Oh boy, the magical Sci Fi of virtual reality is here, almost
This years Eurogamer Exposition in London brought me face to face, or rather eye to eye with the illusive Oculus Rift and immediately after the strap was fastened my reaction was: “man, this is blurry.” Something I did not expect, the intense pixel visibility could apparently be attributed to either: the optimisation of the space warfare shooter I was playing to the Oculus Rift, the game being in beta or the prototype nature of the hardware, if the man guiding me through the experience is to be believed.
That being said it was still incredible. My unfamiliarity with a joystick compared to a controller did nothing to hinder the wonderment of what was happening. I tried out all the tricks the device has to offer: looking down into my cockpit, up into the stars, even over my shoulder as I was pulling my ship back out of combat. This presented a far more immersive and ‘realistic’ simulation of the game. While the game itself did nothing for me: it’s lousy gameplay, visuals and joystick input, the Oculus Rift more than made up for its downfalls. The game experience became far more a point of reference to imagine what genres and games would truly make the most of this capability.
It almost goes without saying that first-person gameplay is pretty much a necessity. A particular button on the joystick I accidentally pressed suddenly took me out of first person to show that my ship was in fact a giant robot. This sounds cool but in reality the functions of the Rift were essentially muted by the act. Aside from being able to look around for sightseeing purposes, there was no way to assault other spaceships in third person. For that reason I cannot imagine much support from third person heavy games like Mass Effect or Grand Theft Auto. On the other hand, fantasising about gazing at Columbia in Bioshock Infinite or the eerie mansion of Gone Home is truly exciting. The only exception to the rule that comes to mind in terms of third person ineptitude is the new brand of emotion and experience heavy games such as Journey.
The other potential benefit that seems to be overlooked in previews is the use it could have in twitch based gameplay. The Oculus Rift was extremely responsive, far more than I imagined. A quick glance to the right immediately brought that whole area into vision without any lag. What I could see was dependent on the speed I moved my eyes and neck, not how fast I would move my right thumb. For gamers who cannot play first person shooters on ridiculously high sensitivities either because it’s disorientating or too fast, this is a far superior alternative that feels natural and results in greater immersion. The obvious scenario and perhaps most desired game incorporation is Titanfall. Parkour, mechs (titans, sorry) and fast-paced multiplayer combat would all become far more badass moments if it were our eyes and head moving instead of a thumb.
So what about the disadvantages? There are always disadvantages. Yes. There are.
The disorientation caused by the headset has been discussed to the level of nauseam the device itself causes, however I would like to quickly give my thoughts. I did not experience it. Not even a little bit. Of course there are many factors to consider: the difference in game (generic spaceship simulator instead of mech simulator in Hawken), the short 15 minute length of use or the fact that I was too preoccupied being in awe but the fact is I was absolutely fine. I would wait to have a far longer session to be definitive but my experience leads me to believe that the nausea will vary from person to person. What’s far more obvious is the distance between your eyeball and screen. Even after a short while I did feel a slight soreness. This is worrying when thinking of playing hours on end. I suspect there will be consistent warnings and precautions suggesting frequent breaks, which could suck when the purpose of the Rift is enhanced immersion.
It’s TV for your eyes! Add headphones to this picture and now you have no idea what is going on around you (the real around you, not the game). That could be dangerous. If you’re in a location you don’t trust implicitly or aren’t alone, anybody could sneak up on you and if you have siblings, good luck. It may be an important factor in a lot of gamers decision to buy or not. Finally, the price. From my moment in paradise it’s pretty safe to presume this will not be a cheap addition to your gaming setup. As far as I am aware Oculus Rift has not released an official price, or a release date or even a final model so who knows what it’ll be like in the end. Perhaps they will go the apple route and have a premium version and a cheaper version but either way I do not see this being a common peripheral hardcore gamers, let alone the casual market will adopt.
It’s exciting. Very exciting. Perhaps the best part of the Eurogamer Expo apart from holding the phenomenally improved dualshock 4, it certainly made the event. I have to hope the pixelation is an anomaly that will be fixed by the time games are being made for the device and the entry price will not be too absurd but, with everything taken into account, you can believe the hype.