should sit around your head like a crown. The key is to pull that back band low on your head, almost to the nape of your neck, to have it sit with the best level of comfort (and viewing angle), which Sony demonstrates well in their on screen demo when first setting up the unit. The button at the back of the headset offers enough slack for the band to comfortably fit any head size. For example, Mike wears a size 7 3/4th New Era hat and there is ample room to accommodate a larger head.
The visor that contains all the magic can slide in and out using a button located on the bottom right. This button will be your best friend for adjusting the view of the screens and for navigating your real space while hooked up to the system.
As many other reviewers have spoken about, the headset is tethered by a wire to the converter box and then to the PS4. There’s a controller that permits you to turn off and on the headset contains a headphone jack for 3D sound, a button to mute your mic, and volume control on a cable which sits to the left hand side. Prior to having the PSVR in my possession, I heard and read a lot of speculation, much of it complaining about the headphone control, to the point that I was expecting it to be out right terrible. To my pleasant surprise, I enjoy the placement of the controller and found it an intuitive solution since this is a frequent placement for a control of this nature on audio headsets. When you have the PSVR on your head, your vision is severely limited, so having the controller in a common place makes a lot of sense.
The processor box that comes with the PSVR looks like a little PS4, mimicking some of the design aesthetic of the day one edition of the console. I find it a little odd that they did not use the rounded corners that you see on the new PS4 Slim or PS4 Pro. It connects to the PS4 through HDMI cables and a USB. It’s a little disappointing on the day one edition of the PS4 that I have that there is no USB port in the back of the console, as the PSVR takes over one of the front ports and must have a cable looping from the back of the processor to the front of the PS4. The upcoming consoles don’t appear to have a USB on the back either, so I find that an odd design decision on Sony’s part.
The review PSVR that Sony Canada sent me also came with a PlayStation Camera and two Move Controllers, but since these weren’t updated, there isn’t much to talk about.
Turning PSVR On
When you first boot the PSVR, it walks you through a setup process which is straightforward and self explanatory, definitely helpful in getting you geared up for the first time. When in the PlayStation menu, it feels as if you are in a theatre with a 30-foot screen in front of you. You can navigate as you do traditionally on a tv screen, and all apps work. Non-VR games and applications like YouTube play as they normally would. Mike even tried 360 degree videos in the YouTube app, but alas there is no support for that quite yet.
Jumping into a game works just as it has in the past, only you are notified if you need to put the PSVR headset on prior to the game starting. Some games require you to stand, others sit, and they all take the time to make sure your settings are correct before going into play. Games that offer both traditional view and VR will prompt you to turn on VR mode.
One thing that all three of us noticed while playing for an extended period of time is how warm you get with the headset and headphones on your head. Most of your body heat is dispensed through your head, so keeping that all covered up, plus the little bit of claustrophobia you can feel by having your vision cut off, can make you sweat.
When was the last time that you had a launch console that had 16 games for you to play right away?! I was very impressed when my review codes were delivered to me, being awed at the quantity of things I could try (borderline overwhelmed. How do you play 16 games in a weekend?). This was a smart move on PlayStation’s part, as it shows not only that they have faith in their new product by providing this much content at launch, but also offering me lots different experiences. It was quite obvious that Catherine, Mike and I all gravitated to different games, depending on our preferences in genres, and also the amount of virtual movement that a title might simulate.
Another reason why providing 16 launch games was so smart was the quality of these titles. For the most part, all of these games feel like high end demos for the console, but I don’t think that is a bad thing. As a designer myself, I often find that I have to get the first idea in my head about a project out before I can move on to a better one. You need to get that concept off your chest before you sculpt a masterpiece. All of the games provided have this flavor, but it makes total sense, and it doesn’t mean that they lack polish. There are some standouts in the bunch, including: Batman: Arkham VR which Catherine enjoyed, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood which tickled Mike’s fancy, and my personal favourite, Thumper.
What We Love
After each of our experiences with PSVR, I gathered opinions to see where PlayStation’s strengths lie. There was an overwhelming applause for what Sony has managed to accomplish with PSVR. It’s an amazing first go at bringing a very expensive technology to the living room and a great first experience for new people to virtual reality. Mike stated that we were expecting to be underwhelmed, but were surprised how well it worked. Watching him experience VR for the first time was absolutely hilarious, as he exclaimed and smiled in the loading screen of the game VR Worlds, spending 10 minutes in the menu select before ever starting a game.
On the motion control side of things, it brings that technology to a whole new level. Your head movements are tracked just as much as the Move controllers, making the first person view way more dynamic than playing on a television. The Move controllers themselves augment the experience, especially in the Batman: Arkham VR game, which relies on them heavily. And best of all, PSVR offers an entire new venue of discovery for game developers. Possibilities are endless and ideas are in abundance when thinking about virtual reality and what it will bring to the future of gaming.
It wouldn’t be a Girls on Games review if I didn’t give my two cents on what changes Sony could make to PSVR to bring the experience to the next level. Right off the bat, Catherine was feeling motion sickness, and I know that I did a little as well (though sometimes it was just nervous about when the Joker was going to jump out at me). Finding a real solution to not having that feeling in the pit of your stomach would go a long way in solidifying PSVR’s future.
I also encountered a bit of an issue with the distance of my couch to the tv where the PlayStation camera was sitting. I was flirting with the range boundary sitting 10 feet from the camera, so think about that when rigging your setup. In the same vein, some games require you to be in a very specific spot, so I had to move my living room around to play Batman: Arkham VR. My coffee table is kinda heavy and I really need two people to move it, so I can see this being a deterrent in my desire to play certain titles.
PlayStation has also not worked out how to display notifications while you play. We all frequently heard that gratifying ping as we achieved trophies while playing, but had no idea what they were, and the only way to see them would be to jump out of the game and go to the menu, or take the headset off.
Lastly, it’s really really hard to see the real world when you have the headset on, to the point where you are borderline blind. I became a wizard of opening the headset and navigating my living room with only seeing beyond the edges of the visor. A hinge to flip the visor up would not go astray, offering a way to move without breaking a leg and offering a chance to cool yourself off because as I mentioned before, you get real warm with all that gear on your head.
The Potential Is Insane
With all things considered, the PlayStation VR is one impressive piece of gear. As Sony’s first attempt at bringing virtual reality into our homes and trying to convince the average gamer that VR is the future, they have gone leaps and bounds beyond my expectations. Every time I put on the headset, I feel like I am jacking into the Matrix, transporting me to another world, and losing myself in an experience that is unparalleled in the comfort of my own living room. I cannot wait to see what magic game developers can come up with through this new addition to their creative arsenal, and I hope that this catches on to the main stream so that everyone can take this adventure for themselves.
DISCLAIMER: PSVR review unit provided by PlayStation Canada. The opinions expressed in the article above have not be affected by, dictated or edited in any way by PlayStation Canada. For more information please see Girls on Games’ Code of Journalistic Ethics.