Or should that be ‘heads on’?
Here’s an annoying truth: watching on a second screen what someone’s seeing through their virtual reality headset does not prepare you for how impressive it is. And no matter how many times someone describes it as “immersive”, it still doesn’t truly convey how engaging the experience is.
But let’s try it anyway. Here are our impressions of five of the demos that were shown at Los Angeles gaming convention E3 this week.
You’re in a room. And it really feels as though you are in that room thanks to the improved Project Morpheus headset which has an increased field of vision. You are not alone – there’s a thuggish bald man with you. And he looks pissed off. Appearances, it turns out, are not deceiving in this instance. The cutscene plays out with him threatening you, before handing you a phone. Holding it to your ear (you’re actually holding a PlayStation move controller) a voice asks you to recount something that happened. You’re then transported, via flashback, to a library.
There’s a desk in front of you. Again using the Move controllers, you can interact with objects – opening drawers or picking up items. You find a gun and some bullet clips in one, and a key in another, which allows you to open a locked compartment. This contains a diamond, and picking that up triggers an alarm. Cue armed security descending on you.
The headset tracks your movements, allowing you to crouch in real life and take cover behind the desk in the game. Playing out like a shooting gallery, the demo ends after you’ve taken out all the security. The only real downside? How ridiculous you look to people watching you as you duck behind nothing, then carefully lean out (again from behind nothing) to shoot your foes.
London Heist: The Getaway
Set directly after the first demo, this one sees you seated, set with you in the passenger seat of a getaway van. Again, you can interact with most of what you see – you can turn the radio up or open the vehicle’s door as you wait for the action to begin; that action being picking off a number of motorbikes and vehicles trying to shoot you off the road.
The key here is the impressive sense of speed when you, of course, aren’t moving at all. It’s this that reinforces our belief that driving games will be the best use for VR. Also, notice the title. It’s difficult to dismiss many people’s conviction that these are snippets of what will be confirmed to be a new title in The Getaway series.
The Playroom VR
A five-player minigame (from what will presumably be a collection of them come launch) but not one that requires you to shell out for five headsets. One of you uses VR to become a monster, the other four see use the TV screen to see a different perspective and control robots.
The first part sees the droids attempting to escape as the monster (headseted player) throws debris into their path. The second sees the VR-player dodging projectiles the other four throw at him. It’s a diverting example of the asymmetric gameplay applications of the tech, similar to how Nintendo Land used the Wii U tablet controller’s screen.
You may remember an old Atari tank combat game with the same name – this is an updated version.
And fittingly, the original arcade version - with its periscope viewfinder - is actually considered the very first VR game. Like with London Heist: The Getaway, it’s the sense you’re really moving that makes it such a successful demo. But this isn’t simply on rails as the car chase is – you’re actually moving the tank and it handles perfectly.
All the titles being shown had screens by their booths showing what the player was seeing. Well, all except this one. A horror game from Capcom, to see it before you experienced it would lessen the impact.
You wake up tied to a chair with a camera pointed in your face. On the floor beside you is your unconscious friend. He wakes up, attempts to untie you… then the scary stuff starts. And, despite knowing it’s not real, what follows is an unnerving experience that leaves you squirming in your chair and, in many cases, screaming. Much to the amusement of everyone watching. Despite no-one knowing about it before the show, word of mouth quickly made this E3’s must-experience title.