Connect with us


Is VR the Future of Gaming? PSVR2 Gives us a More Optimistic Answer

Is it time to leave behind our old reality?



Is VR the Future of Gaming?

A New Reality

With the recent release of Sony’s PSVR2, I have been playing games and losing myself in detailed digital worlds like never before, and that has got me thinking: is virtual reality really the future of gaming?

VR has come a long way since its inception in the 1960s. It’s come a long way since the Oculus Rift first wowed audiences at E3 in 2012. But in the past decade, while VR gaming has certainly become more prevalent, it has yet to become truly mainstream.

A lot of this has to do with the cost of hardware pricing most gamers out of even considering VR as an option, along with the fact that there aren’t enough standout titles to really justify the investment for those willing to put down the cash. Most big-name studios and developers are sticking with what they know sells. And if that trend continues, then, no, VR will never be the future, and those optimistic, outlandish ’50s sci-fi visions of things to come will forever be a beautiful pipedream. Like flying cars and robot housemaids.

But with Sony’s PSVR2 entering the market on the lower end of the price scale ($550 may sound like a lot – and it is – but with the tech it offers, it’s a steal compared to the best PC VR headsets, and far exceeds those of a similar or lower price), and Sony’s promise that its dozens of launch games are just the beginning, with over 100 VR titles currently in development, is that trend set to be bucked?

From what I’ve seen so far, I’m hopeful.

Image: Sony/Guerrilla Games - Horizon: Call of the Mountain is stunning to behold in motion.
Image: Sony/Guerrilla Games – Horizon: Call of the Mountain is stunning to behold in motion.

Games You Can Truly Live in

Climbing up the sides of mountains in Horizon: Call of the Mountain, battling colossal machines whose sheer enormity I can only now comprehend, and firing a bow and arrow with the kind of skill and precision I could only dream of in real life, has been a truly mind-blowing experience. Aloy’s world has always felt alive, with its wonderful art direction, lore, and enemy design, but only once I put on that helmet and was (for intents and purposes) physically transported into it, did I feel I’d really lived there. And that is the magic that VR offers. The kind of magic that, no matter how grand, how expansive a world, or how much time, effort, and money is put in, no standard, “flatscreen” game can ever deliver.

Worlds like the ruined America in Horizon: Forbidden West may be more detailed, and the dying West of Red Dead Redemption 2 may be filled with more than any gamer could reasonably see and do even if (and I’m not ashamed to say that I did) they spent months lost in its digital embrace. But in comparison to the all-encompassing experience VR has granted me, I feel I merely visited those worlds, not lived them.

Never have I felt so immersed in inescapable terror as I have when playing Resident Evil Village’s free VR mode. Not even when playing the decidedly scarier Resident Evil 7 on the original PSVR. This, I believe is due in large part to the added physicality the new Sense controllers provide. Resident Evil 7 had to be played using the regular DualShock controller, resulting in a disconnect between player input and the main character Ethan’s movements. Whereas, the Sense controllers and improved tracking of the PSVR2 headset allow for almost one-to-one movement between the player and Ethan.

The first time I picked up a handgun in Resident Evil Village, felt the vibration and feedback in the controller, and saw Ethan touch the trigger only when I physically touched the R2 button, it took my breath away. The first time I had to physically throw my hands up in front of my face to protect myself from being jumped by a Lycan or look over my shoulder as I was being chased by the impossibly tall Lady Dimitrescu was breathtaking for entirely different reasons. The physicality of movement VR games require–the raising hand over hand to climb a ladder, reaching to your side to grab a pistol, peeking around dark corners with a flashlight in hand–serves to ground the player in a new world. A world their movements directly affect. You are no longer playing the main character; you are the main character.

Image: Capcom - Castle Dimitrescu is terrifyingly beautiful up close.
Image: Capcom – Castle Dimitrescu is terrifyingly beautiful up close.

The Pros

Based on my relatively short time with PSVR2, I would be happy to say Virtual Reality is the future of video games. Never before have games felt so immersive, so real. With updated visuals and the highly-touted foveated rendering technology resulting in far clearer visuals, it’s easy to lose yourself in a game like never before. The slaughtered crows and strung-up goat heads, the decayed murals on the walls, in Resident Evil 8 were just set-dressing before, but in VR, they are real 3D objects the player must push past, physical things that sell the world as a real place and tell a story.

