Feeling Like a Kid Again: My First Day with Playstation VR
The energy in my house was electric. I read through the directions, slowly, to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I had opened the package up on the drive home because I couldn’t wait to see what it looked like, what it felt like in my hands. There were so many wires and boxes. It looked clunky and ugly as hell sitting next to my sleek Xbox One S and PS4. But I couldn’t care less what it looked like. This was going to transport me to an entirely new world.
There are only a couple things in my life that compare to experiencing VR in my living room for the first time. As I played, I had vivid flashbacks to getting an NES, we were one of the first on our block to get one and all the neighborhood kids and our school friends came over to see it. One person would play and ten would watch, ooh-ing and ahh-ing. We patiently, or impatiently, waited for our turn, trying to learn the game as others played through. It was like watching the best movie ever made, knowing you would get your chance to progress the plot. Likewise when I brought home the Nintendo Wii for the first time and swung that controller/tennis racquet, I felt exhilarated. I knew I was on the cusp of a technological revolution. I will never forget how amazing it was to swing my arm and see my little mii up on the screen swinging hers.
That is exactly how it felt playing with the VR system for the first time. I had company at my house as well, so it really did mimic the feeling of being a kid again. After having to wait a frustrating amount of time to charge the Move controllers, I slipped the headset on. I had fairly low expectations; the system had received several poor reviews that criticized the graphics quality. Once I fired it up, and put in my first VR game Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, I no longer had such reservations.
It is difficult to describe exactly what it feels like to be in a virtual reality. It is simultaneously disembodying and totally grounding. Looking down at your own body, as shown through the headset, is a deeply unsettling experience. Unsettling is a good word to describe my virtual reality experience. I have no doubt that other people have had such revelations: the first person to see a photograph; the first to see a movie; the first to type a word to someone on the other side of the country and have it show up on their screen instantly. There is a profoundness to slipping on that headset and watching a world completely engulf you.
The world of Until Dawn indeed engulfed me. The game was recommended by several people, and they were right. It shows off the capability of the headset in a world that was made for VR: jump scares, fights, ghosts and monsters, and stomach-churning graphics. Interestingly enough, those sitting behind me on the couch were extremely skeptical. As I road that first haunted rollercoaster while chainsaw wielding maniacs tried to kill me, I screamed and screamed and screamed. I ducked and flung my arms, shooting at unseen enemies (unseen to the couch, at least). When I pulled the headset off, the verdict on the couch was it: we had been ripped off. They hadn’t seen what I had seen. They saw a somewhat poorly animated, boring game. That was, of course, only until they took their turn in the driver’s seat.
One of the most interesting things about Sony’s VR system is that you do not need the TV on to play it. You have headphones and you, of course, are viewing everything through the headset. Others can play Xbox or watch Netflix while you fly your fighter through space. I’ve found, however, that there is a natural draw to VR, even if you aren’t the one playing. You want to see what the person is shooting or diving away from. It is entertaining to watch someone play without knowing what they’re looking at, but it is even more fun to follow along.
Rush of Blood doesn’t have much of a storyline beyond the basics of progressing through levels to fight evil, eventually squaring off against the boss. However, it really is the perfect beginning game to try out the VR’s capabilities. The first time the roller coaster drops, you know you’re doing something that is beyond a movie, beyond a video game. VR creates physical reactions in your body that you can control. My stomach flipped and was in my throat as I plummeted down the tracks. I have never felt anything like it in my life.
There are some very physical elements of being in a virtual reality. First, it is nearly impossible to stand and far more impossible to spin around or move. I played a cool game where you simply hang out in a cage and get lowered through layers of the ocean. I tried to stand to look all around but was not able to stand up straight without a feeling of vertigo forcing me back into my chair. It also is nearly impossible to find the Move controllers, even if they’re on your lap. We quickly learned that it is a horrifying experience to be touched while you play and immediately made a rule in our house that no one is allowed to touch the person with the headset on. If you have pets in your house, be warned: in a scene where giant evil spiders were crawling all over me, my dog walked up and put his nose on my arm. It was so discombobulating I had to quit playing for a bit.
I have tried out several other games, and will review them in future posts. If you are thinking of getting the PlayStation VR system, I would highly recommend it. Those who complain about the graphics either have experience with systems that cost thousands or are not thinking about just how revolutionary it is to have a VR system in your living room. So go buy it, then buy Valkyrie so you can play online with me!