If you’ve been waiting to hang out in virtual reality in your own home, but don’t have the money or PC specs to run the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, and are too afraid of burning that home down to risk a Samsung product, your best bet yet arrives tomorrow. Sony finally releases the Playstation VR on October 13, opening up the so-called future of videogames to its widest possible audience yet. We’ve had a unit for the last few weeks, along with most of the launch titles, and already wrote a little bit about it last week. If you want your info in more succinct chunks, though, we’ll go ahead and break down the most important things you need to know about Playstation VR before rushing out and dropping hundreds of dollars on it.
Presumably you already own a Playstation 4. The basic PSVR package comes with the headset, a pair of earbuds, the cables needed to connect everything together, and a disc full of demos. Neither the console nor the headset comes with the Playstation 4 Camera, which is an absolutely mandatory part of the PSVR kit. Without it the system can’t pinpoint the location of either the headset or your controllers. If you buy all three separately, that comes to $760, which is definitely costly but still less than the other major VR options on the market today. Again, make sure you have that camera when you get your PSVR kit, or otherwise you won’t be able to do anything in virtual reality other than check out title screens.
If you’ve played the Oculus Rift or Vive on a high-end PC, you might be a little disappointed by how PSVR games look. They tend to be a little blockier and fuzzier than their more powerful PC brethren. That will probably pose problems for PSVR development as time marches on; just as the modularity of PCs lets you upgrade to more powerful components, constantly pushing technical limitations well past a level that self-contained, non-upgradable consoles can reach, the PSVR will quickly find itself falling increasingly behind the PC headsets. (That will remain true even with the more powerful Playstation 4 Pro hitting the market next month.) Of course being on a console brings distinct advantages, in the sense that the PSVR is far more convenient than the other set-ups. All you have to do is plug it in and get it calibrated properly. It should take less than 20 minutes before you’re making your first steps into an all-encompassing videogame world. And you don’t have to mess with installing new graphics cards or other computer components every year orso.
Unlike the straps found on its competitors’ headsets, Sony went with a sculpted plastic halo for the PSVR. It’s easy to adjust by holding down a button and pushing the headband in or pulling it out, and there’s also a dial on the back that lets you fine-tune the tightening. The face piece also slides in and out, letting you position the lenses as optimally as possible. You can also plug a set of headphones into the headset, if you want to fully surround yourself with videogame business. As far as the fit and adjustability goes, it beats the other headsets fairly easily. The biggest problem with it is that it fogs up all the time. I usually have to stop paying every ten minutes or so in order to slide the lenses off and wipe them down.
I’ve been able to play a good number of the games available for PSVR so far with just the standard Playstation 4 controller. I don’t think I’ve encountered one yet that absolutely requires the forgotten old Move motion controllers, but I’ve definitely played a few that are significantly better with that control scheme. Basically you’ll hold a Move controller in each hand and they’ll represent the hands of your character in the game. That means seeing a disembodied pair of Batgloves floating around the screen during Batman: Arkham VR. If you don’t want to worry about having a game you can’t play adequately with a standard controller, you might want to spring for a couple of Move controllers in advance. They don’t come with the console or the headset (although there are bundles that have both, if you know where to look) and a two-pack will probably cost you around $100.
Right now the best reason to spring for PSVR is to play the virtual reality versions of games like Thumper and Rez Infinite and VR exclusives like Super Hyper Cube, Wayward Sky and Headmaster. They’re all good games, even if the VR doesn’t add that much to something like Thumper. They’re also all games built largely for short, fast play sessions. None of the launch games really offer the kind of mechanically complex, narrative heavy, time-consuming experience that typically top the console game sales charts. (Think Fallout, Assassin’s Creed, GTA, etc.) It’s actually hard to see how this hardware could ever do games like that well; it might be able to recreate a 360 degree environment, but movement options will almost always be limited. There aren’t a lot of games to get excited about at launch, and despite a surprisingly large number of games coming down the turnpike over the next few months, there still seems to be relatively few examples of so-called “AAA” games on the docket.
It really can, even if you don’t normally have to worry about motion sickness. I mentioned this in that last piece, but I ride a lot of roller coasters and other thrill rides, and almost never feel vertigo after any of them. Meanwhile I have a hard time playing PSVR for more than 25 or 30 minutes at a time without feeling a headache set in. Last night I played 15 minutes of Job Simulator and wound up feeling dizzy and confused for the rest of the night. It hits me most consistently on games like Job Simulator or Arkham VR, where the game plops your field of vision into a 360 degree space and frequently requires you to look around, including behind you, while interacting with virtual objects. Turning my gaze and trying to focus on visual elements that don’t exist in the real world do a serious number on my head. It’s also tough handling the motion of on-screen characters in VR games. If the camera isn’t locked tight on the character I’m controlling, and I have to freely maneuver them around the space, I can get instantly sick. It hasn’t been a problem with games that are on rails or that offer more guided experiences. Basically if the camera isn’t moving too much, and I don’t have to move too much, I can make it through a PSVR game without feeling like I’m the ball in a life-sized pinball machine.
We might be more than a little skeptical or pessimistic about virtual reality’s long-term prospects—we’ve seen very little that makes it look like anything more than a passing fad for people with a lot of money to burn—but if it’s the kind of thing you’re into you might find much to enjoy with a PSVR. And if you’re still waiting for more information before pulling the trigger in either direction, check back at Paste later this week for a look at the PSVR launch software.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.