I’ve had severe restrictions on my gaming budget (stupid college tuition), so it’s little surprise that I haven’t been able to jump into the virtual reality experience. With the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, and PlayStation VR being released, there’s been tons of buzz over what many consider to be the next step in gaming.
Gear VR and Google Cardboard have given people an entry level, though barebones, introduction to VR. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have shown what big money can buy. PlayStation VR has shown what decent VR looks like while not costing an arm, a leg, and a whole room of your house. Something they all have in common however is that they aren’t worth the price of entry.
Trying It On
I had the chance today to check out the HTC Vive for the first time today at my university. Our Computer Science department got their hands on both the Vive and HoloLens headsets recently, and one of the students that works in the High Performance Computing lab offered to let me take it for a spin.
I was definitely impressed with how immersive VR is. The field of view makes it for a deeply engaging experience, and the Vive shows off what the current generation of VR is capable of.
Sadly, that capability is rather low at the moment.
Don’t get me wrong, the Vive is visually pleasing and high-fidelity graphics are extremely important when you’re strapping a screen to your face. Moreso, I felt no ill effects from playing the games that I got my hands on. Some of the games I played instilled in me a sense of novelty that I haven’t felt in a very long time too.
It just didn’t impress me enough to want to buy a headset, even if I had the disposable income to afford it.
High Tech Demos
Everything I played gave me that sense of wonder that I haven’t felt since I was a kid playing with my model rocket in the desert or playing the Nintendo 64 for the first time. The technology behind the Vive is impressive and deserves praise for what it’s capable of, but the games that use it are not much better than bite-sized demos.
It reminds me of when I was growing up, when PlayStation still distributed those free demo disks with games like Jet Moto and Gran Turismo. They were games that my family could never afford, being on a tight budget and all. The closest I ever got to playing most games was my experience at the demo kiosks in Kmart and the disks we stumbled across.
Those little snippets of games are what playing with the Vive felt like. I kept wondering where the rest of the games were and why people would spend $400-$800 on a single headset to play what amounts to a glorified tech demo. Sure, it’s cool to pick up a virtual firearm and shove the magazine into it before firing it
accidentally at your own head, play pool while knocking the beer bottles off the table, and teetering on the edge of a building before gliding through a landscape; but novelty isn’t good enough. The problem is that they’re only showing off what VR can do while not really doing much to keep people sated.
VR Isn’t Ready Yet
Phil Spencer recently participated in an interview with the website Stevivor, talking about the future of VR on the Xbox platform. He mused that VR game developers just aren’t quite to the point where they know how to take full advantage of VR to its fullest, and I think he’s right. Even the PlayStation VR, which has garnered critical praise for its sleek design and an already decent library of games, seems to suffer from the same problems. Hell, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is the platform’s game of choice, and it is just an on-rails shooter that looks like it belongs in an arcade.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with Rush of Blood; it’s a perfectly good game that I feel deserves the praise that it gets. However, that doesn’t mean that it makes the $400-$500 PSVR headset worth the purchase.
VR just isn’t where it needs to be yet to really make waves. Developers don’t seem to be doing much to take advantage of the technology, whether because of the limitations of the platform it is hosted on (PSVR) or because developers think that people will buy anything that has the VR tag associated with it (Oculus Rift and Vive).
Or maybe I’m just being too critical of it.
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