If you’d like to see my review for the PSVR hardware itself, click here.
Playstation VR Worlds – Review
Playstation VR Worlds is an oddity. On the one hand, it’s the most well rounded and effective demo of the Playstation VR in the launch lineup, on the other, it’s exactly that… a demo. Or rather five demos, thematically distinct apart from their ability to show off a different style of VR game. The quality varies but the entire package represents the essential beginner’s guide to VR.
So why does Sony want more money for it?
VR Luge is the weakest of the bunch, embodying all the Playstation VR’s most prominent weaknesses in one package. You play a street-luge racer, hurtling down a mountain road through busy traffic, construction sites, and other perils. Steering with your head, your goal is to reach the bottom of the mountain in the best time possible. It sucks. Visually it’s just hideous, with low resolution visuals combining with fast paced action to make a blurry mess that feels anything but immersive. Steering is awkward and flimsy, running in to the cars is unpleasant in VR and the whole thing just feels flat and dull. Worse still, the underlying game is terrible. It promises multiple tracks, but most seem to be part of the same course with different start and end points chosen, like the project started as an early tech demo stretched to meet the definition of a game.
Danger Ball is better, though still not the most immersive experience. It’s Pong, basically, but from a first person perspective. You tilt your head to move a paddle that is locked to the centre of your view and while a ball bounces between you and your opponent. Meanwhile, you’re set in a series of Tron-Style sci-fi environments that really steal the show. Danger Ball is a strong, arcade style action and pretty fun in short sessions but doesn’t have a lot of substance. The VR effect here is better, but still doesn’t lure you in much. You’re too focused on the game really, and while 3D in VR has been some of the best I’ve ever experienced, the ball still doesn’t really feel like it’s flying towards you . Worse still, if the game gets really vigorous it starts to take it’s toll on your neck. This is one of the stronger games in terms of pure gameplay and design, but it’s hard not to feel like this is an experience I’d rather not play in VR at all. The game would work just as well on a 2D TV.
I’m torn on this one, it’s probably the strongest experience on the disc but the gameplay is limited. London Heist is ostensibly Sony’s stand in for the big budget, narrative driven, AAA shooter that they want on the platform. Still, it isn’t a complete game, but a twenty minute segment in which you’ll visit a short but fairly well written story about a diamond heist gone wrong, enjoy a few pretty absorbing shooting sections, and play with a few motion control sections where you get to really get your hands involved. It tries to show you everything, and to its credit most of the sections are really strong. I enjoyed the shooting a lot, even using the normal DualShock 4 to control. Holding the controller like a single pistol and turning the gun around in your hands gave me some of the most immersive moments in VR so far. Shooting is strong and well thought out, with a laser sight equipped at all times avoid a HUD crosshair. I also loved having to physically move yourself around objects to get a better shot; it might get tedious after a while, but for this little adventure it ever outstayed its welcome. London Heist persuaded me that the best VR games in the world and those in which you can see your hands, watch them respond to your movement, and feel like you’re directly controlling the world around you. It’s amazing how soon your brain adapts to what it’s seeing and starts to play along.
There are problems though; too much of it is sitting in a chair while characters talk at you, and often it can be a bit too “hey, you’re in VR” about it all. In one segment you’re supposed to be receiving your mission briefing, and meanwhile the guy talking is depositing enough trinkets on the table to stock a reasonably priced market stall. Each can be picked up and turned around, played with, and thrown about the room, which is fun and all but the effect is like being told “this is serious, stop and listen” while a man fills up a ball pool full of balls. London Heist might be the best entry on here, but it feels least like a product that deserves to exists separately from the hardware. It’s only purpose is to soft tutorial different ways of interacting with a VR world, to sell it separately shows a lack of understanding in the product, and what people expect from a retail game.
Scavenger’s Odyssey is a decent enough concept that tries to fill another AAA game niche, but feels like it undermines VR more than it sells it. You pilot an armed mech that leaps from asteroid to asteroid, fighting bugs, and raiding wrecked spacecraft in environments evocative of Metroid Prime. It’s one of the longer titles on here, and can be pretty fun. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the less immersive. Going in, I was excited. Like a lot of people I’ve long suspected cockpit and mech based VR games would be some of the strongest VR experiences due to the player’s seated position. For Savenger’s Odyssey at least, this isn’t true. Leaping from asteroids can be engrossing, or queasy, but the more mundane shooting and scavenging bits don’t feel immersive at all. Looking around the cockpit is great, but once you’re staring through the glass, the immersion drops the more you’re focused on the game. It’s another that feels like once the initial “wow” has faded, the game would be more fun on a TV. It’s designed well enough, though, and a lot of mythology and lore seems to have gone into the backstory just for this little experience.
I saved the best for last. This was the game that sold me on the PSVR, and I’m not even sure why. I never really wanted to descend in a shark cage or visit the bottom of the ocean, but from the minute I saw clips of reviewers at press events having their pants scared off by shark attacks, I was on board. It just looked like fun. And it is. It’s so fun.
Ocean Descent is the least interactive game on the disk. You have no controls, you do nothing to change the outcome of the experience. It is, in just about every way possible, a VR short movie. You are in a diving cage, a voice in your earpiece tells you that you’re part of a salvage crew here on a tip-off. They lower you into the ocean past a variety of wildlife, and then things take a turn for the worse. It really feels like a theme park ride, and yet it’s astonishingly real. The visuals are tight and clean, everything just looks so beautiful and when that cage drops, your stomach lurches. It’s just a shame it lacks any kind of hand tracking. Early builds of this game saw players equipped with a targeting gun for tagging salvage, a feature cut from the final release. I’d have liked something in its place. Being able to control my hands completes VR for me, I can see why it was cut when there’s really nothing for your hands to do, but I’d have still liked it there. The only other problem is replayability. This is another short experience and you’re only going to want to do it a couple of times, once again it’s the kind of thing that makes so much sense on a free demo disc, and none on a paid product.
You can probably guess what I’m going to say, I’ve said it before many times, but…
Playstation VR Worlds should have been free. The experiences within it scream free-demo, they’re paced like that, they were shown completely to press at events like that, it’s what they exist for. The complete package is strong, with some duds, some solid games, and some really great experiences, but they’re all short single use adventures. Releasing them as a paid package feels like greed, or serious lack of judgement.
Technically they’re impressive, however, with all but VR Luge looking cleaner and more immersive than anyone else’s software right now. They do a great job of showing why the PSVR is quite so fantastic at doing what it does. And then it ends and you’re wondering what you spent your £30 on.