Virtual Reality is hard to miss at GDC this year.
Just about every booth here has some kind of VR demo and a huge line to try it out. Today found ourselves immersed within a PlayStation VR helmet, the $399 accessory to your $349 game console. While that sounds like a lot, especially if you're not really sure what VR is about or why you should care, Sony's offering undercuts the current "best in breed" by several hundred dollars.
The biggest question is whether that price cut comes with a performance cut, which turned out to be fairly easy to answer.
First off, I've had just about every VR headset rest upon my cranium at some time or another. So to say that I was excited to finally get my hands on the PlayStation VR is an understatement. Part of that excitement comes from the fact the headset will the most accessible form of VR for consumers from a financial standpoint. If you already own a PlayStation 4, you're a $400 headset and a $40 camera away from being VR-ready.
As I waited in line waited in line like a kid waiting to get on his favorite rollercoaster, I was told that I could either experience Rez Infinite, RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, Job Simulator, or Playroom VR. It turned out I had no choice in the matter and instead it was based solely upon what station finished up first with their demo. I for one was hoping that I'd end up immersed in the world of Rez Infinite. Instead, I got the RIGS: Mechanized Combat League demo. I had only first heard about it yesterday during PlayStation's VR presser and it looked as it could be a VR equivalent to Rocket League. But before we talk about the game, let's talk about the headset.
Between it, the Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive, the PlayStation VR is easily the sleekest of the bunch, and looks much better in person. But the thing I enjoy most about this headset compared the other VR headsets is that PlayStation VR is without a doubt the most comfortable. Unlike HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, the helmet doesn't put all of its weight on the bridge of your nose; instead it rests upon the front of the crown of your head.
The helmet — Sony's word, not mine — also doesn't rely on nylon bands and velcro to fit the size of your head. The PlayStation VR headset has a button that you press on the back of the helmet that allows you to expand the headset and rest it upon your head. Once you've got it on your dome, it carefully slides back into place around your head.
It was here that I realized that the actual "goggles" don't rest on your nose at all. The eye-piece instead is attached to the headpiece that rests on the top of your head, and just kind of floats. You can then pull the eyepiece near you in a way that reminded me of the Phoropter that Optometrists use.
Once I pulled the "goggles" toward me I found myself standing below a Giant RIG. As I peered down, I could see my character's body and his upper torso which seemed to move when I did. Although the PlayStation VR doesn't have true spatial awareness like HTC Vive, this was possible due the PlayStation VR's light-based head-tracking.
In RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, you pilot a customized RIGS mech and face off against other players and teams in a near-future sports league. The objective of the game is to take out any enemies as well as to try and get the ball on the map and score it into a goal. The game reminds me a lot of what would be if Unreal Tournament and basketball had a baby.
As for how the game played, I enjoyed about three to four minutes of actual gameplay before starting to feel motion sick. This came as a surprise to me because I've had my eyes in a lot of VR headsets and this is the first time this has happened to me since playing EVE: Valkyrie on a DK1 Oculus Rift headset. I waved the white flag and asked my demonstrator if I could take the headset off and take a breather. I fought it as long as I could but I think it was caused more by the game itself and not headset. The game contains a mechanic where the right analog stick on the controller is replaced by your head movement. In order to aim you have to constantly move your head around while moving back and forth and it all just becomes a little too disorienting.
My first hands-on experience with the PlayStation VR was short-lived, but I did still come away completely impressed. The head-tracking worked extremely well and gives you a great sense of spatial awareness compared to the Oculus Rift, but not quite as capable as the HTC Vive.
We hope to get our hands on some other demos to get a better sense of the helmet, as well as trying out the PlayStation Move controllers alongside it. All in all, HTC and Oculus has some stiff competition and we're excited to see how it all plays out.