PlayStation VR, formerly known as Project Morpheus, is arguably the VR headset to watch this year. Sure, Oculus Rift has the backing of Facebook, but it still needs a powerful PC to run properly. PlayStation VR, however, will work with any PS4 and there are millions already out there. That's a strong selling point.
From Sony's recent Games Developer Conference event we now know it will cost just £349 / $399, putting it around half the price of the HTC Vive and $200 less than the Oculus Rift. We always knew the PlayStation VR would be cheaper than its main rivals, but we never thought it would be that much cheaper.
Here we'll look through some of the games we've tried and what they are like in VR, but first let's look at the tech inside PlayStation VR.
Everything starts with the screen, which is a 5.7-inch Full HD OLED with an equivalent resolution of 960 x 1,080 for each eye and a 100-degree field of view. Those of you who know your VR headsets will know these specs don't match the Oculus Rift, which features two 1,080 x 1,200 screens – one for each eye – but the difference in price explains that.
This isn't the only saving, either. Unlike Oculus, the PlayStation VR doesn't feature built-in headphones, although it will ship with a separate pair. This means you could wear your own too and it's another way Sony is making PS VR simpler and therefore cheaper than rivals Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
The PS VR is arguably the best-looking and friendliest of the main VR headsets. The glowing lights and moulded black and white plastic aren't so intimidating, and it's very comfortable. It's comparatively light and the large visor, we're assured, can accommodate even large glasses frames.
It's possibly the most social, too. While it uses a PS4, the PlayStation VR will also ship with a smaller box that sits between the headset and the PS4 to handle the 3D bits. An added bonus of this setup is you can connect the box to a TV, so people can see what you're seeing. Watching what's going on is far more interesting than watching someone on their own, so we can see this being a winning feature.
You'll also need a PlayStation Camera for the PlayStation VR because it's how the headset tracks movement – it costs extra. Like the PlayStation Move controllers, the camera tracks the lights on the front of the headset as you move your head around. This works pretty well in our experience and the camera is bound to be bundled with any VR purchase.
While the headline price doesn't include the PlayStation Camera, which is required, or the Move controllers, it's still a good value compared to the Vive and Rift. By Sony's own admission, it won't be the most advanced VR experience when it launches, but it's arguably the most accessible given the price and hardware it runs on.
While Sony hasn't revealed launch titles for PS VR, we've tried several game demos over the last year or so. Some, like Driveclub, are versions of existing games, while others are titles being developed specifically for VR. We've tried quite a few of them – here's what we made of them.
Samantha Loveridge – I’m kitted out with a pair of PlayStation Move controllers, fitted with the PlayStation VR itself and have some headphones strapped on.
Immediately I’m told to sit down and I’m transported into a smoky room with a rather burly-looking gentleman sitting opposite me – well, I say gentleman, but he could pass as an extra from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
I start having a look around the room, before my compadre starts demanding my attention. Brandishing a blowtorch, my new least favourite person asks me where Serena is, and turns the blowtorch towards me. I instinctively recoil in my seat, and just as the flame comes towards my face, his mobile rings.
Sweet relief. But it’s actually for me. Suddenly, those Move controllers turn into my in-game hands and I’m able to stand up and grab the phone from his hand. The 3D audio comes into its own here. As I draw the phone close to my ear, the audio gets louder, then gets quieter if I move it away. It’s only a tiny thing, but it really enhances the feeling of immersion.
It’s a shame that London Studios hasn’t given my floating hands any kind of arms. Floating gloves really jar in a game, and I realise the technical difficulties of making the arms look realistic, but it’s one of the main things that holds back VR from being truly immersive, at least for me.
Mid-phone call I’m transported to a room and plonked behind a desk with several drawers to explore. Using the triggers underneath the Move controllers I pick up a periscope-shaped torch on the desk and start pulling open drawers to see what’s lurking inside. The voice in my ear informs me there are guards patrolling all around me and prompts me to duck down behind the desk when they draw near.
