If you’ve been paying attention to the site or listening to the Game Breakers podcast, you’ll know that I’ve been extremely excited for the release of the big VR headsets coming out this year, namely the Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, and the HTC Vive. Valve and HTC have been kind enough to provide us with a preview unit for the Vive in the form of the Vive Pre, the second developer model that is very similar to the final model with only a couple different features. Now after about two weeks of having time to dive into the virtual world that Valve and HTC are providing us with, I think it’s time I let you guys know what my impressions are on it.
First of all, I’d like to mention that the hardware I have been running this on includes a GTX 980 Ti, i5-4690K, and 16 GB DDR3 RAM, so I am able to pass the SteamVR test with flying colors. No dropped frames and no problems in the way of performance. If you don’t have hardware up to the capabilities of this, your mileage may vary, but you can download the SteamVR Performance Test tool on Steam for free to find out if your PC is VR-ready right here. But despite the fantastic performance when the Vive Pre does work, it seems to be very finicky about actually working. A lot of the time, I ended up having very “jittery” visuals when I turned my head, making the whole thing cause pretty bad motion sickness, and sometimes the screens would blink off and on. This could eventually be fixed after restarting my PC a few times, but it really is annoying when it starts happening. Additionally, there seemed to be several times where SteamVR wouldn’t even pick up the headset, it would just say that it can’t detect it and that it needed to be plugged in. This also could easily be fixed by closing SteamVR, unplugging the Vive from the breakout box and plugging it back in after ten seconds. Most of the time it fixed the problem immediately, but there were occasional consistent issues that required a full reboot of the computer. Honestly, these things are annoying, but can be chalked up to being pre-release hardware that will most likely be fixed by the time the actual consumer model releases.
With the negatives out of the way let’s talk about all the positives, and believe me, there are so many. There is a sense of immersion in roomscale VR that you can’t get anywhere else in gaming. It’s incredible that Valve and HTC have been able to put together an experience like this with such little hardware. I remember a few years ago, a group called VRcade was showcasing their project at a local indie game show in Seattle, where they used an Oculus Rift DK1 and a bunch of cameras hung from a ceiling to make a roomscale experience where you had a shooting range with targets in all directions. Now with the Vive, you are able to recreate that experience in your own living room (or wherever you may have enough space for it) with only a headset, two small cameras in opposite corners of the room, and two highly-accurate motion controllers. If you want a shooting experience similar to the one VRcade showed off before, several games on the Vive have you covered, such as Space Pirate Trainer and Jeeboman. Even though those games are relatively simplistic, I may have had more fun playing Space Pirate Trainer than I have playing almost any other game in VR. You get the sense that you are really there, with this vast city skyline stretched out in front of you as you shoot at the robots coming for you, surrounding you from every side. The intense feeling you get once you reach level 9, when the robots swarm from the spawn point and any direction you look can spell your doom as you’re shot from any other direction makes you feel something that you don’t feel in any game that you may have played before. You are there, and you need to survive.
The only shooter that I found to be even more fun than Space Pirate Trainer was Hover Junkers. In case you haven’t heard of this game yet, the main focus is the multiplayer, in which you hover around a barren wasteland in a large vehicle and find things to armor it across the playfield as you shoot at other players with a variety or weapons. Roomscale works wonders here, as you walk around your mobile fortress, duck behind your self-built cover, and tactically choose when to fire at your enemies. As far as I know, this is the only multiplayer shooter currently available for VR, and it fulfills everything you could possibly want out of one. The brilliant minds at Stress Level Zero have figured out a way to make roomscale VR work for a large arena-based game, and I think that this method may be taken for other large-scale VR projects in the future.
Of course, while shooters are very common in VR, it’s not all that people are going to want to play, which is why games like Sisters exist. Sisters is a horror game that puts you in a dark room without explaining what you’re doing there. There is a creepy doll on the windowsill and it turns it’s head to look at you any time you look away from it. The feeling you get from the audio in conjunction with the powerfully dark visuals is enough to send a chill down your spine and make you rethink ever even playing horror games in VR (which you should totally do, because it’s by far the best way to experience them).
And for those of us who have a creative side, Tiltbrush is an incredible art application devloped by Google where you draw in a 3D space with a multitude of tools and brush styles. To see your art come to life is an indescribable feeling. You can walk around it, and experience it from all angles. Some people have created entire environments spanning the whole room in Tiltbrush. The creativity and brilliance that shows itself through the work of others in Tiltbrush is astounding, and I encourage everyone to try it if they can.
This barely scratches the surface of all the VR content that is coming to the Vive. If HTC and Valve allowed me to score the Vive here and now, I would absolutely give it a 10, but until we see the final product, I can’t say for sure. It will be coming out on April 5th, so keep an eye out for it and look forward to seeing a lot more VR content from me in the coming weeks.