I recently had the chance to try the HTC Vive, the next generation virtual reality peripheral. I spent about 4 hours taking things for a test spin, poking, prodding, and testing the hardware capabilities. Going into this I had questions about the Vive and this new VR wave in general. Is it a gimmick? Is it truly as immersive as they say? Most importantly, is it worth the money? Well I’d say sorta. Here’s what I think of it so far.
Brief History of VR
I don’t know, I’ve always been drawn to new takes or concepts and I’m always on the look out for new ways to interact with technology, but ever since VR was first touted in the 90s with films like Lawn Mower Man, I was always let down. Gimmicky devices like the failed Nintendo Virtual Boy had left me jaded as to the possibility of having anything like the Holodeck anytime soon.
That being said the Vive bares some similarities with Nintendo’s Wii. Both are creative and innovative ways of interacting with a games. They also are both great at bring otherwise non-gamers in to gaming. Interestingly, because of the unique interface, it poses both a puzzle and an opportunity to make games.
The Wii brought motion controls to the fore front and virtually every other gaming system incorporated a wiggle, wag, or a wave into there list of user controls. More Importantly, although the Wii was slightly gimmicky it opened up everyone’s eyes to a new way to play. The Vive is at a very similar crossroads. I believe it is the first VR device that is actually up to the task.
Level of Immersion
All of the hardware allows an unprecedented level of immersion. Every movement and location is tracked flawlessly in real time 1-for-1, enough to fool your instincts up to the nearest millimeter. The 3D vision from the headset coupled with precise motion controls tricks your mind into thinking you are actually in the game. Proof of this to me was treating the virtual world as if it where real.
In one game, although I knew support beams and furniture wasn’t actually there, I had to fight the urge to place the real life controllers on them. I often found myself bobbing and weaving around obstacles that weren’t actually there. Not to mention the actual game mechanics. When the in-game baddies charged in to attack I flinched and backed away, much like a child would when first experiencing video games. I was having as much fun as that small kid playing games for the first time.
I played three games and for the most part they reminded me of the Wii Sports and Wii Play games. Sure, incredibly fun to play in their own right but they were fairly simple in both look and function. They are often meant to demonstrate a concept or idea that would otherwise not even be possible on other platforms. And much like the Wii, they were meant to give both game developers and game players ideas of what the Vive can do for gaming. Let’s take a look at those three games next.
Space Pirates: takes inspiration from Tron Legacy. It’s a basic shooter with a techno feel and neon look. You hold lasers in both hands and shoot down drones in a kind of futuristic trap shoot, except the clay targets are shooting back. You fire in powerful slow moving shots or in much weaker rapid fire. To help you out you can draw a shield barrier that can protect you from one angle as your enemy tries to circle around and hit you in the flank. When this fails you can actually dodge and move out of the way in a “bullet time” style when time slows down.
On the whole Space Pirates was a fun challenge as it gets progressively more difficult. Groups of drones hold formation in front of you to draw your attention while others flank you. After learning this trick I’d draw my shield between me and the formation and take out the flankers when they popped up over the horizon. Both your pistols and movements are tracked flawlessly 1-for-1. It felt much more like playing a sport than actually playing a game. Exactly the kind of immersion I’ve been graving.
The Lab: not so much a game as it is a platform for VR ideas. Many of the features of The Lab are only marginally interactive. The robot repair sequence or solar system model have you more as a passive observer. My favorite by far was the bow and arrow simulation. Holding the bow in one hand and pulling the arrow back felt incredibly realistic. It took some getting used to but it was very satisfying when I got the hang of it. But the amateur astronomer in me was giddy walking around the solar system, chucking planets that I grabbed along the way. This was obviously a great educational or professional tool. Imagine looking at a chemical molecule and walking around inspecting it. The Lab was all done in the Portal video game feel with GLADOS making appearance. As you might imagine it was incredible funny.
Zombie Training Simulator: as an avid shooter fan I really wanted to try this one. Sure the zombies coming at you where only cardboard but everything else was realistic, especially the firearms. Besides, I wanted a more realistic shooter than Space Pirates. I was curious at just how easily you could look down real iron sights in the game. At first, my reflexes brought the gun on target, much as it would with something like what a Colt 1911. The in-game guns would shoot like I was pointing my finger at the target, very realistic. At greater ranges the Glock’s U shaped irons sights weren’t that useful but other guns like the MP5 and M4 allowed from the shoulder firing, much as you would in real life. It all felt realistic and accurate. Having to manually aim like this would make “run and gun” tactics in modern day shooters like Call of Duty obsolete, rewarding skill and reflexes, not foolhardiness.
The HTC Vive is an incredible experience that everyone can enjoy. Sure the price tag is steep ($800, about 1 months rent) but it’s a first step in a completely new frontier of gaming that other game makers are sure to follow. And it’s true that there aren’t many 3rd party developers or in-depth games just yet. But I imagine as time goes on prices will drop and more and more people will adopt. Developers will follow and we will be living in a new era of gaming. The Vive is more than just some gimmick but for what it’s promising and the price, I’d wait a little longer. Trust me, if I had the money to spend, I’d buy a Vive. I’m ready for VR.
- Immersive beyond compare
- Clever use of motion controls simpliefies gameplay, no need of multiple buttons
- A new way to play, making even mundane gaming chores fun
- Cheap games
- Price tag reminds me of the Sega Saturn’s initially high price
- The headset isn’t terribly comfortable and sometimes you don’t want to move around a front room just to play a simple game
- Due to the 3D drain on the system and motion sensing there isn’t much computer resources left for pretty games
- Not much 3rd party support just yet
Have you had a chance to try any of the new VR platforms? Comment below with your thoughts!