I manage to avoid detection until I find a key in one of the cupboards of the desk, which unlocks a panel hiding a rather impressive diamond. But, of course, like any good action sequence, picking up that jewel triggers an alarm that sends all the guards running towards my location.
Time for the gun. This is one of the best moments in The London Heist demo – picking up the gun, slotting the magazine in the bottom like a proper gangster and taking out the oncoming guards.
I have an issue where I can’t make the gun fire with my right hand, but switching the gun to my left hand works perfectly. And it turns out I’m a lefty when it comes to firearms...
My friend had a few issues actually loading the magazine later on in the demo, despite successfully pulling it off the first couple of times. I assume that was down to some issues with tracking the Move controllers themselves.
I’ve tried plenty of VR demos in the past year or so, and the fast-paced interactive experience offered by The London Heist is definitely the most immersive yet. Even the seriously impressive Vive demos are a lot more passive than The London Heist.
A second chapter I played makes it clear the first demo is part of a larger game – a launch title, perhaps? This time as soon I’ve got the PlayStation VR strapped on my head and a pair of Move controllers in my hands, I find myself sitting in the passenger seat of a Ford Transit van with a familiar bald-headed ruffian by my side.
Without having seen the episodes in between this and the previous London Heist experience, it’s hard to work out how this London geezer has gone from threatening to blow torch my face off, to being my partner in gun crime. Nevertheless, London Heist is definitely one of the first extended demos that we’ve seen which builds the idea of character in virtual reality games.
In this chapter, though, sitting in the van, I’m given a little time to look around. There’s a large bag filled with gun magazines, a few empty beer cans and even some gloves in the glove compartment. Pretty much everything is interactive, to the point where I can fiddle with the radio tuning and turn up the volume, much to the annoyance of my new best bud.
What’s great is that he's completely reactive to my actions. When I open the glove compartment, he says, “What did you expect? A gun?” Meanwhile, opening the van door on the motorway is very much frowned upon. Attempting to shoot him in the face repeatedly later in the demo is also met with much disgust, and I'm asked whether I’ve been a “see you next Tuesday” my entire life.
At the start, though, driving along with him drinking a beer, it’s all quite serene. Until the gunfire. Rapidly I’m thrown a gun and I’m hanging out the open door shooting at the motorbikes coming up from behind. That’s not before the ruffian has had the chance to take out the windscreen with his elbow, clearing the way for near 360-degree shooting.
As with the previous London Heist demo, the shootouts feel utterly realistic, with me having to reach for fresh ammo from the bag next to me. Aiming feels very natural too, with me occasionally hitting the petrol tanks of the chasing cars and bikes, causing pretty impressive explosions.
If London Heist doesn’t become a full title for PS VR one day, I’ll be very surprised. It's an impressive demo and a great example of how VR games can offer an interesting an unique experience.
Samantha Loveridge – Next comes the Kitchen, the first horror game built specifically for the PlayStation VR. I’ve heard scare stories about this demo from fellow journalists who played it before me. Some had screamed, others had cowered in fear. And now it's my turn.
Now I must admit that I’m not great with scary movies, usually reaching for the nearest cushion whenever I can feel the boo-scares coming. I know that I’ll have to resist closing my eyes to make the bad things go away with The Kitchen.
When I’m all kitted out with the PS VR and a DualShock 4 controller, I find myself in a kitchen – no surprise there – within what looks to be an abandoned warehouse. My hands are bound in front of me, and the fact that I'm gripping the controller in both hands makes that restriction feel more real. I also realise that I’m tied to a chair and can’t move.
There’s a man lying on the floor beside me, also with his hands bound. Suddenly he’s awake and grabs a knife from the ground and comes at me with it. Thankfully, he’s not a bloodthirsty murderer; he just wants to try and help to cut the ties around my wrists. I instinctively push the DualShock 4 forwards, enabling him to get a better angle on the ties.
I won’t spoil the demo for you in case you ever get a chance to try it. It's safe to say, though, that Sony has built the tension well, to the point that I was teetering on the edge of my seat by the end, desperate to get back to reality.
