Reality doesn’t bite: PlayStation’s new VR system brings virtual home

Todd Hailstone

Virtual reality’s in a strange place. What once sounded like science fiction is here, in our actual lifetime, but even with quality VR headsets on the market—like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift—the masses haven’t latched on. Without a large catalog of quality games, perhaps it seems more like an expensive novelty than the evolution of gaming. Sony’s PlayStation VR is out to change that.

PSVR launched this month with a $499 bundle that includes a camera, two move controllers and the PlayStation VR Worlds game, which saved me almost $100. I’d love to tell you it was smooth sailing from the start, but the first day felt like a nightmare. The cabling is out of control—six separate cables reaching for the TV, wall outlet and headset like some giant electronic squid. And the cords are painfully short, so tucking them away or following floorboards isn’t possible. Families planning to add the system to a living room will need to get creative or factor in 20 minutes of setup and teardown every time they play.

Once I tried some games, it all felt worth it, though. I plunged through every Worlds experience in a single evening, and they were all incredible. I felt real fear during a near-miss with a shark on a diving expedition and had a full-on adrenaline rush during an exhilarating heist in the streets of London. Even a first-person Pong rip-off was better than expected.

At times I found the experiences so immersive, I’d reach out with my actual hand to touch objects in the virtual world, only to feel slightly disappointed (and a bit foolish) upon realizing they weren’t actually real. I felt nauseous once during a sci-fi adventure, but on the whole had a fantastic time. With its affordable bundle, immersive play and fast-growing game catalog, Playstation VR seems poised to explode the virtual reality market.

I also tested out two fully realized games …

Batman: Arkham VR (Rocksteady Studios, $30) The final chapter in the incredibly popular Arkham series seems short, running just two hours for me (and I even sat marveling at the fully realized VR world at times). The story is brutal, and ends with an unexpected but heartbreaking twist.

What’s most impressive is how well it tracks your head movements to allow you to investigate a full 360 degrees. It blew my mind the first time I turned around to peer into a window. The move controllers double as Batman’s hands, and they feel one-to-one. Reaching out and pulling switches never seemed awkward, and throwing batarangs with the move controllers felt incredible. Outside VR, this game would have been simple and unimpressive, but Rocksteady pulled me into the world and actually got me emotional about Batman again. Four stars.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (Steel Crate Games, $15) This one’s a multi-player, multi-screen game, turning the VR headset wearer into a bomb diffuser while other players access a bomb defusal manual, unseen by the VR player. As the time ticks down, the VR player describes the bomb to his peers as they try to defuse it. Hilarity ensues.

It’s simple in execution and didn’t take much advantage of VR’s capabilities, but the game was fun anyway, challenging the notion that VR has to be a solo experience. Three and a half stars.

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