A few days ago, I finally convinced myself that the hefty $600 price tag for Playstation VR (and its related accessories like the motion sensors and camera) was worth it. I’ve written plenty in the past about disruptive technology in general (including VR), but trying it hands-on was something entirely different.
Unboxing the system was simple enough. The set-up is straightforward – mostly rewiring connections with HDMI cables through a virtual reality processor given to you by Sony that powers the new technology. I have to confess that, throughout the entire unboxing process, I was a little agitated – too many wires equaled more time between me and turning the system on. In my eagerness to start playing, and as I struggled with a tangle of different wires, I may have uttered a few comments unfit to be published in this column.
Then, I turned it on. The lights on the headset slowly came to life with a deep and brilliant neon blue. To be honest, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been so excited. I calibrated the system to account for my particular eye-to-eye distance and immediately jumped into a demo that’s provided for VR players – a Nintendo-like theme park of various worlds and challenges that each showcase a different use for virtual reality. As I found myself seated as a toy soldier with a makeshift machine gun fighting alien invaders that had come through the window, I realized that this was, perhaps, the most euphoric I’d ever been with a video game since childhood.
It’s hard to overstate the way that virtual reality brings worlds around you to near-realism. In all of it, there was a perfect sense of depth-perception. Everything was sized to scale, and I never felt like anything was too one-dimensional or out of place. I was walking around outdoors, taking a dive deep into the ocean in a shark tank, and fighting toy enemies in a room that had to be hundreds of times my size. Not once did I feel out of place in the world, or if I was some sort of distant spectator. It felt real, and I can’t count the number of times I found myself instinctively reaching for an object in front of me only to feel thin air.
Each adventure brought a sense of immersion unparalleled by anything else I’d played; the headset fits snugly enough around my head to block out all other visual references, and I can plug headphones in to experience the audio even clearer. I was using noise-isolating Bose ones, and could barely hear the fan that was blowing next to me as I engaged in a gunfight using the Playstation VR Move controllers to fire and reload my weapon.
That brings me to Playstation’s Move system – the piece of the system that I found to be simultaneously the most amazing and the most controversial. The Move system is comprised of two wireless joysticks that you hold in each hand, allowing you to interact with the world around you in real-time. You can pick things up, drop them, move them, or even open things up – like a drawer or a cabinet or a door. You can even reload or shoot a firearm, opening up a whole new way to play first-person shooters. In short, you can perform just about any action that the game’s code allows for. Picking up my gun for the first time in a shooting game with my right hand and reloading it with my left hand, both of which I saw in front of me as I did it, was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in a video game. It provided a sense of immersion and realness so thorough that I sat back in wonder afterwards, even though it had been such a simple action to perform. The fact that it had been possible at all was what amazed me, harkening my thoughts back to old Mario games where all you could do was jump and move along a two-dimensional screen.
There were, however, other actions in which the Move controllers proved difficult. The camera wouldn’t pick them up sometimes and they glitched out fairly often, flying wildly around on-screen or refusing to pick up things that I needed. Perhaps it was the Move system – perhaps it was the game itself causing issues. Either way, as I rapidly opened up cabinets looking for a gun to defend myself with during a jewelry heist, I found myself not caring.
The sense of awe I had using Playstation VR eliminated almost all of the negatives – including the fact that I became nauseous for several hours after playing Resident Evil: Biohazard for only a few minutes. Yes – minutes. VR sickness is real, and I strongly encourage (as does Sony and other user reviews) to take a break immediately if you experience nausea, dizziness, or headaches while using the system. It’ll only get worse if you try to power through it.
All in all, though, using Playstation VR for the first time was one of the most incredible moments of my life. The system kept finding new ways to surprise and delight me, over and over, like letting me pick up a cigar on the table in front of me and my character blowing smoke out of his mouth after I’d lifted it to my lips. Deep-diving into an ocean cavern and inspecting all of the marine wildlife, with fish coming right up to my face to glance at me (even their gills moved perfectly with the water filtering through them), only for my cage to be attacked by a massive, ugly shark seconds later, left me with a sense of wonder that’s hard to describe. It was difficult not to feel like I was some sort of pioneer, participating in something that could perhaps even change the world. That’s probably a grandiose statement. But that’s what it felt like. It was that cool.
Right now, virtual reality is largely untested and largely un-researched; it only even became commercially available on a widespread scale a year or two ago, depending on the system. It’s a new frontier in technology, and it has so much to offer – unlimited experiences for wonder and excitement and new worlds to explore all the while. If you’re even thinking of maybe getting Playstation VR, get it. It’s incredible.