PlayStation VR: Should I pull the trigger?

It’s been a few months now since it launched and a lot of people are still on the fence as to whether or not the PSVR is a worthwhile purchase. I was amongst that number, willing to pass up such a pricey piece of hardware for a multitude of reasons.

My reasons? $400 minimum investment isn’t exactly a small chunk of change for an item that may or may not give me simulation/motion sickness and essentially be rendered worthless. It seemed like an expensive, gimmicky fad that would die out and again become a worthless purchase. In the event that one of the lucky few that don’t get simulation/motion sickness, is it just going to become an expensive paperweight because of the gimmicky aspect?

Thanks to my incredibly generous in- laws, I’ve had plenty of hands on experience with the unit that may help you make up your mind in regards to pulling the trigger on the purchase.

The setup

I returned home from my Christmas visit eager to get started with my fancy new toy, the setup seemed a little overwhelming, but the instructions were very clear and easy to follow. It took me no more than 10 mins to get everything hooked up. The unit has it’s own processor that you hook up to the HDMI, PS4 and VR headset, there are quite a number of lengthy cables that are going to be trailing across your play area, which might be considered a negative, but not a huge hassle to tidy when not in use. Calibrating the PlayStation camera and VR headset when powered on is largely taken care of painlessly by your system (with plenty of options to fine tune later).

The first impression

I was met with a little confusion as to how to fit the headset without breaking it. By default it was way too small to get onto my big head, but a quick glance at the manual was all I needed. The optic visor on the front has a button underneath that lets the viewer slide outwards when pressed and for fine tuning during wear. The headband has a button on the back that releases a mechanism allowing it to be extended and placed on head. There’s a wheel on rear that can be rotated to adjust tightness.

Once I’d gotten the headset on I found it to be surprisingly comfortable. The padding on the forehead grip and rear seemed to have a plush memory foam like material inside that ensures none of the harder areas are poking into you.

The visor slides up to your eyes and has flexible rubber coverings around the edge to obscure the external environment.

Now, I’m a near-sighted fella, meaning that I cannot see distances clearly without aid, but I can see things right in front of my face just fine. I removed my glasses thinking that this detail would mean I could play games without them and very quickly realized that I was dead wrong. I was incredibly confused by this at first, but it would make sense after I experienced my first fullscale VR.

For those of you, like me, that wear prescription lenses, you may be happy to know that the PlayStation VR is incredibly accommodating to the bespectacled people of the gaming world. The visor fits perfectly over spectacle frames without pushing them into your face uncomfortably or compromising the integrity of your glasses. I’ve used VR extensively at this point and my glasses remain unbroken.

First VR experience

I, being the lucky man-child that I am, had a choice of games with my system, but my starting point was to be ‘PlayStation VR Worlds.’

I booted up the game and watched the cinema sized version of my PlayStation home screen suddenly bloom into a three dimensional virtual world with incredible depth and color. Gone was my living room, here was a strange hallway displaying the virtual offerings I had to look forward to.

With the worry of sickness creeping up on me I selected the shark cage simulation, feeling that it’d be a good intro without too much motion all at once. I was absolutely gobsmacked by it all. I felt like I was actually in a diving cage, my room was an ocean, and I’m just gazing everywhere in wonder as colorful fish are swimming so close to me that I could almost swear that they’re right there. Of course, I knew the serenity would be disrupted based on the title of the experience, as a great white shark goes fullscale apeshit and wrecks my cage. Every time the shark would charge or gnash at me I’d flinch and throw myself back against the sofa. I’m fully aware at this point that what I’m experiencing isn’t really happening, but somehow your brain is convinced that you’re going to be bitten if you don’t pull back. That in itself is a testament as to how well done the hardware and the software really is. My first fight or flight reaction led me to realise that I had something special.

After I survived my virtual brush with death, the cage was being hauled from the depths fairly quickly and my stomach had butterflies as I felt like I was actually ascending. That was my initial “uh oh” moment that started to worry me.

