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E3 2015: Eyes-on with StarVR and Overkill's The Walking Dead

The weekend before E3 2015 started on a very interesting note. I walked into the House of Blues on Saturday evening expecting to hear more about Overkill's The Walking Dead and possibly see something tangible. I got far more than I expected when Starbreeze revealed that not only would this game run in virtual reality, but the long-time European game publisher had manufactured its own VR headset called StarVR.

The claims sounded very impressive. Dual 5.5" Quad HD panels for 5120x1440 resolution? A 90Hz refresh rate? A 210 degree field of view? Those are specs to salivate over.

However, after trying the headset and the demo for Overkill's The Walking Dead for myself, I was more convinced that Starbreeze may have a long way to go before it can hit its lofty goals. The demo started off with some calibration issues and took a good while to adjust itself. I was seeing a lot of ghosting images and blurriness to start, especially when I turned my head.

While these issues eventually cleared up, what I saw next wasn't exactly mind-blowing. The textures in front of me were somewhat rough, reminiscent of the early VR demos that I had seen a couple of years ago. Something boasting powerful specs like StarVR needs an equally powerful showcase, but with Overkill's The Walking Dead in as early a stage as it is, that didn't quite fit the bill. Textures looked somewhat undefined, environments felt uninspired, and the actual gameplay didn't feel like the big leap forward that I was hoping to see from virtual reality.

To elaborate, the demo for Overkill's The Walking Dead saw me in the role of a paraplegic in a hospital, just as the zombie outbreak was taking place. A pair of humans helped push the wheelchair forward, clearing the way forward and keeping an eye out for walkers. At some point, they would hand me a shotgun to defend myself. In truth, it was simply an on-rails shooter. And while I love the genre, it didn't feel particularly interesting. Worse yet, for a prime horror franchise like The Walking Dead, the demo didn't feel all that scary, either.

With that said, there's still reason to be optimistic, as there's still a lot of time for development to change for the better. Prior to the demo, Starbreeze and Overkill were adamant that this demo would not be indicative of the final game and would, in fact, undergo major changes. The demo was simply used to help showcase the headset. And while it wasn't a visual marvel, the demo was made noticeably more interesting, thanks to the VR shotgun peripheral from TrinityVR. This peripheral featured full pump-action, to offer a true feel of a shotgun.

The headset likewise shows the seeds of something special, even if it didn't feel like the demo made the most of the monitors' resolution capabilities. However, StarVR does deliver on its 210 degree field of view promise, allowing me the closest I could get to peripheral vision from a VR headset.

Starbreeze is promising this same demo will be playable at E3 2015, so time will tell whether I'm simply an outlier with this opinion. First impressions mean a lot and mine are definitely mixed for StarVR. But the potential is definitely there and I'm anxious to see how Starbreeze Paris (formerly InfinitEye) can iterate on this hardware and build upon the foundation it has set.

No release date or pricing has been given for StarVR at this time. Look for more information to come in the future.

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