We've been lucky enough to play PlayStation VR on several occasions now, and the novelty's yet to wear off. Granted, we haven't yet had to cope with cables, plugs, and calibration – a real-world headache that could significantly reduce the thrill of entering a virtual space – but we're yet to walk away from the futuristic facemask feeling underwhelmed.
That's a testament to both the hardware – which continues to feel comfortable, perform flawlessly, and look cool – as well as the software library, which has quietly bloated in the build-up to launch. Sony invited us to go hands-on with a handful of forthcoming titles earlier this week, but its preview event was still missing promising day one products like Battlezone, SuperHyperCube, Tumble VR, and more – a sign of just much software is in the pipeline for this peripheral.
Because we've talked at length about PlayStation VR in previous articles, we've decided to compile our hands-on experiences with the half-dozen or so titles that we tested into one article. Luckily for this author, every release that we tried was one that we hadn't seen previously – it's always nice when a plan comes together, isn't it?
Resident Evil 7
Horror in virtual reality is a very, very different proposition. Your humble host has built up a resistance to 2D scares over the years, but PlayStation VR changes the game. The difference between a traditional horror title and a virtual reality one is that you can't escape; there's no option to look away from the screen or cover your ears. You can close your eyes, but everything that you're trying to evade will still be laid bare in front of you when you open them again.
Resident Evil 7 is one of the first major brands to go all-in with PlayStation VR, and playing this demo – which is the same as the one released on the PlayStation Store after E3 2016 – highlights just how heightened the spooks are in virtual reality. The demo essentially finds you wandering through a house, looking for keys and other items – it's not all that exciting on paper.
But it's got a real strong sense of atmosphere. The visuals aren't the best – it's obvious that this game hasn't been built specifically with VR in mind – but it still manages to create a solid sense of place. Every creak and clang that the mansion makes will find you looking over your shoulder, and a visual trick with moving mannequins – which change position when out of sight – is way more effective when you're looking with your head, rather than with an analogue stick.
We'd heard some complaints about this game causing nausea in VR, but we experienced nothing of the sort; there's a lengthy setup sequence which enables you to attune to the controls, and turning is limited to 30-degree increments by default – a trick which a lot of games are adopting – to limit motion sickness. Potential queasiness aside, though, there's no question that this game – and others of its ilk – will be too intense for some people to play.
And that, in this author's opinion, is kind of awesome. You really do have a physical response to what's happening around you – we were sweating profusely, for example – and that's evidence of just how immersive this technology can be. With the entirety of Resident Evil 7's campaign set to support PlayStation VR, we're looking forward to seeing how long we can last strapped in to the sequel's grotesque world.
Sony's love of superfluous accessories lives on with Farpoint, a game which uses a new PS4 version of the Sharpshooter and is actually surprisingly cool. This is essentially Starship Troopers: you're a space marine, and there are giant alien bugs that you need to squash. It's the way that you off these insects that's really exciting, though.
Because the game is able to track the gun – using PlayStation Move technology – in relation to your head, you're able to look down at your weapon and see it rendered perfectly in your virtual hands. A lot of time and attention has clearly been invested into the firearm models, and it's fun simply turning it about in your hands and inspecting all of the detail; you can even bring it up close to your face if you like, or lean in to get a better look.
The game's far from a looker – relying on relatively bland Mars-like surfaces to form its backdrop – but it does definitely attempt to create a sense of scale by forcing you to cross perilous ravines at times. It's the shooting that's the star, though – as you're assaulted by six-legged critters, you'll realise that you can physically look down the barrel of your gun to aim down the sights, creating a novel way to play that's immensely satisfying.
Not only this, but you can also change weapons by performing an Arnie-esque shoulder swing – muscles not required. By the end of the demo, we were popping off rockets – which are aimed by using a laser pointer – and holding our shotgun sideways to pick off the bad guys in the most dramatic manner imaginable. This is definitely going to be a novelty-type game, but we'd be lying if we said that it isn't fun, and it shows promise for future first-person shooters in VR.
It simply must be bundled with the gun peripheral, however, as that represents an enormous part of the game's appeal.
Batman: Arkham VR
Who doesn't want to be Batman? Gotham's broody saviour is the fictional embodiment of a badass, so we were never going to decline the opportunity to don the cowl. Batman: Arkham VR is a 90 minute or so superhero "experience" that has been developed internally by Rocksteady, and it's one of the most impressive titles on PlayStation VR thus far.
Using two PlayStation Move controllers to operate your hands, the demo starts out in a lush-looking Wayne Manor, where a very Michael Caine-inspired Alfred alerts you to a distress call. He reaches out and offers you a key, which you intuitively take out of his hand, and use to unlock the piano that you're sitting in front of. A short ditty later, and you're being plunged into the Batcave.
