I was lucky enough recently to be gifted a VR headset by a very good friend. Previously, my experiences with VR were limited to a brief experience with Google Cardboard and PSVR. I always thought that VR was a neat idea, even in those limited formats, but that most implementations were lacking. The PSVR is affordable, but fairly.. Well, bad. The low resolution and framerate mixed with it only being a headset stop it being a full experience, but the experiences on offer are excellent. Being able to look around the map of a platformer in VR is a fantastic idea, and I hope for more platformers in VR of the same quality as Astrobot.
Unfortunately though, it simply isn’t proper VR. With PS Move controllers (yes, the somewhat failed Wii ripoff from the PS3), it is enhanced, but it’s still limited. Games like Beat Saber are fine on that, but you’re limited to only the base games licensed songs, and you have to buy those by the pack.
My friend, who I appreciate greatly, gifted me their old HP Windows Mixed Reality Headset and controllers. At first, I thought this was a VR Lite headset. The same kind you can get for your phone that gives a limited VR experience and allows you to watch 360 videos. When it arrived and I found that it was a largely full VR experience I was very surprised. After installing and configuring the software Windows provides, I discovered that it supports Steam VR. Many of the blockbuster VR games will work on this headset.
I was very excited.
The first game I tried was The Lab. It’s a fun little free minigame collection, and honestly there isn’t much to say about it. I spent most of the time in it staring at my hands and wishing I had robot hands in real life. You can wander around a little Aperture Science facility, play little games in VR. It’s a good time for the low price of free.
Next I downloaded a free game called Blast the Past, which I think involves a wrecking ball. Unfortunately instead of a game I was treated to static screeching noises at full volume. I vowed to come back to it, but haven’t yet, because: ow, my ears.
After that, I went for Beat Saber. Beat Saber is, quite simply, amazing. You have two lightsabers, and there are blocks moving toward you. Cut the blocks to music. It’s a very simple concept, very well executed. The main issue is that the music included with the game is.. Weeeeell… A specific type. It’s all EDM. I like EDM, but I don’t like any of these songs.
Thankfully, as they tend to, modders come to the rescue. With some very simple mods you can download custom maps and songs directly from the game’s menu. This takes this game from a fun distraction for maybe 20 minutes to one of the best games available on VR. Just about every popular song can be found on here. Maps are made by the community, and as with most community driven things, quality varies. The biggest issue here is that the community tends to play via ‘wrist flicking’. The game tells you to do big sweeping slash motions with your entire arm to cut blocks, and that’s a very fun way to play, but the most optimal way to play is with wrist motions. So, naturally, the community focused on that. Many maps are designed for wrist based play. I don’t enjoy playing like this, because I don’t want carpal tunnel syndrome, so a lot of maps are off limits to me. They require motions that simply aren’t possible with big motions. Making things worse is that many maps will only offer Expert and Expert+ difficulty, whereas I’m currently at a normal-hard difficulty level of play. It’s very unfortunate, but since these maps are a community passion project, and the community is passionate about different things to me, I suppose I shouldn’t fault them for this. But I will. It sucks, it isn’t friendly to new players, and it’s really annoying.
The game does have issues. The hitboxes aren’t intuitive. They stretch out in front of the actual object, so you don’t really need to hit the actual box to cut it. The hit detection also fails fairly often. This is likely due to a loss of tracking, and isn’t the games fault, but it’s still an annoyance.
The official music packs (Which cost money), are lacking greatly. You can get a good selection of BTS and Imagine Dragons, if you’re into those bands, but the Panic at the Disco! pack only has 4 songs, and it’s only the more recent Brendon Urie Solo Act ones. I’m a huge, huge fan of the first Panic! album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, but not one song from it is here. I Write Sins Not Tragedies is possibly the most well known Panic! song. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want it included here. Nine in the Afternoon would also make a great map I feel.
Other than that, there isn’t much to write. It’s a very simple and fun game. It’s the lovechild of Guitar Hero and Audiosurf.
Next up is Budget Cuts. Budget Cuts is.. Something. It’s an adventury sorta stealthy sorta actiony sorta spooky sorta game. You’re a human, there are robots, they’re stealing your jerb and you’re escaping. That’s as far as I got. The movement is extremely janky and annoying. I don’t enjoy snap movement and I think this game implements it the worst. I do intend to give it more of a try later, but I don’t think it’s for me.
