What is VR?
Virtual Reality (VR) has been around since the 1970s, but only recently has it become easily accessible by consumers. In the 2020s we’ve been hearing a lot of VR and AR (Augmented Reality) platforms being developed and released to not much fanfare. Recently Meta (Facebook) unveiled their plan to go all-in on VR/AR proclaiming the Metaverse. The latest VR headset to go on sale is the gaming offering from PlayStation. Read on for my thoughts on this new gaming peripheral and my first experience with the VR2.
Why is PS VR2 Different?
In October 2016, Sony released their first VR headset to not much fanfare. It was a technically limited device and the experience wasn’t life changing. Seven years later Sony has a second generation headset seemingly learning from their past release. There are no less than six other similar VR headsets available for sale today, but there are a few things that sets the PlayStation VR2 apart. While the price is steep for an PlayStation add-on, it has the biggest bang for your buck in the segment. You need a PlayStation 5 to use the VR2 but funny enough, the VR2 headset costs more than the PS5 console. The first-generation PlayStation VR required a camera, control box, multiple cables, and antiquated controllers. The VR2 simplified all of that to a single cable and controllers designed for VR. It really seems Sony spent years looking at all the ways the original VR was constrained, waited for the technology to evolve and released a totally different, updated device.
PS VR2 Hardware
The VR2 hardware is miles ahead of the original VR, but it’s in line with what is available in the VR market today. Nothing ground-breaking here, but a lot of refinements to features introduced by other manufacturers. Some of my favorite things about the VR2’s hardware are how the included earphones connect to the headset and stow away when not in use. Also the adjustability of the headband and visor make someone with a large head feel included. I will even go as far as to say it’s comfortable to wear. It’s not too heavy and the single cable really doesn’t get in the way. The controllers have a slight learning curve because they’re not button-for-button replicas of the DualSense PS5 controller. One feature set that feels like magic is the eye tracking with foveated rendering. The headset tracks where your eyes are looking and then can either adjust UI elements to be in your view or more importantly render higher resolution graphics. This allows the elements outside of your vision to be scaled down to help performance. It’s seamless and feels like magic. Overall the design is great and while it feels a little cheap for the price, they put all the money where it matters; in the experience.
More tidbits: The headset contains a vibration motor to add haptics which is better than nothing, but I can see this getting better with the next generation. While the VR2 comes with earphones, it’s better to be played with the PlayStation Pulse 3D Wireless Headset. The external cameras allow you to switch over to a passthrough view so you can see in your room without having to remove the headset. I use this frequently to make sure I’m not going to punch my TV or step on a dog.
At launch there aren’t a lot of game options for the PS VR2, and some of those are ports from Meta Quest or updates from PS VR1. The games I’ve tried and my thoughts are below:
- Cactus Cowboy – Plants at War – 4/10
- This is a first-person shooter that I tried only because it’s free. While it has potential, the production quality is very low. I didn’t get far past the tutorial because the movement made me nauseous and the controls aren’t great.
- Cosmonious High (Demo) – 6/10
- This is clearly a kids game, but I tried it anyway since I was starving for VR content. It’s cute and quirky, but it also has sickening movement mechanics.
- Drums Rock – 8/10
- This was part of the initial set of demos I tried and within five minutes of playing, I purchased the full version. It’s a great VR experience if you love rhythm games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. If they updated the graphics and added more licensed songs (or DLC) it would be a 10/10!
- Gran Turismo 7 – 8/10
- I was most excited to try this as I have been playing GT7 a lot over the past few months since buying it. I lasted about 30 seconds driving a car before I thought I was going to be sick. Something about the way the car turns and I feel like I’m in the driver’s seat really throws me. I read that if you have a steering wheel controller, it’s much better on your stomach. I acquired a steering wheel to try and while it enhanced the immersion, the sick feeling remained. If GT7 could support the VR controllers and clean up some of the UI, it would be a solid 10/10.
- NFL Pro Era (Demo) – 7/10
- I didn’t know what this game was going to be when I started playing it, but I was very impressed. Not sure how the full game is, but the demo is just running some plays as a quarterback. It really felt like I was on the field and was firing passes to the wide receivers on my team. I will probably pick this up if it ever goes on sale.
- No Man’s Sky – 6/10
- No Man’s Sky is one of my favorite games of all time. I’ve been playing it on and off across various consoles since 2016! I’ve heard before how great of a VR game NMS is on PS4 and PC, so when the update came to the PS5, I wasn’t impressed. The visuals and control system are not what I’m used to when playing the game not in VR. Hopefully they make this better and I’ll give it a try again.
- Pistol Whip – 9/10
- I watched the trailer for Pistol Whip and didn’t think I would like it. After about a week of having the PS VR2, I was looking for something to play that didn’t make me sick. I purchased Pistol Whip after reading several PS VR2 players praise how fun it is. They were right. Not only is it fun to play and doesn’t make me sick, it’s not a bad workout. This is my current go-to game when I want to play some VR. As with other games ported to PS5 it could use a graphics upgrade and possibly some better PS VR2 integration.
- Puzzaling Places (Demo) – 8/10
- A 3D puzzle came where you manipulate 3D models and fit the pieces together sounds like it might be boring, but it’s not. I had a lot of fun playing the two demo puzzles. It’s a great tech demo of how someone could use VR to view and build 3D models in a virtual workspace. Playing this was the first time I realized how VR could be useful apart from gaming.
- Resident Evil: Village – 9/10
- I waited to play the latest Resident Evil until I got the PS VR2 so I went in blind. The VR tutorial is great and really shows you how VR shines in a game like this. I played the opening two scenes and was legit scared to go in some areas. The immersion is incredible, especially with headphones. After about 20 minutes I began to feel motion sick so I had to stop, but I expect to come back to this very soon and go further. Only critiscm I can give is some of the cut scenes are very strange in VR.
- Song in the Smoke (Demo) – 5/10
- It’s a free demo so why not? Not that interesting of a game and has the basic VR walking mechanics that made me queasy. Skip this one.
- Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge (Demo)
- A cool VR tech demo, but the overall cost seems too high for this one. I expect the high cost has to do with licensing Star Wars. This one is the first game I played that made me feel sick, so I don’t expect to try it again.
I haven’t yet tried the flagship PS VR2 game Horizon Call of the Mountain, but I may in the future. I anticipate this will make me sick as well.
I’m looking forward to trying some more games as they get released or updated. One I’m anticipating is Beat Saber, the popular Meta Quest game. This is right up my alley and could be another good exercise game.
Being that this is my first real venture into VR, I’ll be a little biased as I have only tried the original PS VR once. So far I’m loving it and as a previous skeptic, I now see why VR is such a hot topic right now. The technology of the headsets are catching up to the idea that you can be fully immersed in a world, without needing high-end equipment or a booth. I honestly feel like I’m in the Ready Player One movie when playing some of the games above and I’d imagine it will only get better from here. I hope they continue to work on making people like me not get motion sickness when playing.
- Comfortable to wear
- Single cable connection
- Adjustable for various head sizes and face shapes
- Controllers with all the right features
- Clever earphone storage and wire management
- Magic-like eye and hand tracking
- Included earphones are just meh
- Lenses can get dirty very easily
- No included cleaning cloth
- Headset haptics could be better
- Headset and controllers take up a lot of room when not playing
- Price is a barrier to entry
- Single USB-C cable is not replaceable
- Needs more games and major developer adoption
- No other VR experiences outside of gaming