VR Works, and I’m as surprised as anyone about that.

PSVR Shark AttackBefore I bought my Playstation VR I had one burning question about the tech l that I just couldn’t find an answer to. I’d scour reviews, watch play throughs, read previews, everything, but they were really sparse on details relating to my specific question…

Does VR Really Work?

The problem is this means a different things to different people. Does the 3D look real? Is the head tracking responsive? Are the games fun? All little pieces of the experience that come together for the final effect. What I wanted to know was more than that. I wanted to know if the fundamental promise of VR, that you will feel like you’re actually their in the game, was hype or reality.

This is a claim I’ve been skeptical of since 3D TV spectacularly failed to impress me and flopped completely in the games market, but the hype has been very similar. You will feel like the game is really there in the living room with you. With 3D I didn’t, and so I put off diving in to the VR for the longest time because of that. I even made a little video about why I was pretty sure VR wasn’t going to be the next big thing, citing the discomfort and artifice of 3D displays as a major concern. I still stand by a lot I said in that video, VR is expensive and cumbersome and won’t be replacing the TV any time soon.

The big question still remained, however. In ideal circumstances, if you could afford one of the damn things and fired up the right game, were the promises true? It seemed the only way to find out was to actually try one out myself. (And since I refuse to pay GAME just to demo a unit, there was only one way to get my hands on one.) I scoured my shelves for long unplayed games and took a wheelbarrow of old discs down to my local Trade-In store and exchanged it all for a PSVR headset.

 

And I’m so glad I did.

If you’re like me, and you found the same questions so completely unanswered by the press coverage of VR, let me help you out. The basic promise of VR is, at least by this headset, fulfilled. When the game is right and the headset is set up correctly you genuinely feel like you exist inside the game. It is effective, exciting, and one of the first genuinely new developments in how games are played for years.

PSVR London Heist GameI don’t want to get too carried away here, VR still has a lot of hurdles for the typical consumer. The resolution is low, the headset are bulky, the cables are a pain; it’ll all work much better when they become wireless, but right now it’s crazy how well the tech works on limited technology. Results vary from game to game. Invasion, a short cartoon in VR, was the first piece of software I booted up and when the credits rolled I was already contemplating packing the bits up and taking it back to the store. Interaction was limited to little more than 360 degree video with 3D effects and I never once felt like I was really there. However the more games I played, the more other games blew that experience out of the water just by adding to the immersion in small ways.

PSVR London Heist GameBoth the Playstation VR Worlds disc and Sony’s packed in Demo disc do a fantastic job with this, featuring menus that place you in 3D space, capable of looking up and down, leaning in around the items you see in front of you, but more importantly they show virtual PS4 controllers that respond to your touch. The PSVR can use basic PS4 controllers for most interaction, and can track them really accurately via the lightbar on the front. This means the virtual controller turns and tilts just like the real one in your hand. This was the last push my brain needed to really believe I was what I was seeing. I had no hands, my mind quickly acknowledged and understood that they were totally invisible now, but my actions, the results of my physical behaviour were rendered there on screen perfectly. This, combined with the 3D and head tracking, seemed to be all my brain needed to calibrate for VR and buy the illusion completely.

The PSVR isn’t very high resolution, or even the most cutting edge VR tech on the market, and yet this simple combination of sensory illusions took me into the game completely. By the time I dropped into my first lengthy experience, Ocean Descent, I was as convinced as I could be while still sat on my office chair.

I could talk at length about sensory tricks. I’d like to, because they’re fascinating. But I’m not going to, I’m going to review more PSVR software in depth in the future and I’d like to save the details for later. I’m not even going to tell you to rush out and buy a VR, because the financial investment, the nausea, the potential discomfort… these are issues that matter and you need to weigh them up on your own. What I can do is answer the question I couldn’t find a good answer to.

Does VR feel real? Yeah, it really does.

It’s fiddly and some games are better than others, but when it’s right, you feel like you’re really in the game.

