In decades to come, if 2016 isn’t remembered as the beginning of the collapse of western civilisation thanks to Brexit and Trump, it might be remembered as the year that virtual reality first came into our lives in a big way. I’ve spent a lot of time with the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and most recently PlayStation VR this year, and played plenty of games on all of them.
So far, PlayStation VR is my favourite. [As it turns out I’ve had a rather different experience with it than Kirk, who wrote our PSVR review.] Here’s why.
It’s really easy to set up and use
It took a grand total of less than 10 minutes to unbox, set up, put on, and start playing with PSVR. It took at least an hour to get either Oculus or Vive working the first time. The PSVR's games themselves needed very little calibration, and your view can be centred by holding the Options button for a few seconds at any time. It is exactly what you’d hope for from console VR, in that it doesn’t make you faff around. It also doesn’t take up a gigantic amount of room: there’s a small extra box that sits on top of my PS4, and of course the headset itself.
It’s very comfortable
Speaking of the headset, it’s just miles more comfortable than the comparatively heavy, cumbersome Rift or Vive ones. Flexible plastic blocks out light around your nose and eyes, it’s light, and it fits very easily over glasses without pressing down on your nose with its weight (PRAISE BE). If you want to hand it over to someone else to play, you can do so really easily in about ten seconds. You don’t have to adjust the strap or the focus or lens positions.
You also don’t need to stand up and move around while using it, at least not in the games I played (I haven’t yet tried Batman: Arkham VR or Job Simulator, which I imagine will require standing). Once you’ve aligned yourself correctly in front of the PlayStation Camera, you can stay put on the sofa with a DualShock. It’s a very comfortable experience.
It’s more sociable
You might wonder why you’d want to play VR with friends, but I've had a lot of people coming over to check out the tech. It was a right mission setting the Vive up for each individual person and getting them comfortable; with PSVR we could just hand it around. Plus, some of the Playroom games that launched with PSVR are designed for multiplayer, with one player using the headset and the others looking at the screen. Like the Wii U asymmetrical multiplayer games showcased on Nintendo Land, they’re designed for you to show off your new toy to your friends.
Small point: what's displayed on your TV screen while someone else is using the headset is comparatively ugly and low-resolution, compared to what they're seeing.
It’s comparatively good value
PlayStation VR is not cheap. It costs £349.99. The camera, if you don’t already have it, costs £44.99. The Move controllers, if you want them (personally I’d suggest sticking with the DualShock, which works perfectly with all but a few PSVR launch games), cost £69.99 for two.
That’s a price range of £350-£465, not counting the PS4 itself. Vive costs £759. Oculus Rift costs £549, plus £190 for the Touch controllers.
But here’s the thing: if you’re reading Kotaku, and indeed if you’re anyone walking down a British street at the moment, it is many times more likely that you’ll own a PS4 already than a £1,000+ gaming PC capable of running Oculus Rift or Vive. It’s not a fair comparison to say that PSVR costs around £400 and Vive/Oculus costs around £750: you have to take into account the hardware that you need to run it. Chances are you already have what you need to play with this.
Once you factor that in, PlayStation VR is less than half as expensive as the other VR options, if not a third as expensive. It downgrades the VR buy-in cost from "can't go on holiday this year" to "extravagant Christmas present".
Performance isn't the best, but it's still good
Unlike others, I’ve not had issues with the camera tracking on PSVR. I had one game crash on me, but otherwise everything has run smoothly. The resolution isn't as good as on Vive or Oculus, sure, but the difference feels minor to me (and the PS4 Pro will presumably improve both). It doesn’t make me feel sick, which is a problem I’ve had with all the other VR headsets – I could even manage an hour of RIGS, a fast-paced mech combat game (my personal VR fantasy), without wanting to take the thing off and go for a lie down.
I did find that the view randomly drifted to the left over time, something that the calibration reset could never solve; I had to restart the game when that happened, and it happened twice while playing Driveclub VR. I’m very much hoping this is a problem that can be patched out quickly.
Going by the problems that other journalists have reported with the Move controller tracking, it seems to me that the best solution is not to use them. By all means dig them out if you have them, just don't spent £70 on acquiring them. Use the DualShock instead, it's fine.
I can see myself using it regularly
The novelty of VR wears off surprisingly quickly. Since playing around with the launch games, I’ve used Oculus/Vive about three times in total. I can see myself using PSVR once a week or so, though, because it fits more easily into my general gaming setup – and because I really like some of the games.
The games are good fun
Quality control is a real problem when it comes to the Oculus and Vive game libraries. There are a lot of VR games on Steam now, and not many of them are any good. As developers strive to establish VR design conventions, there’s a good chance that any game you pick at random from Steam’s VR section will make you want to hurl.
The PlayStation VR launch games don’t have this problem. I don’t think any of them is worth £40, but they’re fun anyway, and they feel polished. My favourites: Rez Infinite, RIGS, Driveclub VR, the hilarious Getaway London Heist game on the VR Worlds disc (which is like being screamed at by fackin’ Ray Winston for a few hours while shooting things), Superhypercube, Thumper.
On specs alone, PlayStation VR is the worst of the VR headsets that’s come out this year. But it’s nonetheless my favourite, because it’s been the most fun and convenient VR tech to actually play with. The experience is better, for my needs. It doesn’t have room-tracking like the Vive, but do you want room-tracking? Do you want to have to stack your sofas on top of one another to create enough space to use a Vive in a London flat, and set up and calibrate your sensors again every time they crash? Do you want to spend nearly a grand? Or do you just want something you can take home and plug in and have fun with on your couch with a minimum of fuss?
The fact is that buying any VR headset at the moment is a gamble. VR may or may not turn out to be a long-lasting thing in video games. So if you’re going to buy in at this stage, why spend twice as much money on the highest-end VR headset available? If you want to try out VR – and trying out VR is all anyone is really doing at the moment – then the PSVR is absolutely the best value, in my opinion. You get something that’s about 80% as good an experience as the Vive or the Oculus for so much less money.
Personally I’m all about the simplicity that PlayStation VR offers. It's not an essential purchase – no VR is at this point – but it's a great entry point, a user-friendly, console-oriented version of superior PC-oriented tech. Personally, that’s what I want.