From The Armchair: Welcome To The World Of VR

What ho, chums! I have some exciting news – The Manor has finally joined the VR revolution!

I spied an early Black Friday deal a few days earlier, to whit, a PlayStation VR bundle with two Move controllers, Astro Bot: Rescue Mission, Resident Evil VII and two months of Now TV for the bargain basement price of £229.99. Readers, I couldn’t resist. Before I knew it, I’d clicked on the ‘buy’ button, frantically reasoning that I could probably sell my snowboard to raise the cash. The old board has been sat in a shed for around five years now, and I think it’s time to bite the bullet and recognise my best snowboarding days are behind me – we had some good times, old girl, but it’s time to move on and see other people.

I was blown away by playing Polybius and Beat Saber in VR at Play Expo Blackpool the other week, and ever since then I’ve been keeping an eye on PSVR prices. In the run up to Black Friday, stores have been discounting the basic PSVR kit to £179.99, and that sub-£200 price point really is the sweet spot. At the launch price of £300, you’re basically forking out the cost of a brand new console, but at £180 it enters into the realms of being an accessory – albeit still an expensive one. I was willing to pay a bit more to get those all-important Move controllers, though – they’re essential for getting the most out of the VR experience. More on that in a bit.

PSVR has led to much joy and high jinks in The Manor.

Setting up the PSVR wasn’t too hard, but it does result in an ugly tangle of wires emanating from the little black box that provides a boost to the PS4’s processing power. I stared aghast at the spaghetti of cables I’d unleashed once I’d got it all plugged in, and quickly shoved the mess to the back of my TV cabinet. Out of sight, out of mind. Although I dread the thought of going through all that flotsam and jetsam again if I want to lug it over to my relatives’ house for Christmas.

The only thing that proved a bit stubborn was the PlayStation Camera – it stolidly refused to be recognised by the PS4 until I’d plugged it in and out a couple of times. Thankfully it seems to have made friends with the console now, so hopefully that will be the last of the issues.

Ocean Descent. I leapt a mile.

The VR headset itself is a doddle to put on, although it can take a little while to get the lenses lined up with your eyes. You need a minute or two of jiggling to get it sitting in the sweet spot – outside that, it gets a little blurry. And I like that the headset easily accommodates glasses – but the downside if you’re a glasses wearer is that you might find your panes getting misted up with sweat after playing for a while. I found myself periodically removing the kit to give my glasses a good wipe, followed by the customary headset-alignment jiggling when I put it back on.

All this faffing is more than worth it for the utterly amazing experience of VR – after just an evening’s play, I was hooked, already scanning about for more VR games to try. It’s just so much damn fun. I’m already eagerly anticipating showing it off to friends, just to see their reactions to it.

Danger Ball, aka VR Pong.

So far I’ve played through all of the games on PlayStation VR Worlds, the game that came with the kit and that essentially functions as a series of tech demos to show what the system can do. The first one I played was Ocean Descent, in which you’re lowered into the depths inside a shark cage. And inevitably, a shark shows up. Despite the fact that there’s no interaction except looking around, it’s a great example of just how immersive virtual reality can be. You’d better believe that I jumped a mile when that shark showed up. Even though part of my brain knew it wasn’t real, the lizard part of my brain was telling me to flee for the hills.

And that goes for all the games on show really. I found it quite easy to forget that I was sat on my sofa in my living room, instead being totally transported into these virtual worlds. And it’s amazing what a great job the PSVR does at that, considering it’s far less powerful than the Oculus Rift or Vive. I’ve tried those more powerful headsets at trade shows, and the PSVR is notably more pixelly by comparison, but it’s easy to forget about that once you’re lost in the game world.

VR Luge – the best bit is weaving underneath trucks.

Danger Ball was the next game I tried, which is a pretty fun 3D take on Pong, where you move the paddle with your head. It’s lightweight but enjoyable and surprisingly compelling – and I couldn’t help but flinch every time I missed the ball and it came hurtling towards me.

VR Luge is a fast-paced plunge down a hill atop a plank with wheels, again controlled just by moving your head. Like the first Ridge Racer, there’s only one track, but you can open up more bits of it by finishing races. It’s pretty good fun, but the highlight of the VR Worlds package is undoubtedly The London Heist.

This game puts you in the shoes of a London gangster in a robbery that goes spectacularly wrong. It’s fairly short, but it packs a lot into its svelte running time, and it’s revelatory when played with Move controllers. You can reach out and grab objects in the game world – taking a mobile phone offered by one of the characters and then holding it to my ear to hear who was speaking was a breathtaking moment. I was IN that world. As a showcase for just how immersive VR can be, The London Heist is a tour de force.

Being able to grab objects in The London Heist is amazing.

And the sound is the thing that probably makes it so convincing. The 3D audio magically projects voices from the vicinity of the person speaking – and it really does feel like magic. You’ll hear the sound of someone enter to your right, then swivel your head round and there they are. It blew me away. And after playing through VR gun battles in which I’m actually holding the gun in my hand, first-person shooters seem quaint by comparison. This really feels like the future.

But it’s not all good news. Scavenger’s Odyssey rounds out the package, and it starts off as a really fun 3D shooter – the only ‘proper’ full-fledged game in the compilation. You control an alien tank thing, using the dual analogue sticks to move it around, while aiming the guns by moving your head. There’s a jump button that lets you leap across gaps and leap up onto walls, as well as a grappling hook to tether nearby objects and fling them about. It’s by far the most complicated and involved game in the collection.

Scavenger’s Odyssey is technically stunning – but it made me feel ill.

But the problems start a few levels into the game, when you run across a giant alien bug. To dodge its shots, I was leaping onto walls and dodging left and right – and that’s when the nausea kicked in. Motion sickness really killed the game for me, and I had to strip the headset off straight away. I felt nauseous for ages afterwards, too. That’s the big drawback with VR – it really doesn’t work well with fast-paced games. And it’s not like I even get motion sickness normally – I’ve never had it while travelling in real life, even on a ferry in rough seas.

I haven’t tried Resident Evil VII in VR yet, and I wonder whether that will also have me feeling like vomming up my dinner – we’ll see. But otherwise I’m extremely happy with my purchase of PSVR – and I’m already scouting about for more games to try. If you’ve got any recommendations, let me know!

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