rAge 2016: VR hands-on, a nauseating, sweaty, awesome thing
Tancrid "Tank" Muller·
Before rAge 2016, I had never even once checked out anything VR-related. Partly because I had no interest, and mostly because, well, I had no interest. I believed it to be just another gimmick the gaming industry wants to shove down our throats, you know, because MOAR MONEY.
Now, I still believe VR’s yet another new thing that we’ll probably get bored of as soon as our necks start cramping up, but after experiencing a few of the games on the show floor, as well as seeing what the technology is capable of, I’m definitely starting to understand the hype. VR in its current state isn’t the full-on immersive experience we’re continually hoping for, but it gets really damned close.
Before this whole shindig kicks off, I’d like to apologise to any and all attendees who were unlucky enough to use the devices after me. I sweat. Like, a lot. It’s like a salty river streaming down my face. And while I’m at it, I’d like to extend this apology to those unfortunate heroes who so lovingly cleaned up after me. You’re not getting paid nearly enough. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, virtual reality.
I spent the majority of my time checking out four games from the PlayStation VR roster. It was a mixed bag of genres from survival horror courtesy of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (VR), to robot murderball title RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, then Batman Arkham VR, and finally the on-rails descent into terror that is Until Dawn: Rush of Blood.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard VR
RE7: Biohazard‘s VR demo was the first VR thing I played at rAge this year ever. While the game with its new focus on survival rather than running around blowing up all manner of monstrosities seems right up my alley, I wasn’t instantly drawn to it. I watched the screen as the other people before me tried it out, and it looked okay, I guess. But as I’ve learned over the weekend, watching VR from the sidelines is nothing compared to actually using it.
When the headset and headphones finally found their way onto my face, I quickly understood that nothing could have prepared me for any of this. The demo starts off with your character stuck in a creepy, rundown house, and it’s all so convincing that you feel like you’re actually there. Normally, this would be a good thing for any horror game, and perhaps it still is, but I foresee a couple of heart attacks caused by it in the near future. A creepy old woman roams the dimly-lit house seemingly hell-bent on finding you, all while mumbling almost incoherent craziness. The game makes you feel like you could be grabbed at any second, and this anticipation makes for an atmosphere of true fear, which is something I’ve rarely experienced to such an extent in many other horror titles. When the old hag does manage to spot you, she kicks into high gear and chases after you like she’d just downed four cans of Monster. The ensuing chase sequence and blood-curdling screams as she gets ever closer to you are enough to make even the hardiest gamer want to curl into a ball and (preferably) die of natural causes.
Other than the game’s movement mechanics (which are more than a little hard to get used to), RE7‘s VR demo more than impressed. But would I choose to play the entire game in VR? Not a chance.
RIGS: Mechanized Combat League
“You dig giant robots! I dig giant robots! We dig giant robots! Chicks dig giant robots!”
If you owned a big enough pot, filled it with some of the best elements from Titanfall and Rocket League, then added a dash of vertigo-inducing VR, you’d get something that resembles RIGS. On paper, the game seems pretty straightforward. You pick one of 20 deathbots, head on over to a multi-levelled arena, destroy other mechs, become the “ball” and score points by placing yourself in the goal, all while trying not to be obliterated. Simple. But when you consider that you’ll be doing all of that while in VR, things get a whole lot more interesting.
The mechs or “rigs” piloted by players are all built for varying purposes, and each one can make use of three modes that can be switched out as required. Whether you need a little extra speed, a quick repair, or even just more firepower, these modes should have you covered.
Matches seem to last about five minutes and to come out victorious, you’ll have to constantly adjust your play style. In order to score points, you need to destroy three enemy rigs without getting blown up yourself. After that, you become overcharged, and it’s only when you’re overcharged that you’re awarded points for jumping through the goal. When an enemy rig goes all overcharged, you and your team need to do whatever it takes to stop it from reaching the goal. It’s a high-intensity, super-competitive shooter experience that’s made all the more insane by the inclusion of VR.
As soon as the demo started I immediately felt like I was in another world. The sheer scale of everything in this particular VR world is nothing short of astounding, and I soon felt like I was part of a massive sporting event the likes of which I’ve never experienced before. It really is a game that should sell people on VR gaming with a fair amount of ease.
Batman: Arkham VR
Let’s get this out of the way right now. I don’t really like Batman. The only reason I keep watching Batman films and occasionally play the games is because the villains are usually pretty great. With this in mind, I was only about 50% amped to check out Batman: Arkham VR. Well… after playing the game’s demo, I now understand what all the fuss is about.
The demo boots up, and you’re thrown into the role of the broody bat himself. You don’t watch him from the third-person, you ARE the Batman. I’ll be honest, I expected a little more from the demo than what was playable. The whole thing plays out with you (Batman) getting suited up and trying out a few weapons before descending into the Batcave. That’s it. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but even this frustratingly short demo made me feel more like I was actually the character than any other game has managed to in the past. I felt like a total and utter bad-ass. There’s one scene where I was standing in front of a mirror with the reflection of the bat right in front of me, and when I moved my head, he copied me. It was something akin to an out-of-body experience, and it was just really frigging amazing, man.
Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the demo, it was the one VR game I played that made me feel the most iffy towards the technology in its current state. In one of the scenes in the demo, the floor gives way and I started going down elevator style. As soon as I started going down, I felt like my face was falling through my ass. That’s the only way I can describe it. Some people may enjoy the feeling, but I certainly don’t. The other thing that made me think twice about one day grabbing myself a PSVR headset was the resolution of the screen. Just as you enter the Batcave, waterfalls and rays of sunlight can be seen in the distance. It’s something that should be really pretty to look at, but all I saw were clusters of unattractive pixels.
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood
I had some trouble deciding whether I enjoyed Rush of Blood or RIGS the most when writing this whole thing. I decided to give the honours to RIGS simply because I felt betrayed by the former.
Rush of Blood‘s demo was essentially an on-rails horror shooter, and I mean literal rails. You ride around in a rollercoaster cart while being bombarded with unsettling sights and sounds, before being assailed by freaks like the one in the image above. You’re armed with two guns, and you aim by moving your controller in the general direction of the aforementioned freaks. You can use your analogue sticks to more precisely aim each weapon, but ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat. It should be mentioned that the PlayStation Move controllers would have been much more immersive here.
Now, I already mentioned that you’re basically riding a rollercoaster cart throughout the demo, but for about 70% of it, everything’s going pretty damned slow. I liked it because it made everything feel more atmospheric and fun. Oh, and I really, really hate rollercoasters. It’s at right about halfway through the demo that the game decided that my pants seemed much too dry for its liking, and threw out the whole shooter element in favour of a crap-your-pants horrifying rollercoaster ride of hell. I honestly had no idea this was coming, and my entire plan of not looking like a complete idiot in front of half the attendees at rAge flew right out the window as I tried desperately not to fall to my death. Not cool, Rush of Blood, not cool.
As a whole, my experience with PlayStation VR was overwhelmingly positive, and other than a few hardware limitations, it certainly seems like a huge step in the right direction. As for the unpleasant symptoms of vertigo and nausea I experienced, I’m pretty sure if I had more time with the device I’d have gotten used to it without too much trouble.
While many outlets list the launch date for PSVR as 13 October (today), the release date for us here in South Africa will be more along the lines of January 2017. That’s according to an interview conducted by SA Gamer with Ster Kinekor’s CEO, Mario Dos Santos. Dos Santos also estimated the price for the device to be between R6000 and R7000.