Infamous: First Light – Review

Infamous_First_Light_cover_artInfamous (Sorry. “inFamous”) is a funny old series. The first title was hotly anticipated back when the PS3 was low on exclusives and any game that had trophies was probably going to sell well, but the final game wasn’t all that impressive. It certainly wasn’t bad, and the story of Cole McGrath, the unwitting courier of a timebomb that turns most of his hometown into a quarantine zone, was interesting enough. The problem was that playing as a Cole, a electricity themed superhero, was never really that impressive. The city looked great, the powers were fun, if a bit shootery, but progress was very much in the “run here, collect this, run there, zap that” mode. Infamous 2 was much the same, and it wasn’t until the Vampire themed Festival of Blood  DLC that the series really started to click for me. Second Son, a PS4 exclusive, was a real step forward for the series. Drawing a line under the first games and essentially giving the player a soft reboot, Second Son took us to a beautifully rendered version of Seattle, in a future where those with powers, Conduits, are segregated, imprisoned and oppressed. The gameplay was much the same, but greater care had been taken to weave a more compelling narrative through Second Son’s toy box. The results weren’t groundbreaking, but effective.

Now we have First Light, an add-on to Second Son that follows Festival of Blood’s standalone release model. This is a traditional story expansion DLC with the added bonus that you don’t need the original game to play. If you do own Second Son, however, you can play as that game’s protagonist in some Score Arenas. It’s a nice model that offers something for fans of the original and also means the game serves as a taster for those who might be on the fence about Second Son. Given that the game is also one of this month’s free PSPlus games, Sony are probably hoping this will funnel a few extra sales for the series.

First Light puts you in control of Fetch Walker, a supporting character from Second Son. Set two years prior to the main game, you follow Fetch through a short, story driven adventure that fleshes out her backstory a little. Most of this takes place in a lighter, restricted version of Seattle. This is before the military DUP arrive, and so traversal through the city is quieter and, frankly, less interesting. The story itself is low key, but interesting. Fetch and her brother are hoping to raise enough money to leave the country when her brother is abducted by one of the warring gangs. In order to rescue him, you must complete a sequence of missions, track down collectibles, upgrades your skills and generally zip around the city using your superpowers. For those who’ve never played the series, this is a good taster for the gameplay, but anyone else will probably find it all a little too familiar.

Problems creep in early, the cut down version of Seattle is really too small to ever feel like you’re actually exploring, and some of Fetch’s powers are unlocked way too early. Right of the bat, you have the ability to zip around the city uninterrupted, which takes any sense of space out of it instantly. In Second Son, this power was also available but had to be unlocked after quite a lot of gameplay. Problems like this run throughout First Light, and it seems to be a result of trying to compress the entire experience of an Infamous game into a title that lasts only a few hours. This wouldn’t matter so much if it were true DLC, but as a standalone title, people are going to go into it blind, and the result is a game that feels slightly poorly paced out.

The story also suffers for the format. The problem is that Fetch’s story in Second Son, from a broken person out for revenge, to a survivor at peace with herself, was more satisfying and at odds with the story presented here somewhat. There are no outright contradictions, but playing through both stories presents us with a character who somehow manages to come to terms with all her old wounds twice in a row.

First Light isn’t bad, but where Festival of Blood seemed to blossom as a quirky, disposable title that knew it could do whatever it wanted with Infamous 2’s engine, this game just feels so confined. Seattle still looks beautiful, but it’s pared back to the point of boredom. The Neon powers are still a lot of fun, but they don’t gel as well with the gameplay, and are overpowered. Fetch has great lead character potential, but we join her in the middle of events that we know are just backstory. Exploring how she moved on after the collapse of the DUP? That’s a story I’d like to see.

The real winner is the game engine. Seattle still looks great, powers are beautiful and it’s fun to zip about fighting crime. There are even a lot of side missions to get on with and armoured cars to destroy, but that’s about it. There’s no real impetus to move on with the story. It feels very much like those side missions in the first Infamous where your Elvis impersonating friend phones you up and suggests you do something mildly distracting between the next big story battle. And that’s not bad, but it could have been so much more. As for the score arenas? It depends on if you like that kind of thing. I’ve never played the series for the combat, and I find the larger encounters more tedious than fun.

If you’re a PSPlus subscriber, this game is free, and for that price it’s a no brainer, but First Light is hard to recommend. A used copy of Second Son offers everything this game does, and quite a bit more. There’s fun to be had here, particularly if you’re a fan of the series, but not really enough unique to justify the game’s existence. Certainly not enough to part cash for it.