The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift aren’t the only major virtual reality headsets coming out in 2016. The $400 Sony PlayStation VR brings virtual reality to the PlayStation 4 later this year. Here’s what you can expect.
Rez is a classic PlayStation 2 rail shooter that remains beloved by gamers thanks to its surreal visuals and hypnotic music. It’s getting an expanded remake in the form of Rez Infinite, which will work with the PlayStation VR. Rez Infinite might be an upgraded version of a 15-year-old game, but it stands out as one of the most compelling and entertaining games I tried.
You play a hacker floating through cyberspace trying to take down a malicious AI. Your virtual body moves forward through a shifting, colorful corridor as electronic music plays and various strange digital creatures attack you. Every shot you fire adds a beat or tone, making your gameplay an active component in the music. This all takes place in a world that looks like a cross between Tron and Kandisky.
The gameplay and visual design of Rez Infinite in VR is almost identical to the original game, but now you can aim and look around by moving your head, in addition to using the right analog stick. More importantly, it puts you in the middle of this bizarre cyberspace instead of looking at it on a screen, and that makes a huge difference in the experience. It was beautiful and entrancing, and I happily played through the full 10 layers the demo had to offer. If you want to feel like you’re taking in cyberspace like you’re in Hackers or The Lawnmower Man, but with a better soundtrack than both, Rez Infinite is it.
Project CARS is Bandai Namco’s take on the racing simulator genre, released last year on the PlayStation 4. It’s currently available on the Oculus store, if you have an Oculus Rift, but it’s also coming to PlayStation VR and I tried it coupled with a racing wheel and pedals.
I’m terrible at driving simulators, but I usually play with a gamepad. A wheel naturally helps, but surprisingly so does VR. Wearing the PSVR let me sit in the cockpit of a supercar, and combined with the wheel it felt so much more realistic than playing on a screen.
As simple as it sounds, the ability to look left and right adds a tremendous sense of immersion to driving. When competing with other cars in a race, I could look to the side to see if someone was trying to pass me at a glance. It’s a motion I do all the time when I drive (and unlike in video games, I am actually competent at driving in reality), and adding it to a racing game really gave me a sense of control. I felt like I was inside the car and driving, not just staring through a virtual windshield.
If Rez is old, then Battlezone is positively ancient. The original arcade game came out in 1980, and its vector graphics were stunning at the time. Fortunately, Battlezone for the PS4 isn’t simply an updated remake of the first game. It’s an all-new sci-fi tank combat game designed specifically for the PSVR.
Battlezone looks more like Rez than Project CARS, using colorful, blatantly virtual designs rather than attempting photorealism. It works well as an homage to a game that consisted only of glowing lines. I sat in the cockpit of a tank and drove it around a small area filled with geometric obstacles as different enemies appeared and attacked me. I switched between a heavy cannon and a machine gun, shooting tanks, drones, and turrets.
The tank guns were completely dependent on the right analog stick, which meant that looking around with the PSVR only let me look around rather than aim. This worked for the game; when driving a tank rather than simply throwing digital blasts around in cyberspace, a set speed to turning the tank turret feels natural. It also meant I could get a good look at all of the controls in the cockpit.
Moving the analog sticks didn’t just move the tank; they made my hands in the game pull levers in the cockpit, as if I was physically controlling the tank. It’s another small detail that can make VR games seem even more immersive. And, again, being able to simply look around for enemies both gave me an advantage and let me take in the sights.
PlayStation VR Experience
Finally, I tried the general PlayStation VR experience, in the form of the PSVR’s virtual screen. When not running PSVR-compatible software, the headset simply projects a display directly in front of you so you can navigate the PS4′s menus and run non-VR PS4 games and apps. It’s similar to Virtual Desktop, third-party PC software I tested with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
I watched a part of Goosebumps on the PS4′s media player in the PSVR. It was like staring at a big HDTV right in front of me, playing a movie I had forgotten about and had no interest in. But I’m looking forward to perhaps watching Mad Max: Fury Road on the PSVR.
I also played some Flower, a classic, serene game from Thatgamecompany, the makers of journey. Again, I watched the gameplay just as if I was looking at it on an HDTV, guiding a gust of wind to collect flower petals.
PSVR seems to offer minimal options in this mode. I could select between three virtual screen sizes, and re-center the display based on my head position by holding the Options button, but that’s it. I was floating in a completely black space, with only the screen in front of me. This was a bit disconcerting after using Virtual Desktop, which displays a 3D background all around you in addition to the screen. A PlayStation repesentative said that sort of feature wouldn’t be available on the PSVR, because a non-VR PS4 game might be using all of the system’s computing cycles, not leaving enough power to create a virtual space.
PlayStation VR is scheduled to come out in October. The headset itself will retail for $399.99, and a bundle including the PlayStation Camera and two PlayStation Move controllers will be available for $499.99.
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