My gaming rig consists of a Steam running on a high-end PC supplemented by the Nvidia Sheild Portable. I’ve tried the HTC Vive with great success and looked forward to picking up a VR headset sometime this year. For me the running was always between the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.
I didn’t want to love Sony’s new first person shooter Farpoint using the Playstation VR system and new gun-shaped PS VR Aim Controller. I don’t own a PS4, plus the PS VR headset has slightly lower resolution and also has a slightly narrower field of view than its competitors. I never considered Sony’s offering a choice for me.
That changed after trying it at CES 2017 at the Playstation exhibit. If you’re like most people and have played first person shooters but haven’t tried an immersive VR system, this is what you would imagine the perfect VR experience SHOULD be. Standing on a distant planet, moving your head to look around at the foreign terrain, holding a badass futuristic rifle and blasting the crap out of alien bugs looking to make you their next snack.
All of the mandatory aspects of a great FPS are in there. Full movement within the environment (via a built in analog control stick on the gun accessory), a button for grenades, easily switching between weapons, far targets, near targets, projectiles that can be avoided or shot down, etc.
No acclimation to VR or the control scheme is needed to play this game. No tutorials, no funky warp-based movement, no wishing you could remap buttons. Simply put on the headset, pickup the gun, move around the environment, point the gun at gross alien things and blow them away while avoiding projectiles and progressing forward. It couldn’t have been a more intuitive experience.
Free movement via control stick is something VR developers are shying away from due to a proclivity to motion sickness and general disorientation. Farpoint abandons that mentality and features the free movement that anyone would expect having not tried VR previously. I played the demo for a good 10-15 minutes and at the end of it, my legs were a little shaky from compensating in real life to my virtual surroundings and I was probably ready for a break, but nothing noteworthy regarding nausea or significant disorientation. Granted, immediately after putting down the headset I probably wasn’t ready for any activity that would have required my sharpest senses. The demo was played standing up and at home I would have certainly been seated so as not to lose balance. Bottom line, even if it wasn’t possible to put in the sheer number of hours in VR that one can put in planted in front of a screen playing endless matches of Call of Duty, the experience of free movement in VR is worth taking a break for here and there. For any of us who have guffawed at those ridiculous warnings on some games stating that you should take breaks every 30-60 minutes or so, I think that makes sense in the virtual environment.
The PS VR Aim Controller is ridiculous. I own and have access to a wide range of real weaponry including scoped rifles and AR15s. Holding Sony’s new VR gun-shaped controller is compelling. I am forever spoiled for having tried it. In the virtual space, this odd-looking contraption comes to life as a “real” rifle. After a minute of having the headset on, I stretched my arms out to examine what I was holding in the VR space. It was remarkable, because of the additional tracking from the accessory, my fully rendered arms wearing the space suit, thick gloves, and cool weaponry were right in front of me moving as I am moving with almost none of the odd tracking issues sometimes experienced in VR. I truly felt like I was wearing a space suit and holding the gun that I could see in my hands. It didn’t have that outline of “here are your hands.. kind of”, but instead my arms moved effortlessly as their virtual counterpart complete with what you would expect to see if you were holding a gun in front of you while dressed for a mission in space.
The aiming was equally remarkable. When reacting to enemies jumping out at me from a rocky corner of the alien world, a reactive shooting stance was invoked. But then when enemies were a little farther away and I had some time to plan my shots, the natural feeling of holding the rifle up to my cheek and looking down the barrel at a holographic illuminated site for better aim kicked in. It even has the “sweet spot” on the optic itself that you experience in real life with a real rifle. It was truly organic.
In pretty much all first-person shooters there is a constant aim point, cross-hairs, something on the screen as a point of reference whether you are playing keyboard and mouse, or gamepad, with the idea that you 2 options; “hip” shooting, or “aim” shooting. This removed all of that. If you positioned the rifle up to your cheek as you would a real rifle, you could see the floating cross hairs of the reticle on the gun. There was no “choosing between the two accepted modes”, it was as natural and responsive as it would be with the real thing.
This was the experience I was looking for in VR ever since trying a simple Google Cardboard device for the first time. Overall this was a home run and the bar has been raised. Sony needs to continue making games of this caliber utilizing the PS VR Aim Controller. It’s still a hard sell for me considering it’s a big investment if you don’t already own the PS4 and motion camera, plus it’s only one game – but it’s still enough to make me want to prolong my VR decision of something Steam compatible at least in the short term. I honestly want both now … damn you Sony.