In 1997, my parents and I paid a visit to London, where we visited SEGA World at the Trocadero center, a very futuristic arcade / theme park. There’s only one attraction I still remember until today: a virtual reality ride.
The graphics were terrible, I was nauseous as hell when it was over, but boy … I was excited. This incredible feeling of immersion inside a virtual world was something I never felt before, and something that I’ve been chasing ever since.
There have been several moments that could’ve been breakthrough moments for virtual reality gaming: the release of the Oculus Rift ten years ago, the release of the standalone Oculus Quest several years later, and the release of the Valve Index (and Half-Life: Alyx) in 2020. But they all have their downsides: the Rift and Index require a beefy gaming PC and are expensive (€1100 for the Index), making them targeted towards a niche market. The Oculus Quest, even though being a huge success with millions of units sold, sacrifices visual fidelity because it’s basically a budget mobile phone.
Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of great immersive experiences to be had with the Quest. I bought one way back when they released it, and I’ve had tons of fun with great games like Space Pirate Trainer, Pistol Whip and Beat Saber. But there isn’t a lot about what I love most: big story-driven adventures.
What if you could have an adventure like Tomb Raider or an action-RPG like Cyberpunk 2077, but instead of looking at your TV, you’re inside it? Virtual reality on a PC has some of those experiences, but because the audience isn’t that big, game studios are hesitant to spend millions on AAA-games. Chicken and egg situation.
When Sony announced the PlayStation VR 2, it kind of opened the possibility to change this. Millions of PlayStation 5’s have been sold, and Sony owns a lot of the big studios, so they can afford to take some risks, in order to sell the headset.
I pre-ordered one. It arrived a couple of days ago, and wow, it has been a ride.
The displays are gorgeous. They’re 2000×2000 per eye, effectively given you 4K sharpness. They are OLED, so blacks can be completely black, and they are incredibly vivid and bright. I was impressed with the Quest 1’s display several years ago, but this is so much better. You (almost) can’t see the pixels, and the viewing angle is pretty wide, being 110°, 20° more than the Quest.
That being said, the first thing I really noticed was the ski-mask effect. Even though, the viewing angle is wide, it doesn’t fill your vision completely horizontally. This bothered me during my first 5 minutes, which is a theme park like boat ride in Horizon: Call Of The Mountain. But, once I started interacting with the environment, and I became focussed on the game instead of the VR-glasses, this completely disappeared. I got so submerged in the story, that I totally forgot I was inside a virtual world, something that really blew my mind 🤯.
Horizon: Call Of The Mountain is an outstanding game, that serves as a showcase of what the PSVR2 is capable of. You play as a prisoner, who can redeem himself by helping the good guys investigate why the machines are going up the mountains. This naturally involves a lot of climbing through beautiful landscapes, filled with breathtaking views, thrilling combat against the machines and some physical puzzles (such as constructing your climbing gear or using keys in locks).
You move around in Horizon by moving your hands up and down, while pressing buttons, something that looks a lot like Nordic walking to bystanders. This feels very natural, and helps a lot against nausea, which is something I didn’t experience at all.
A game that did make me feel nauseous is Resident Evil: Village. In this game, you move around like you would in a normal 2D-video game, using the thumb sticks. After about 15 minutes, I had to give up because I could feel my stomach fighting against it.
They say that this kind of virtual reality experience is something you can get used to, if you train yourself, and you stop whenever you feel discomfort. I hope I’ll be able to continue this horror adventure in the future. It’s the full 10-hour experience, but completely adapted to VR, which is very neat. And it’s scary as hell …
Another highlight: Gran Turismo 7. I get pretty bored, pretty fast, by racing games, but this is something else. GT7 allows you to play the full game: all tracks & all cars in VR. Being inside the cockpit, you can look around while racing, even checking behind yourself just like in real life. At night, the headlights of oncoming vehicles can blind you through your mirrors, thanks to the HDR OLED displays. It really is spectacular, and would be a good first virtual reality experience for anyone.
The reviews of the PSVR 2 all mentioned that it lacked a good launch lineup. For me personally, having Horizon, Resident Evil & GT7 would have been enough. To me, it’s a stellar lineup, but it gets complimented by lots of other great games. They’re not exclusives, but I’ve been playing Tetris Effect, Pistol Whip and No Man’s Sky and have been amazed by all three.
The adaptive triggers of the Sense controllers in Pistol Whip feel so satisfying, as does the face rumble feedback you get from the glasses itself when you get hit. It’s small things, but it really helps the total immersion. Combined with good headphones, it really gets you inside the simulation.
One game I’m really looking forward to is Before Your Eyes. I like emotional stories, and this one that uses the eye tracking to see when you blink looks astonishing:
Things I don’t like:
- The cable. It’s a necessary evil, but it feels like a step back from the Quest.
- The sweet spot. It can take a while to get the image really sharp. You have to wiggle the headset, and change the position ever so slightly because the sweet spot is tiny.
- The price. It costs more than a PS5. It’s still only about half of a Valve: Index set, and it packs a punch, but it’s a lot of money.
All in all, the PSVR 2 brings my dream of big epic adventures in virtual reality a lot closer. It’s a more than capable machine, that feels like a giant generational leap from my Oculus Quest. I can only hope for lots of great AAA and indie games coming out for it.
I’m really intrigued by the idea of studios like Rockstar, Naughty Dog or CD PROJEKT RED making full games in VR. Let’s hope Sony can sell a lot of PlayStation VR 2’s, so this becomes a reality.
And please, Valve, give us Half Life: Alyx. We deserve it.