30 days with the PS VR: great potential, many problems

MANILA, Philippines – There was so much hype when Sony first announced its bold dive into the nascent virtual reality (VR) market, eventually releasing the PlayStation VR in October. So imagine my excitement I got hold of and got a chance to review one. 

The first thing I’ve noticed is that it’s a lot cheaper than other VR gear – almost half the price of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift when they were released. A minor caveat is you still need to buy a PlayStation camera to use it and for the full VR experience, buy Move controllers. It’s sold in two bundles: a PSVR package with the PS VR system, headset and cables, sold at P22,900* ($460.80), and a VR Launch Bundle, complete with Move controllers and a PlayStation camera sold at P25,290* ($510.65). We got the launch bundle for this review.

Let’s get the new gear’s most obvious problems out of the way first.

First problem: cables, cables, cables. 

In the box, you will get the PS VR headset, a processor unit, instruction manuals, headphones, a demo disc, and lots and lots of cables. You don’t exactly just plug in the gear to your PS4 and play; you connect the tv to the processor, then the processor to your PlayStation and the VR headset, and then set up the camera and Move controllers. The whole process took me around 30 minutes on my first try! 

It’s bearable at first, especially since you’re excited and all but it can become a hassle as the gear stays with you longer and you have to remove and set it up again and again. All those cables can really make a big mess around your console. So if you’re thinking of buying a PS VR, make sure you have a spot ready where you can keep all these chunky cables out of sight. (Read: Unboxing the PS VR)

Second problem: a current lack of must-play PS VR games.

Considering that it’s a fairly new console, this should come as no surprise. But yes, there aren’t many choices for PSVR games yet. A lot are just add-ons and supplements to big non-VR titles. There are games worth mentioning, which we will later on, but a trip to the PS VR section at the PlayStation store now is not exactly as exciting as it ought to be. PS VR games are quite hard to find among gaming stores in the Philippines too – hopefully, a temporary dilemma. 

Again, it’s really something that you won’t mind on your first week with the PS VR. But the allure of the current glut of big titles is just too much for the new platform and its young library of games. Sometimes, the VR sat there all by its lonesome, waiting for the day I touch it again. 

But don’t get upset yet. There are still plenty of good things about it too.

Whether you’re new or not to virtual reality games, the PS VR can offer you a great experience at an affordable price.

While its specs are lower compared to the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, the difference is not something average users would notice. Plus, consider that you actually paid for so much less. The graphics for most games I’ve tried were great and pretty smooth. It didn’t make me feel dizzy even after using it for 6 hours straight. 

The headset looks a little too big but surprisingly, it’s actually very comfortable to wear. It adjusts and fits perfectly to any head size – with enough space for those who wear glasses. This may not mean much for most, but the headset also looks a lot cooler than other VR gears out there. I’ve always loved that sleek white design with a major Tron-Robocop vibe. Overall, it’s still a nifty VR device and you get what you pay for. 

The VR experience plus game recommendations

Like I said earlier, there really isn’t much choices for games so far but there are some worth a try. 

First on my list is Arkham Knight VR where you’d go do some detective work Batman-style. That means donning the high-tech Batman suit, exploring the bat-cave, and playing with Batman’s toys in virtual reality. 

If you’re into action games, try Rigs Mechanized Combat League where you will be driving uber-cool robots with unique abilities in a unique sports featuring missiles and laser guns. You don’t need the Move controllers for this one, instead you use your controllers to move around and your head to aim. 

BOUND. In Bound: Shattered Kingdom, you take the role of a princess in a beautiful alternate universe.

BOUND. In Bound: Shattered Kingdom, you take the role of a princess in a beautiful alternate universe.

Remember what I said about smooth graphics? Well, you can best explore that with the game Bound: Shattered Kingdom. You take on the role of a princess of an alternate universe filled with colors and polygon particles, dancing your way through challenges – a feast for the eyes from start to finish.

OH MY GENESIS. In this game, the world is literally in your hands. Screenshot by Don Kevin Hapal

OH MY GENESIS. In this game, the world is literally in your hands.

Screenshot by Don Kevin Hapal

One of my personal favorite VR games is Oh My Genesis where the world is literally in your hands. You take on the role of a ‘creator,' basically a God, who jumps from one planet to another, helping its hopeless inhabitants survive and solve crazy problems. You control your godly hands using Move controllers and use it to guide the inhabitants, block off meteors, unleash your divine powers, and many more. But it's a pretty short game and you have to buy each planet. So far, there are only four and it takes just around 30 minutes to complete one.

When playing VR, you don’t exactly get to move around – you either sit or you stand. This is because the PS VR works using just one camera which tracks your movements thru the lights that the headset and move controllers emit. Move out of its line of sight and it’s not going to work. 

A big downer is that for most games that make use of Move controllers, while you get the ability to freely move your hands in-game, you don’t exactly get to walk. For Arkham Knight VR for example, you only get to batclaw your way around Gotham City. When fighting, you just stand there throwing your batarangs or telling your butler who to shoot. It’s the same for most VR games available now: you just stand in one place and shoot bad guys from there or play with the toys in front you. 

Basically, the PS VR’s gaming library is still too limited and not many games have really tapped into the device’s full potential. 

And it doesn’t help that the move controllers can get really cranky. Sometimes, your in-game hands would just randomly shake, jump all over the place, or disappear. Clearly, Sony still has a lot of work to do to get its motion tracking in shape. This may not seem like a big deal but they contribute heavily on making gameplay feel unnatural – which prevents users from truly immersing into the games.

My 30-day date with the PS VR started with a sharp rise in excitement and ended with a fast drop to boredom. It's fun at first, but the thrill dies down as you go through some user experience problems and run out of good games to play.

I still think that the PS VR is worth its price and is great for those who are yet to experience virtual reality. Its got lots of potential but still has a long way to go. We’ve come so far away from Pong in just 60 years; who knows what the future holds? – Rappler.com