The landscape of the video gaming industry is finally becoming more three dimensional after years of promise with virtual reality. The recently released Sony PlayStation VR headset hits a sweet spot with price, ease of connection, familiarity for consumers and launch-day games that show the controller’s potential.
PSVR is one of three virtual reality units hitting the market this year. It joins HTC Vive, released in April, and the Oculus Rift, released in March. While all three offer an amazing virtual reality experience to differing degrees, one of the major differences will be to players’ bank accounts.
The PSVR headset alone is priced at $399, but if you never had a PlayStation camera, you are going to need one of those as well, an additional $60. The PSVR games can use the regular DualShock 4 controllers players use with PlayStation consoles, but there are Move controllers, individualized hand controllers for another $60, that will provide a more immersive experience for players.
Sony does have a bundle that includes all that hardware, plus a demo disk of various games and virtual reality environments to explore and a full game called “PlayStation Worlds” for $499.
The HTC Vive is priced at $799 for just the headset. The Oculus Rift is priced at $599 but will also feature Touch motion controllers for an addition $199 and earphones for $49 starting on Dec. 6.
All prices are manufacturer suggested retail prices, and there are many deals out there to drive purchases during the holiday season. However, the clear price winner is the PSVR, with a much more consumer friendly price while still offering a lot of hardware, even with the inclusive bundle.
The PSVR is also a very easy hookup to the PlayStation 4 console. I had the whole thing up and running in less than 10 minutes. One main cable connects the headset to the console through a dedicated processor that sits next to the PS4. The processor is small and doesn’t have a large footprint on the shelf.
Because it uses a PlayStation 4 console, there is a familiarity with the set up and the menu screens. The Vive and the Rift both need a high-powered PC to run their headsets, but the PSVR is just another extension of Sony’s gaming stable and requires no PC.
Anyone who might be interested in virtual reality likely has a PS4. Not everyone has a top-of-the-line computer, meaning an additional expense for those who look to HTC/Valve or Oculus for the experience.
Wearing the PSVR is simple. Extend the headband, slip it on your head, slide the screen into position, and you are ready to go. It isn’t heavy, weighing in at just over 1.5 pounds, and I had little neck fatigue from repeated and extended usage.
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There are warnings for people who may get motion sickness, and the PSVR isn’t for children under 12. I didn’t experience any nausea or sensory discomfort, but others who used it said they were a little “swimmy” after taking the headset off in certain circumstances.
However, as with any new gaming hardware, the proof is in the games. Companies can make the best system ever, but without good content to keep players involved and entertained, the hardware just sits there, looking pretty.
PSVR launched with a series of titles that showcased the different types of experiences you’ll be able to have in virtual reality. The imagery is stunning in them all, from the dangerous reality of the deep ocean in “Ocean Descent” to the fantastical world of lights and sound in “Thumper.”
Some games felt like I was in a “Tron” movie. “Battle Zone” put me in a realistic-looking, futuristic tank, while the battlefield resembled more of a digital game.
Other games would let me see things through the main characters’ eyes. In “Batman: Arkham VR,” you put on the costume, gauntlets and cowl to become the Batman, navigating your way through a very detailed Gotham to solve a horrible crime.
In “Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration,” you look at Croft Manor through Lara Croft’s eyes, seeing and remembering its significance as she sees them while she searched for clues into the manor’s secrets.
In “Driveclub,” taking the seat of a racing car has never felt so real, allowing me to look around the entire interior of the car while also looking out a side window to see my opponents reaction as I race by.
While the virtual reality experience has been shown to reproduce real-life settings, some games are more interested in how the PSVR headset interacts with the game play. “Headmaster” only uses the interactive movement of my head to direct soccer balls into the net and at targets.
Still others, like “Wayward Sky,” use the headset and controllers to direct the action across a virtual playing field. Even in those cases, the player feels like they are floating in a world that is rich and vibrant as it extends all around them.
Obviously, the horror genre of games can take full advantage of putting the player into scenes where danger lurks around every corner, and the players can look into those corners – if they dare.
A demo experience from “Resident Evil 7” called “Kitchen” showed how players can see the terror coming if they are paying attention. But what are you prepared to do about it?
Aptly named “Rush of Blood” puts players on a haunted amusement park ride where murderous clowns (yes, it had to be clowns) try to end your ride permanently.
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With major companies, like Warner Bros., Ubisoft and Evolution Studio to name a few, developing games and experiences for the PlayStation VR, the adventures and fun are only going to get better and better. While there was no defining, "killer" game for the PSVR at launch, the wide range of experiences and involvement lets players know what is possible and allows them to choose the type of game that is right for them.
For a good price, the ability to connect with a known console and fantastic virtual reality adventures, the PlayStation VR is something people should consider if they want to explore the VR worlds. Our imaginations are only the beginning.
Larry Frum has written about video games and gaming technology for seven years for various publications. This story was done using a purchased PlayStation VR bundle unit, and the games were digital downloads using codes provided by Sony.