I was recently invited to the PlayStation Summer Showcase to get my hands on the most exciting part of the PS4s future: its virtual reality (VR) headset, currently codenamed Project Morpheus.
Whilst there is currently no price and only a vague release date of ‘the first half of 2016’, I did get to experience a sizeable bunch of games and tech demos at a recent PlayStation showcase, and came away extremely impressed.
The headset itself is a truly remarkable piece of tech, even just from the high-grade aesthetic quality. The Morpheus feels very slick and looks a charm, its styled in a glossy white and has futuristic but functional blue lights designed for easy tracking of movement and location. It is relatively simple to put on and adjust, there’s a button on the front to pull the screen to and from the face, as well as a button and adjustment wheel on the back of the headset to tighten it around the head.
After making the adjustment to the headset, I sat down, put on some headphones and grabbed hold of 2 PlayStation Move controllers to get my first taste of virtual reality.
The first game I tried was London Heist, a 2-section demonstration of a game made from Sony’s London Studio (EyeToy, SingStar). It's not actually confirmed for a public release, but when asked they did mention that it could either form its own game, or be rolled into a new game entirely (and the developers did hint at a resurrection of The Getaway 3 too, saying it is something they’d like to do).
I began with the first section of London Heist and was instantly impressed with the high level of immersion the Morpheus created. I began as a passenger in a white van driving down a motorway on the outskirts of London, and I say that as if it truly happened as the experience was that authentic. Before any action commenced the drive was standard, which gave me the time to experiment and familiarise myself with the controls. Each Move controller features a trigger button on the back that is used to grab and interact with things in the van, for example I was adjusting the radio, pulling out the glove box and picking up cans of drinks as if it was all really there around me.
My fun with adjusting the air-con knob was interrupted when our van came under-fire by gang members driving in vans and on motorbikes. The driver beside me threw over a sub machine-gun, and instructed me to hold off the attackers. I picked it up by reaching my hand out and grabbing the gun, and loaded up the gun by slotting in some magazines I located in the glove box earlier. Firing was fairly simple and rather akin to light-gun games in the arcade for aiming and shooting, and gameplay involved being tasked with gunning down bikers and blowing out the tyres of rival vans, but it was the whole immersion of the VR that made it feel like much more. My favourite aspect of the experience was when I tried opening the van door, I was so immersed I was actually keeping a firm footing so that I didn't fall out the van when it opened. When grabbing the door and pushing it open I could actually stick my head out the door and look right back at the road, something that felt really cool, and I even managed to do a few drive-by’s doing this.
After the shoot-out ended the second demo began, with in-game me being tied down to a chair in an interrogation scenario. Luckily I was spared any torture as someone rang the interrogators phone, which I grabbed and put by my ear to, listening the caller talk. After the call a flashback occurred and I was dropped in the middle of a heist at a museum, scurrying around draws to find a gem. An alarm was set off when I grabbed the prized gem, and security flooded the scene. I grabbed and loaded a gun that was handily stashed in one of the draws that I previously had opened. Shooting was just like the previous demo except this time I had to duck behind the desk and swerve out the way of the oncoming gun fire to survive, and was on my feet moving around everywhere to do this.
What I found so amazing in both these demos is just how surreal this whole experience was, I could look around the full 360 degrees of the world, and I often forgot about this freedom of vision in my demos but it was all there. Each demo had something hidden in the scene at some point in time, and it added another dimension to each game as I re-played a few just to get a good look around the scenery. It’s something you really just have to experience to truly grasp how fluid and amazing it is.
The Other VR Experiences
Battlezone (developed by Rebellion) is the next game I tried, and is a reboot of the 1980’s Atari classic of the same name. It can be described as a walking tank-mech battle game, all played from the cockpit of the tank with the ability to move about, change speed, and fire missiles. Controls for this game are handled by using the standard Dualshock 4 controller and although functional, a joystick arrangement like those on the PC might have made it even more immersive. The game is set to be a launch title for the Morpheus, and right now is only a single-player affair, although they are looking into multi-player and procedural generation of stages before release.
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Valkyrie is a spin-off from the Eve shooter series on PC, and is a futuristic dogfighting game set in its universe. The gameplay was fairly similar to that of Battlezone, except that being in a spacecraft meant that I could navigate the battle-space going in any direction, and was fun to play. This game gives a promising look into what VR can add to simulator experiences, a genre that I can foresee becoming very popular with these headsets.
Playroom is already an established game pre-installed on every PS4, but with the launch of Morpheus it is receiving a patch to add in some VR mini-games, of which I got to try out one. This experience surprised me because it was more enjoyable than I anticipated it to be, and was also engaging because it was based around the local multi-player experience, allowing other people to join in on the game with Dualshock controllers on the TV screen. The landing screen was based in a room that was full of little bots playing Frisbee, working out in a gym, and doing other little activities that were also interactive. I could, as an example, lean forwards and blow onto the bot running on the treadmill, which made him run too fast and fall off. The whole room was viewable too, as I learnt when I turned my head back and saw big bots all waving at me.
Inside the actual mini-game, I was a giant Godzilla-like monster chasing after lots of bots, who were all being controlled by other players using a separate screen with the Dualshocks. I was moving my head around to dodge items being thrown at me and to destroy buildings which was very immersive, before being thrown into a boss fight where I was the boss, and had to throw helicopters and dodge lots of things being thrown at me to win (and as much as I was flinging my head around I was no match to the other players).
The final demo I was shown was a horror experience called Kitchen, which was produced as a tech demo to showcase what the Morpheus can be capable of. The demo drew a lot of inspiration from established horror games such as Resident Evil and Outlast, and shows that the future of virtual reality games could be terrifying if made to the quality this demo was produced to. I was again tied to a chair in a run-down and battered kitchen, and my interaction was limited to watching what was happening around me, and swinging my tied hands about using the Dualshock controller.
I'm not usually phased by horror movies but this demo did create a very creepy atmosphere, it even managed to give me a couple of frights. My favourite moment of this demo was the literal jump scare I got when the possessed creature grabbed my head from behind me. Some other people’s reactions to this are available to watch online and are extremely hilarious.
My experience of these VR games left me extremely impressed and also very excited for the future of gaming. These games were incredible to play and the feeling inside the games were like no other. I was surprised to see how far and well-developed the headset was and how easily the PS4 could handle it. I can’t wait to see what other new experiences developers can conjure up over the coming years, as there is a lot of potential in virtual reality and this certainly did feel like just the tip of the iceberg of what's to come. I'm eagerly looking forward to the release of the headset next year for the PS4, and it will certainly be a first-day purchase for myself.
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