I played through a bunch of the other offerings (My favorite being Heist) until I came to the Luge game…

I’m filled with dread already, knowing how easily tricked the senses are by this tech. I’m already feeling a touch hot and sweaty (which I didn’t know were signs of simulation sickness at the time) thinking that our heating must be up quite high because winter.

I figure that it’s at least worth a look, knowing that not every VR game includes a lot of motion, to use this as an educational experience that will factor into my future purchases (i.e. stationary experiences only). I load up the luge game and I see a horizontal body that’s not mine stretched out before me, I launch downhill and everything is whizzing by me incredibly fast. My stomach is in my throat, I feel like I’m moving, yet not. I’m gliding under semi trucks and looking up to see the undercarriage almost grazing my nose and it is awesome, but it’s definitely nauseating me…

I was having so much fun that I thought “f*** it! I can power through this!”

You cannot… power… through it! All you’re going to do is make yourself feel sicker. I was getting quite a sweat going and I felt dizzy. I reached a point that I absolutely had to stop playing. I took the unit off, reality felt instantly strange. I most definitely had given myself simulation sickness and it is very unpleasant.

I felt nauseous, I had a strange wooziness in my head and walking felt like I was off balance. It took me around 12 hours before I felt okay again. I knew that I had pushed myself way too far and it was my own fault. I played for 2 hours more than I should have.

If you ever try VR and you experience any of the symptoms of sim sickness, STOP IMMEDIATELY. Go do something else and try again later.

Simulation sickness

During my downtime/sicktime I did some research on sim sickness. I was saddened and afraid that some of the other games I had were never going to be playable for me. Batman VR and RIGS Mechanized Combat League to name a few.

There was a glimmer of hope when I learned that you can build a tolerance to it. I can tell you first-hand that that is the absolute truth.

It took me about a week to get the courage, I confined myself to low movement games like “I expect you to die,” which I had no issues with. Eventually I booted up RIGS and gave it a try. I was amused by the on-screen message before starting play that informed users to “start with short sessions and build up to longer play”

I felt like an idiot for not researching beforehand and being stubborn. RIGS was enjoyable to me. I seemed to be doing okay with it until I was jumping very high and falling in my Mech suit. The very second I noticed a symptom of Sim sickness I stopped using the VR and did something else. I had no adverse effects lingering on when I stopped playing this time because I didn’t push past the comfort zone.

I decided I’d try RIGS again the next day and I was able to stay in the VR for longer. Within 4 days of not ignoring my body warning me I was able to play that game for around 3 hours without any discomfort issues.

Sim sickness can be overcome. Do your research and never try to power through the discomfort.

Verdict

PlayStation VR is not a perfect piece of technology and is not exactly cheap. It’s said that the PSVR is a budget VR when compared to the Vive or Oculus, which I’ve not yet tried, but I definitely recommend those that are on the fence would probably not regret pulling that trigger.

There are cons, of course, and I’m trying so very hard to be objective about it.

There’s a mess of cables for starters, which is pretty much remedied by not being lazy when storing the system.

The processor unit runs off of it’s own power cord and turning it off means that you have to disconnect and reconnect HDMI cables if you just want to use your PS4 by itself.

The display isn’t graphically incredible. It reminds me of watching a movie at the theatre back in the 90s, except you’re inside it. Personally that bother me in the slightest, as the display is a-ok and there are way too many pluses.

The head tracking isn’t incredible on the PSVR. It’s rare to play a game without holding the calibration button at least once to have the tracking back to perfect.

It’s $400…

That said, the other VR units are hundreds of dollars more expensive and you can’t, I’m told, wear glasses with them.

If I sound biased I am. I love the PSVR very much, warts and all.

Recommended games

RIGS Mechanized Combat League

I expect you to die

Batman Arkham VR

Star Wars Battlefront X-Wing VR mission (free DLC for those with Battlefront)