It's always worth re-iterating just how cavernous things look in virtual reality, and the Batcave in particular, with its waterfalls and high ceilings, looks enormous. But your focus will be on equipping your gear: you pull the suit to your chest to wear it, squeeze your hands into your gloves, and, of course, apply the mask to your face. A mirror then drops down, mimicking your head movements, showing you dressed as Batman – a really, really cool touch.
The second part of the demo centres on a slumped Nightwing, and it plays out like a murder mystery. You scan his body to determine his injuries, and then begin to create a reconstruction of what happened. This is particularly impressive because it plays out all around you; you'll need to watch back a replay of Dick Grayson and his mysterious assailant in order to ascertain exactly how he was murdered.
It's by far the best looking PlayStation VR game that we've played thus far. Rain lashes the murky alleyways of Gotham City, and it looks almost real when you stare down at your feet. The PlayStation Move controls can be a little bit fiddly, but when they work, it's a magical experience; it feels like you're there, wearing Batman's suit.
And while it is only a short experience, Rocksteady explained to us that it'll be augmenting the final release with replay value, so that you have ample incentive to revisit it at least once. At the right price, though, this is more than entertaining enough to justify its existence – and, honestly, will probably become the PlayStation VR game that you simply have to show to friends and family.
After all, who doesn't want to be Batman?
Robinson: The Journey
Dinosaur fandom comes in cycles, but this author was born at the perfect time. Jurassic Park was a phenomenon when your humble host was a youngster, and Walking with Dinosaurs was also one of the top television shows at the time. Robinson: The Journey has always looked intriguing, then, as it's a game set on an alien planet – where dinosaurs still rule.
Once you get past the awful name of Crytek's latest – we assume that it's referencing Robinson Crusoe perhaps, as you find yourself shipwrecked – this is definitely a looker. Bugs fly in front of your eyes, as you're directed through a tropical jungle-like environment by a floating robot guide. And then the dinosaurs begin to appear: first raptors and then a gigantic diplodocus-type beast. That scale is worth mentioning yet again – the creature feels absolutely enormous.
The gameplay on display here involves mostly walking and climbing, where the L2 and R2 buttons enable you to grip as you grab on to rock faces and stalks. There are puzzles too, though, as you must use futuristic implements to levitate obstacles out of the way. It's not massively exciting stuff, but this felt like the beginning of a much grander adventure, and even if it doesn't increase in complexity, the very idea of being able to walk alongside dinosaurs is exciting in itself.
PlayStation VR Worlds
We feel a bit sorry for London Studio, to be honest. The UK-based team is one of the earliest advocates of PlayStation VR, and it's clearly invested a ton of work behind-the-scenes into prototyping what works in virtual reality and what doesn't. Unfortunately, the game that it's actually putting on store shelves is a bit of a strange proposition.
PlayStation VR Worlds is, in essence, a hodgepodge of tech demos – ranging from the London Heist experience that you've seen before all the way through to the bathysphere sequence that's been around since the very beginning of Sony's virtual reality push. They're both decent, and in addition to the other minigames available, represent great showcases for the tech. But this package feels clumsily assembled; there's no thread linking the minigames, other than that they're tech demos that have clearly cost the developer too much money to make.
Still, we tried out two of the minigames that haven't received a whole lot of press thus far: Danger Ball and Scavenger's Odyssey. The former is essentially Curveball in virtual reality, and is brilliant fun, as you move your head to bounce a ball backwards and forwards, craning your neck to put spin on it. Each opponent has a different special move, whether it's duplicate balls or a fan that propels the ball back to you faster.
It's super simple stuff, but is entertaining, as anything involving bouncing balls tends to be. Less enjoyable is Scavenger's Odyssey, which is the first VR game to make us truly feel queasy. This is a topsy-turvy shooter set in outer-space, where you pilot a mech and target by looking in the direction of enemies. It looks great, but all of the leaping around, walking up walls, and standing on the ceiling left us feeling a little bit sick, and we were glad when the demo was over.
That this represents just a handful of the experiences set to launch on PlayStation VR within its first few months on the market shows the scale of the software support that Sony's managed to assemble, and the good news is that most of the games are entertaining and make great use of the burgeoning tech.
Will the novelty wear off eventually? Perhaps, but it's worth remembering that these are just the first generation of virtual reality games, and they're only going to get better with time. When you consider just how immersive titles like Batman: Arkham VR are right now, then we reckon that the future's seriously bright.