Watching an avatar reload and fire an assault rifle in a standard first-person shooter is all well and good, but feeling the vibrations and haptics as you manually slot in a new magazine and pull back the bolt, feel the tension as you look down the sights and squeeze the trigger in Pavlov, makes you feel like a true action hero. When it goes well, that is. Fumbling for your magazine or dropping your gun while trying to fend off a horde of hungry zombies or battling other players in a frenetic shootout is another feeling altogether – but just as fun.

VR gaming’s unique controls also allow for more casual gamers, even non-gamers to get involved, too. Moving your arms into position to climb a ladder or cliff face is a lot easier than remembering which button does what and where they are on the controller. Similarly, looking around with the right thumbstick can take a lot of practice and can become frustrating to someone who rarely, if ever, plays games, whereas turning your head and moving your body to look around the environment is basic human instinct. And lastly, even those who have played for years can still struggle to aim with speed and precision, but in VR all you need to do is point and shoot.

Image: Vankrupt Games - Teaming up with a squad on Pavlov is a uniquely immersive (and often hilarious) experience.
Image: Vankrupt Games – Teaming up with a squad on Pavlov is a uniquely immersive (and often hilarious) experience.

The Cons

That being said, VR isn’t perfect. First things first, there’s the price. PSVR2 is $549.99, but it only works with a $399 or $499 PlayStation 5 system. Wired PC headsets need a beefy gaming PC to run as intended, and top-end wireless sets can set a person back thousands of dollars. The price will drop eventually, but right now, VR gaming is a hobby for the few, not the many.

Next is motion sickness. The sensation of moving while your body remains still (especially if moving quickly, or looking one way while the player character moves in another) can have nauseating side effects. And these can range from mild to “I never want to touch that damn headset again”. While comfort settings do exist to ease new players in, and most people get over that initial sickness with time, it can be too much for some. And those who are used to high-octane, fast-paced games like Doom or Gran Turismo probably don’t want to waste time playing something more sedate to build up their tolerance when they could be blasting demons in classic “flatscreen” mode.

And while VR is more accessible for non-gamers, it’s not more accessible for everyone. VR titles require a lot of physical movement, and for some, that’s simply not possible. Similarly, they don’t yet allow for customized controllers, meaning those who cannot use the standard controllers that come with each headset, for whatever reason, cannot play VR games as intended. And right now, there simply aren’t as many accessibility options available on VR titles as there are on many modern “flatscreen” games.

And lastly, VR games are costly to make. Horizon: Call of the Mountain isn’t a small game by any means but compared to its full-release cousins, it certainly feels that way. Rendering a world in VR takes far more processing power than rendering it for a TV, so to save time and budget, most VR experiences are smaller, more tightly controlled affairs. Big open worlds are possible, but if developers ever want to get their games out on time, these worlds will have to be less detailed and less interactive. Resident Evil Village suffers a little from this, with many objects and doors existing as just a part of the environment and completely non-interactive. Making something on the scale of GTA V would take too much time and money to be financially viable right now, even for companies as big as Rockstar.

Image: Capcom - As brilliant as it is to explore, Resident Evil 8's village isn't all that interactive.
Image: Capcom – As brilliant as it is to explore, Resident Evil 8‘s village isn’t all that interactive.

The Verdict

So, is VR the future of video games? Yes and no. VR is certainly becoming more mainstream and available to the general public, but like 3D never took over from regular TV, and TV never saw the end of theatre and the stage, good old-fashioned “flatscreen” gaming isn’t going anywhere.

VR is perfect for first-person shooters and experiences that aim to put the player directly into the heart of the action – and with seamless hand- and even eye-tracking now becoming the norm, as well as vastly improved graphics, the barrier between real and digital is quickly wearing thin – but games that focus on story and character still benefit best from a third-person perspective. While third-person games can be enjoyed in VR, the ability to move one’s head and look around almost anywhere in a scene can immediately destroy the emotional effect a game director was going for. As on TV and in film, precise camerawork and cinematography are key to telling a compelling story.

Image: Sony/Guerrilla Games - VR is perfect for first-person, but there will always be a place for standard "flatscreen" games.
Image: Sony/Guerrilla Games – VR is perfect for first-person, but there will always be a place for standard “flatscreen” games.

With the strides VR gaming has made in just the last decade, there is no doubt it will become just as big and just as popular as console, PC, and mobile gaming is now, but it will never replace them. Cutscenes and clever camerawork are an art form, and true art never dies.

Max Longhurst is a keen gamer, avid writer and reader, and former teacher. He first got into gaming when, at the age of 8, his parents bought him a PS2 and Kingdom Hearts for Christmas, and he’s never looked back. Primarily a PlayStation fan, he loves games with a rich single-player experience and stories with unexpected twists and turns.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *