Ever since Sony announced PlayStation VR in early 2015, I’ve been excited to finally get my hands-on the final retail unit and see how it performs in my own living room. There are some definite shortcomings, but there is one thing that I’m certain of: this is the future of gaming. PlayStation VR provides the most immersive gaming experience that’s ever been possible with home consumer technology.
Let’s start with the setup, which for people who primarily play games on a home console, could be a little daunting at first. The PlayStation VR experience centres around a new PlayStation VR processing box which essentially looks like a mini PlayStation 4. This box is the device that outputs the imagery from your PlayStation 4 to your TV and the PlayStation VR Headset. Sony has been kind enough to include the necessary extra HDMI cable needed to run from your PS4 to the processing box as well as a pair of earbuds which will provide immersive 3D audio. They’ve also included a cleaning cloth which you’ll need to hold onto as the unit will need to be wiped down after each use. Not included in the box and something that you will need in order to use PlayStation VR is a PlayStation Camera which has recently been redesigned. It’ll set you back $89 so it’s important to take that into account in your purchasing decision.
The headset is really easy to put on which is incredibly important as people are initially usually a little fearful of breaking the device. You have a button on the back which allows you to easily extend the device to put over your head, a button on the front underside of the device to pull the actual viewfinder towards or away from you to ensure that you’re able to perfectly focus on the screen, and a tightening screw at the back which secures the headset to lock into place. Simply push the button at the back to release the headset and pull off over your head. I wear glasses and am incredibly surprised with how easy it is to put the headset on and take it off, but also how comfortable it is to wear for extended periods. The unit has removable rubberised blockout flaps on the inside to ensure that minimal light gets in and it does a pretty good job.
You’ll need to update your PS4 to system software 4.01 and there will also be an update waiting for the PlayStation VR which you’ll need to install before you’re able to get started with the device. Once you’ve connected the cables, updated all the necessary software and put your headset on, you’ll be greeted with a quick tutorial which shows you how you should be wearing the headset and the necessary buttons and menu options that you’ll need to access to ensure that your VR experience remains consistent. This includes things like re-calibrating the headset to ensure that it remains in front of you, the ability to change the distance between your eyes and just general re-calibration of your controllers and the PlayStation Camera.
The PlayStation VR features a 1080p RGB OLED display with a refresh rate of 90-120Hz. The resolution is lower than both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and when putting it on for the first time, it definitely won’t be the visual quality that you’re used to with standard 1080p or 4K gaming, but your eyes definitely adjust after a few minutes and the upside of being in a virtual world definitely outweighs the sacrifice of the visual fidelity.
Whilst we’ll be reviewing the majority of the PlayStation VR lineup separately, we’ll touch on a few games in this review to articulate different experiences that we’ve had with the PlayStation VR unit. Firstly, the tracking of the actual headset is great. PlayStation VR Worlds is essentially Sony’s way of showing off a variety of different VR experiences and it does incredibly well doing so. Most of the experiences are more passive than other launch titles and simply use the headset tracking without controller input. In games such as Ocean’s Descent which lowers you into the water and Danger Ball which is essentially a modern day pong in which you use your head to hit a ball back and forth, I felt like my movements in the headset were incredibly well reflected on screen and that was the first step in realising what a big deal PlayStation VR is.
Honestly, when it gets it right. The PlayStation VR provides a truly immersive experience that I’ve never seen in the gaming space. We had a number of people coming through and their expression upon putting on the headset was enough to tell me that anybody who tries the device, will be sold on the tech at some point in the future. Experiences like the Shark encounter in Ocean’s Descent and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood make immediate sense in virtual reality and really sell the immersion factor of the device.
Unfortunately, other elements are a bit hit and miss. One of my favourite experiences was The London Heist, which basically has you taking part in an intense on-rails shooter in the middle of a heist. You were able to play with the DualShock controller but I opted for the two Move controllers which is by far the more immersive experience. Whilst this worked for the most part, there were definitely times when my virtual hands – which were each configured to one move controller – would just react erratically and jump all over the place. Even when I was holding them completely still it would still stutter. I had my PlayStation Camera set up with the perfect amount of distance in almost pitch black, but couldn’t avoid the issue happening intermittently. It wasn’t a deal breaking experience, but it definitely took me out of the immersion briefly. Unfortunately, it’s likely down to the fact that PlayStation opted to use 6 year old tech (a decision that I respect due to the fact that a lot of hardcore PlayStation owners would still have them).
When you’re not in a VR compatible game you’ll be greeted Cinematic Mode which essentially provides a floating screen in three different sizes. I’m really glad that Sony included this mode and it will allow gamers to continue on playing games whilst other people occupy the TV and it’s still a more immersive experience playing regular games with the headset on. Once again, you’ll definitely notice a drop in quality compared to looking at a regular screen.
Sony claims that there will be more than 50 games launched on PlayStation VR before the end of the year with a good mix of about 20 or so games launching alongside the headset on launch day. There’s a great mix of AAA and indie experiences and it’s one of the better lineup of titles that we’ve seen launch alongside any piece of hardware. PlayStation Worlds, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood and Job Simulator all do a great job in showing off the hardware and provide tremendously different experiences, which just sums up the fact that this device will really be defined by software.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Sony advises that you take a 15 minute break for every hour of gameplay and trust me, you’ll need it. Whilst passive experiences like Oceans Descent and Job Simulator are fairly tame and don’t cause any discomfort, games such as Scavenger’s Oddysey, whilst incredibly fun and immersive, definitely can make you feel uncomfortable at times. It is something that I adjusted to after a while, but it’s much easier if you take an occasional break.
Honestly, I know that a lot of people are going to be on the fence about PlayStation VR. It’s not perfect and there are still some kinks to iron out, but it’s genuinely the most exciting piece of hardware to release in the gaming space in quite a number of years. It legitimately feels like a huge step forward in immersion and provides new experiences that really further the medium of gaming.
It’ll set you back about $750 to purchase the PlayStation VR Headset, required PlayStation Camera and the recommended PlayStation Move controllers. It’s still an expensive entry point, but you’re getting great value for money compared to other high-end VR headsets on the market. If you’ve got enough disposable income and understand that this device will provide truly immersive experiences in bursts, then I’d definitely recommend picking one up. It does feel like the future of gaming, and it’s something that you truly have to get in your house to understand just how great it is.
PlayStation VR launches on October 13th. PlayStation Australia provided us with a PlayStation VR unit and majority of the launch titles for review purposes.