I’m no stranger to VR. I’ve tried it a few times, the most notable of which was trying out Rez Infinite on PSVR at a friend’s place; I loved the original, and playing Rez Infinite in VR was nothing short of incredible. A little disorienting for sure, but an incredible experience nonetheless. So when a friend of mine suggested we go out to a VR arcade, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
The arcade let us book rooms in 1 or 2 hour intervals, so we chose 1 hour to give it a test run. They took us to the back where two 7’x7’ stations awaited us, walls padded with foam. I would soon learn that this foam was to protect the controllers, if one were to swing too close to the wall. Ahem.
The VR headset of choice was the HTC Vive, ranking quite high among the best PC headsets (second only to perhaps the Oculus Rift). The controller feels similarly to a remote control, which means it fits pretty well in the user’s hand. I found it a tad awkward to hold at certain angles, and I couldn’t help but think a more cylindrical shape would have worked better, like the PlayStation Move. It worked well, regardless.
The headset was relatively comfortable. Despite wearing glasses, the headset accomodated my face quite well and there it a knob near the crown of the head that you can use to tighten or loosen the headset. The image was blurry originally, but after fiddling with the position of the headset, the picture was perfect.
Joe and Donald both played a few rounds of Beat Saber, the aptly titled rhythm game where the player must swing lightsabers in time with the beat of a song.
It’s more nuanced than I make it sound, of course. Blocks fly towards the player in time with the beat, towards either their left or right hands (or both) and the player must swing the sabers in one of 4 cardinal directions to cut the block in half. Occasionally, walls will fly towards the player from the left or right, and the player must also move their head accordingly to avoid getting hit.
I did not play the game for myself, but Hard Mode looked like a trial in hand-eye coordination. It looked like Rock Band in 3D space. Donald and Joe seemed to take well to it, making me think one day they will be the Dubsteb Jedi we need to save the world.
But while I missed out on Beat Saber, I wasn’t too broken up about it. Mainly because Shu and I got to play SUPERHOT VR. If you know anything about this game, you’ve almost certainly heard the premise:
Time only moves when you move.
If there is a better elevator pitch for a video game, I have yet to hear it. On PC, this meant walking and jumping, shooting guns, and throwing punches or weapons would move time. There was a 3D layer to everything and planning was key, which made…
…more of a puzzle game than a first-person shooter. The VR game, by comparison, took out the movement aspect, which meant we could only rotate our bodies and lean to-and-fro. Something I forgot about SUPERHOT was that enemies are fragile and everything short of a soft breeze would kill them. So when I wound back to punch one in the face, I immediately realized how overzealous I was when my controller hit the foam wall.
More specifically, the metal frame holding two pieces of the foam wall together. Oops…
Despite that, SUPERHOT VR was as fun as I thought it would be. If the Matrix comparisons in vanilla SUPERHOT weren’t concise enough, SUPERHOT VR lets you lean back and dodge bullets like Neo. It was a little frustrating when I dropped the only weapon just out of reach of the camera’s range, prompting me to headbutt an oncoming bullet to reset the level. Those issues were paltry though, as it felt better than ever to dump shotgun shells into a wave of enemies and throw the empty guns at the remaining two baddies.
Shu seemed to pick it up even faster than I did, which makes me think he’s either done it before or he’s seen the inside of The Matrix.
Finally, one of the best experiences I’ve had in VR was a co-op round of Raw Data with Joe. My booth’s session ended before his, but the 5 minutes we played together was so much fun. In short, it is Gears Of War’s Horde Mode, but with robots.
Unlike SUPERHOT VR, we could walk around (or rather, teleport from place to place) which proved to be useful, considering the robot ninjas who chased after us, trying to slice us open with their blades. There was a fun dynamic going on, where we were backing each other up when we were being attacked (although in all fairness, I was being attacked way more), and we teamed up to fight a heavily armoured robot at the end of a wave. Right before my session ended, they added flying robots as well, which sounds like an absolute nightmare in their eventual conjunction with heavy robots.
The whole experience only lasted about an hour, but it was an amazing experience nonetheless!
While fun, I’m still a little apprehensive about buying a VR set for a handful of really good games. SUPERHOT was fun, but I don’t think I’m okay with dropping nearly $800 Canadian (after taxes) for an HTC Vive and buying/building a VR ready PC at the same time.
Lucky for me, these VR “experiences” will be around for a long time. Maybe I’ll book a booth for an extra hour next time.