PlayStation VR offers graphics and an experience that is on par with the other headsets. I still feel that Sony needs to overcome the issues with your head getting very hot and sweaty while wearing the headset – and that wasn’t just because I got panicky playing the Kitchen either.
Samantha Loveridge – In development at UK-based Rebellion Studios, BattleZone is a new VR title that aims to be out around the same time as PlayStation VR. It's a new take on the classic 1980s Atari arcade game and I got to try a short demo at a recent PlayStation event.
BattleZone drops you into the driver’s seat of a one-man tank. You’re given a brief rundown of the controls, which are your normal attack buttons – R2 to shoot, right analogue stick to aim the guns, L1 for the speed boost, square to change weapons, and left stick to move around. Your head, of course, controls the camera view.
After this your little tank is lifted up into the arena. It’s here that you realise your purpose is to blow pixellated enemies – other tanks and weaponised guard towers, for instance – to absolute smithereens. There are standard rockets for the tanks and sentries, or you can swap to a burst shot that’s great for the flying swarm of drones you meet later on.
As you’ll see in the trailer above, everything is deliberately blocky as they explode, while the colour palette gives it a rather Tron-esque feel.
I powered through the demo, finding the control system surprisingly intuitive, even if it did feel strange using a DualShock 4 while my head was thinking I was in the cockpit of a tank.
You can monitor the incoming enemies on the circular radar that sits on the dash below. It’s possible to keep track of it without having to tilt your head, which is a nice touch.
Although this is a simple experience, the futuristic tank battle is certainly improved by the immersiveness that the PlayStation VR brings. The fact that it’s retro-styled rather than realistic doesn’t detract from that experience either.
I hope that this game will evolve and offer a variety of modes by the time launch comes. It could be a great title to dip in and out of – especially if it can offer multiplayer with fellow PS VR heads.
Samantha Loveridge – Straight from Sony’s own Japan Studio comes the virtual reality version of the original augmented PlayRoom that shipped with the PS4. PlayRoom VR will offer a smorgasbord of virtual reality taster experiences just to get you into PlayStation VR.
I only got to try one of these minigames, but it was quite the unique experience for VR headsets – it was multiplayer but with gamers who weren’t wearing a PS VR. In an attempt to get the whole family or household involved in virtual reality, this minigame enables four players to use DualShock 4 controllers to battle against the PS VR-wearing monster.
The monster isn’t allowed a controller, though. All I had to do is bash down buildings with my head as I automatically chased after the fleeing minions.
As a non-VR minion, your job is to dodge the falling debris and collect any villagers you can along the way.
Once you’ve done that there’s monster-vs-minion battle. The monster has to dodge the debris that’s being thrown at it by the minions, who have to scramble around and work together to take the monster out. The monster’s got four glowing lights on its headset in the game that indicate its health level.
It’s a new way to introduce local multiplayer to the PS VR experience. I honestly can’t see it working beyond these gimmicky games, but it’s a great way to ease multiple gamers into VR.
Samantha Loveridge – If you've played DriveClub since its release then you'll know that it's evolved into a stunning racer with some seriously impressive visuals and weather effects. Well, Evolution Studios and Sony are working to bring this experience to PlayStation VR.
However, back in October, the game was running at 60fps before being converted to 120fps with reprojection before being sent to PlayStation VR, which resulted in a loss of detail. Fewer cars are allowed – down to eight from the original 12 – and there's less trackside detail, simpler weather effects and no rear-view mirrors, though the latter is due to be fixed ahead of launch.
The overall effect though has been reported as being very immersive, with racers being a particularly good fit for VR. I've yet to try the demo so I can't comment first hand, but I do know that this is just a prototype that's been knocked up over a three month period. The eventual release may well be a lot different.
It's hard to gauge how PlayStation VR compares to other headsets until we see them all side-by-side, but the basic package is encouraging. The hardware looks good, is comfortable and using a PS4 means the barrier to entry is low, just like the price. We can see a lot of people with a PlayStation VR on their Christmas lists this year.