I’ll never forget my first experience in VR. I was playing Surgeon Simulator on a newly released pre-production Oculus Rift headset, called the DK2. The screen door effect was terrible, but I didn’t care. I was able to sit inside a video game!
Since that exciting first taste, I’ve purchased a bunch of headsets – the Gear VR, the HTC Vive, the PSVR, and the Oculus Go. With every purchase, I’d gobble up the most talked-about content and play for hours on end. Without exception, I’d burn out quickly, only returning to the headsets to show the technology off to curious friends. Resident Evil VII kept me enthralled the longest, but after two solid weekends, I had finished the game, and I didn’t turn on the PSVR again for nearly six months. Talking to other owners of head-mounted displays, I’ve learned that this is a common story.
I never got hooked long term because of the enormous amount of friction that comes with VR gaming. There’s always a hitch, no matter how streamlined the product.
The most technologically accomplished experiences are found on the HTC Vive, but even after doubling our living space, I didn’t have enough room to play a room-scale game without bumping into walls. I’ve turned the headset on once in 2018, to show Tilt Brush and Fruit Ninja VR off to my sister. In a perfect setting, with lots of open space, HTC’s vision of VR is fantastic… but I can’t get it to fit properly inside a three bedroom townhouse.
Gear VR overheats your phone in less than 30 minutes, so that’s a no-go. I don’t think I spent more than 30 minutes in that headset this year.
Oculus Go offers a novel way to watch movies, but it’s hard to give up the 4K display in my living for the illusion of a giant low-resolution screen. Games on Oculus Go generally lack depth, and control input is very limited. To be fair, the Oculus Go got a heavy weekend of play before getting shelved… and the Face Your Fears series of experiences are great.
So then, on to 2018’s big winner in the VR space: PSVR. Moss was one of my favorite games early in the year. Firewall: Zero Hour was fun to play with others, and took advantage of the solidly designed PSVR Aim controller. Tetris Effect and Astro Bot: Rescue Mission delivered Game-of-the-Year quality experiences. Astro Bot in particular is revelation if you like action-platformers… it’s the most exciting entry in the genre since Super Mario 64.
PSVR is far from the most powerful HMD on the market, but it has the best library, and it makes the most persuasive argument for VR as more than a fad.
It’s biggest teaching for the industry is this: let VR players sit down, use a traditional gamepad, and control the action from a third-person perspective. I experienced no nausea playing Moss, Astro Bot, or Tetris Effect… but I did get magically sucked into their worlds. If we can get more games like these, then VR will become indispensable extension of the core gaming experience, instead of just a novelty.