There are moments in life which really hit you, which knock you down into your seat and make you say, ‘holy crap, I’m living in the future’. Some of these moments are fairly innocuous, like when I found out I could control youtube on my Xbox using my PC, but some moments shake you to your core, and seriously make you consider the tech available today, and what’s coming next. I had one of these moments last week when I finally got my hands on a PSVR. It wasn’t at an exhibition or a shop, it was in a home and I could finally spend an extended period of time with it. A good friend of mine messaged me and said ‘Hey, I just got VR, let’s try it out’ and I was there within minutes, eager to see whether it was revolutionary, or just another fad.
Gaming hasn’t had many breakthrough moments; The core experience has remained relatively unchanged for the past 30 years. The first revolution was the introduction of the home console, and since then, while graphics and gameplay have gotten substantially better, the console gaming experience is still sitting in front of your TV with a controller.
There were a few interludes and experiments with different forms of control, like the PlayStation EyeToy and eventually the Kinect, but they weren’t major. Don’t get me wrong, the Kinect was fun, it was a cool piece of tech. I like how it recognised me when I walked past my Xbox and it said hello, I liked the voice controls, and some of the games we’re pretty fun at a party; but it wasn’t revolutionary. It didn’t rock the boat of gaming, it wasn’t blowing anyone’s mind. As soon as I put on the VR headset however, I knew this was different, this was on another level. This was the next revolution.
The level of immersion I felt was just too high for it not to be. For my first taste I booted up VR Worlds, a demo disc of sorts with 5 short experiences, four of them are proper games and one is a cinematic show, which I’ll get into with a bit more detail momentarily. London Heist was the first, an ‘on rails’ first person shooter where two PlayStation Move controllers represent each of your hands, which you use to interact with your surroundings.
It starts off with you in the dark, at a desk, with a flashlight in one hand, and a voice in your ear telling you to search through all the drawers till you find the jewels, I open the first draw and inside is a gun and some ammo. I immediately drop the flashlight, grab the ammo in one hand, the gun in the other, and slide the magazine into the gun, and nothing in all my years of gaming has ever felt so satisfying. Suddenly lights are flashing, bad guys are everywhere, and I have to shoot my way out of the situation. In an instant I’m hunched up, hiding behind the desk, sitting up to pop my head out, see where the enemies are, and holding my arm over my head to shoot over the desk, while using my other hand to search draws for more ammo as my aiming is awful and I’m expending entire magazines on single bad guys.
My heart is pounding, the adrenaline is pumping, I feel alive. I can’t get a giant grin off my face. This is the gaming experience I’ve waited so long for.
The other notable experience on the disk is called Ocean Descent. You load it up and the game drops you in a shark tank just below the surface of the ocean, and you’re told you’re going to descend to explore the depths below. Looking up and seeing the surface of the water I had a serious sensual meltdown and my brain took a moment to register I wasn’t really underwater and that I could still breath. As the cage started to descend, I was spinning around in my chair, admiring all the underwater sights as various sea life floated past me, it was sublime. Then, as the light started to fade, and I moved deeper into the murk, I remembered the caption on the main menu ‘watch out for the shark’ and I knew something was about to go wrong, and without spoiling the experience too much, it certainly did, and it was genuinely terrifying.
These two short experiences alone cemented the fact that this tech really was going to change things. The graphics weren’t mind blowing, sure, but this will only get better, and for now, it didn’t need to be, it still showed the capabilities of the tech, and the extreme potential it has. It’s early day’s still. The controllers are intuitive but still a burden, and one day I’m sure will go away for good, to be replaced with force feedback capable gloves or something of the sort, minority report style. For now it’s first generation tech, but no longer a concept to be showed at events, it’s in our homes, and it’s ready for full-length AAA titles. The crazy science fiction of the past is becoming realised.
I don’t think VR will replace all gaming, I still enjoy a split screen party experience, although these are disappearing and rare to come by. People will own TV’s for other reasons and there’s a market there to fill, but when the cost barrier comes down, and the VR market expands, there’s no doubt this will become the dominant form of gaming, and people will look back and wonder why we used to have to play games with the screen so far away from our faces.