Back to rhythm games, we have Pistol Whip. Pistol Whip is a rhythm game that focuses on guns instead of lightsabers. You glide through a level, dudes spawn, you shoot them. You’re meant to shoot them to the beat apparently, but that’s kinda hard to do because the songs in this game fucking suck. Music taste is subjective, I’m sure the devs liked this music, but god is this game ruined by music choice. The songs are usually drowned out by game sounds, so actually shooting in time to the beat relies on memorization. Memorization isn’t a fun game mechanic. It’s a fun shooting game, but the actual objective is mildly shitty at best.
Half Life Alyx is probably the biggest VR game currently out. It’s Half Life 3, in VR. It’s set five years before the events of Half Life 2, and you play as Alyx, thus, the name.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to play much of this yet as it has issues with my GPU, a 5700xt, and crashes consistently. I got through parts of the early game, up until you encounter some dead zombies. The gravity glove is a fun idea, and I expect it to become standard for VR games. As with Half Life 2, some of the appeal is in fucking about with random junk. You can draw on windows, smash up bottles, mess with a radio.
At first I played in continuous movement mode, which means analog stick movement, and this was fine. Unfortunately I looked at the ground while moving and started feeling absurdly motion sick, so I had to swap to snap movement. This takes a lot away from the game, I feel. You see less, it feels less real. This isn’t the fault of the game, it’s the fault of my puny meat brain, that will one day be replaced by a superior machine brain. I don’t have enough space to be able to walk around rooms in the game, and even if I did, cable length becomes an issue. This highlights one of the biggest issues with VR in its current form. It doesn’t matter how immersive and beautiful the game is, if the movement system required to stop people from throwing up is so un-immersive.
Still, I intend to play this through. And I intend to write a review for it, so keep an eye out for that.
There are other games I want to play, like Medal of Honor VR, which I’ve heard is bad, but the appeal of shooting nazis in the dick in VR is strong.
I played the demo of Superhot VR, which relies on you having a room to play in, but I still want to play the full version.
Arizona Sunshine looks fun, as does Killing Floor VR, and Blade and Sorcery, and Boneworks, and The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners, The Room VR, L.A Noire VR, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Star Wars Squadrons, Job Simulator, Fruit Ninja VR, and.. Well there’s a lot to play. I’d like to play Skyrim VR and Fallout 4 VR, but not enough to pay full price for two games I already own. I own Elite Dangerous, but haven’t gotten around to playing it in VR yet. This is a good time to mention I have a Patreon. I can’t afford any of these. So many of them are essentially full priced gimmicks.
Oh and there’s porn. Like a lot of it, if you’re into being overcharged for mediocre content, that is an option. I’m sure this sells a lot of VR kits. Frankly, the content is shit, at best, but there’s no competition from competent studios, so what are you gonna do?
Make it yourself is the answer. Go forth and create indie artisanal VR pornography.
There are also options to make non-VR games sort of VR via a program called VorpX. This costs $40, and I didn’t try it, but I’ve heard good things. Most modern games seem to work with it.
There isn’t a good solution for this problem yet, and I’m not sure there ever will be. It’s the sad fact of things that as fun as VR is, I’m not sure it can overcome these problems. This, and the price tag. In Australia, you’re looking at around $500 to $1500 to get a good VR headset. That’s on top of the $2000+ gaming rig you need to run VR games, and then the cost of the games. Beat Saber is _only_ $40, but Half Life Alyx is $80. This simply isn’t affordable for most people. Options like PSVR are good, I think, but they’re so limited. If given the choice between getting a great gaming rig, or getting a pretty good gaming rig and VR, most people are going to get a great gaming rig so they can play the games they already have at a higher quality. I can’t really recommend a VR headset over a shiny new graphics card or high resolution monitor. Why recommend Beat Saber to you, when I can recommend Audiosurf to you? That game will run on anything made in the last decade, and it auto-generates tracks from songs on your hard drive(or, with some fiddling, youtube videos). It also costs considerably less.
I do think VR is good. I think if you can afford it, you should get it. I think it’s an important step in gaming. But we’re not quite at the point where one foot can comfortably make it in front of the other yet(At least, not without vomiting), and that is unfortunate.
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