VR is a game changer. Wait, let me try again: VR is a game changer? Right now, in the summer of 2016, that question can only be answered by a thin slice of the gaming population. It’s also restricted to PC gamers who have a PC with enough power to even run a VR environment. I’ve been trying to answer the question with just the handful of demos I’ve had with the 3 leading VR options: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and the upcoming PlayStation VR. My heart was saying “that’s unfair” while my wallet was saying “eh, your heart is stupid, it’s ok to have an uniformed opinion.” As usual, the heart won out and I purchased the Oculus Rift for $600. My PC is a little old, but meets the specifications to run VR, according to SteamVR. My opinion is still being formed. Below is a living review of the Oculus Rift, and to some extent, VR in general.
That was pretty easy. The Oculus is very well packaged in a box about the size of an Xbox One. In the box is the Oculus Rift headset (fully assembled), an Xbox One controller, a small remote control and the Oculus sensor for your desk. This is what’s used to set your in-game perspective and the ability to walk around the environment in your VR games/experiences. My desktop had exactly 3 available USB ports and the Rift requires 2x USB 3.0 and 1x USB 2.0 ports. Whew. That was a close one. I did have to unplug my external speakers, which I really like using.
Games and Experiences
Before I dive too deeply into this section, I want to recognize the excellent interface that the Oculus team created. It’s easy to navigate and includes some beta social aspects. Importantly, you can leave any game or experience at anytime to access this overlay by simply pressing the “home” button on your Xbox One controller.
Apollo 11: the very first paid-for experience that I tried is the Apollo 11 mission. While there is an interactive option, I opted to simply sit back and enjoy the ride. It was exhilarating and as someone too young to have lived through the real Apollo 11 operation, I was thrust into a story I had heard so many times. You get to sit inside the spacecraft and relieve the critical milestones of the mission. Brilliant.
Chronos: this is the game everyone is talking about. It’s a Dark Souls-like experience in VR, with an isolated camera that can be a bit challenging to navigate. I found Chronos to be easier than any of the Dark Souls games and the twist in gameplay is pretty cool. You’ll know what I mean if you try it.
Firma: part sim, part combat, and part fetch quest - Firma is a fun experience.
Ocean Rift: I went underwater and it felt pretty real. The sharks and dolphins looked real and moved realistically. It’s mostly a sim, however. There isn’t any gameplay so for $10 it’s a hard sell.
Windlands: I think Windlands may be the most enjoyable game available for VR. I’ve played crappy VR games and good VR games. I can’t imagine a game that is more fitting for a first generation VR game than Windlands. The premise is simple: explore a 3D world from a first-person perspective that feels a lot like a platformer. You have two grappling hooks. Go. You swing over canyons and grab onto new hooks while in the air. You’re basically Spiderman. Unfortunately, for reasons unclear to me, after a few combined hours of gameplay in Windlands, I began to feel nauseous. And over the next few days, every attempt to play anything on Oculus had me feeling nauseous. I don’t want to take anything away from Windlands. If the gaming gods told me I can play 1 VR game for the rest of my days without feeling sick, it would be Windlands.
I’m done with gen-1 VR. Although I loved 95% of my time with the Oculus Rift, my body is oddly not capable of stomaching any Oculus experience any longer. I gave it days between sessions and I still couldn’t revisit the Rift. I do have a pre-order for PlayStation VR but the thought of jumping back into any VR unit turns my stomach. But the groundwork for VR is much further ahead than I had anticipated. If you have the stomach for it, Oculus Rift is a must-try experience. It’s mind blowing, to be honest. I loved watching my family and friends try it. And acting as the director was a blast. I knew what would be the most gut wrenching experience and I would play it when user confidence was high. I’ll never forget the two weeks I owned an Oculus Rift.