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PlayStation VR Review: Comfort and Compromises

It's a cliche in the video game enthusiast community that Sony is a hardware company and Microsoft is a software company. This was used in the last generation to explain PlayStation's manufacturing strengths and inelegant firmware, and just the reverse for the Xbox. However those roles may have shifted as the two have learned to make up for their deficits, the PlayStation division still has the full weight of Sony's consumer product expertise behind it, and in the case of PlayStation VR, it shows.

Stylish Specs

Aesthetically, the VR headset looks sleek and futuristic, but its hardware strengths go beyond that superficiality. It's designed to be easy to fit in a matter of seconds, with a sliding headset piece and a simple wheel-design to tighten it to fit. As a result, it's simple to fit it correctly within a matter of moments, which makes it a breeze to switch between users like eager family members who want to give it a try. It's also light enough as to easily be forgotten, a must-have feature for any peripheral that intends to be used for hours at a time.

With the headset secured, we're able to step into another world--as seen from behind a mesh. The PSVR does display the ubiquitous "screen door" effect, which proves distracting at first glance. It is easy enough to ignore after only a few minutes of play, but it makes for a somewhat underwhelming first impression.

I've also been struck upon lengthy play sessions at the relatively low resolution. It shows up most in games and experiences attempting a sense of realism, so it's clear already that the best use-cases involve a certain degree of stylized cartoonish qualities that hide some of the rough edges. That may dictate the types of experiences we see going forward, unless developers manage to squeeze some extra power out that allows for greater visual trickery in more realistic games.

Sick Games

Fortunately, the gameplay in my experiences have been smooth. I've heard concerns regarding the framerate, especially given the dreaded "VR sickness" that can follow if the FPS isn't kept consistent. Across all of my gameplay experiences, I haven't discovered a problematic game yet--though some err closer than others.

Much of the launch line-up is the kind of standing experience we've seen in quite a few VR games so far. PlayStation VR Worlds, the demo included with the bundle, is a series of short demos to show off different aspects of what can be done in VR. Batman, similarly, is a brief experience without much replay value that serves mostly to show off the device's capabilities, albeit with the added gee-whiz benefit of Rocksteady's famous take on the Dark Knight.

Music games seem to be the standout on the whole so far, as Rez Infinite and Thumper are both fantastic experiences that keep you stationary while the world essentially moves around you. I've never been much of a music gamer, but those two are certainly the system's showpieces so far regardless. The immersion of the technology paired with the bassy beats help transport the player entirely.

I also have a soft spot for RIGS, which began when I first played the game at E3. It is likely the purest "video game" of the bunch that I've played, with longevity and progression hooks built into its systems. It's also the one likeliest to make players sick. The finest degree of control comes from using your head for controling turning, but that kind of rapid movement in a virtual environment is difficult to take. I've been more-or-less immune to VR sickness, but after a half-hour or so, RIGS made me slightly woozy. It's no coincidence that it recommends short play sessions. I like the game quite a bit, but it's hard to recommend since your enjoyment will vary greatly based on how prone you are to motion sickness.

Plug (and Plug and Plug) and Play

As a retrofit for some of Sony's own less-than-successful peripherals, PlayStation VR is making the most it can out of old hardware. The PlayStation 4 Camera does have 3D capability, but isn't as full-fledged as competitors that use multiple cameras. Meanwhile the PlayStation Move controllers, which were never designed as VR interface devices, do a fine job of serving most functions they need to. I've preferred games that use the standard DualShock controller, but the Move controllers give a better feel for immersive VR experiences like Batman.

Having it set up in my own home has proven occasionally frustrating. The camera is in a fixed position, and when switching between sitting and standing games I've had to take off the headset to readjust so it's looking in the right location. Even then, I sometimes get a repeated warning that my headset has left the play area, which must be fairly narrow. 

Plus, as elegantly designed as the HMD itself is, the extra box and wealth of wires required make it significantly less visually appealing. The connector box that attaches one set of wires to the HMD itself isn't heavy, but it is bulky enough to be noticeable when hanging from your headset, so it really should have included some kind of clip to keep it in place on your belt. I also recommend using your own high-quality headphones rather than the flimsy earbuds provided with the PlayStation VR.

Virtual Introduction

Sony's foray into mid-tier VR is a promising and more cost-accessible option for console players who want to see what all the fuss is about, and is almost as simple to plug-and-play as any other console. The headset is nicely designed and easy to use, despite its sheer mass of wires. What's holding it back right now is the launch library, which is middling-to-fair. It certainly has engaging experiences, but none stand out as a must-play that should convince players to drop hundreds of dollars. Hopefully we see more incoming, thus boosting adoption rates and helping lead to more development. Right now, though, this is for early adopters and tech enthusiasts.

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