It seems like only ten thousand years ago that I brought up the idea of writing quick recaps after finishing up a stream. This isn’t necessarily an examination of the actual game I streamed in this session (I Expect You To Die for damn near every VR platform and PSVR, where I played it) but also kind of a blathering about the platform itself. Instead of a lengthy intro that I trail off from, only to delete the post when I run out of steam from the initial push, let’s dig right in.
IEYTD, which I will never refer to the game as again, is exactly what it looks like: A VR game where you play as a super spy put into increasingly more dangerous situations who must escape or perform the objective at all costs. True, the concept is simple, but it plays out as a pretty entertaining first-person puzzle game. The only real gripe I could muster (barring of platform-specific technical issues like Move controller tracking) would have to do with some elements of repetition due of the trail-and-error nature of the gameplay (which leads to death around every corner, especially if you’re as thick as I am). Outside of that, though, the non-linear element of some dangers in the stages (like the order of critical problems apparently being randomized in the escape pod mission) help maintain the sense of urgency/immersion. To be perfectly honest, the game itself is a whole lot of goofy fun and probably the first title you should pick up if you have even a passing interest in playing games in VR.
This isn’t really meant to be a review of any sort, though. As much as I dug the game (and the fun of playing to the camera while being constantly murdered by my own incompetence), this also serves as probably the longest amount of time I’ve spent in a single go at a game in VR. The original reason why I shelled out an ungodly amount of money for the PlayStation VR shortly after it launched is simple: I am in love with Rez. I would do anything in the name of Rez. I would kill for Rez. In fact, I did kill for Rez: my wallet. And the experience was worth every single penny. It fits perfectly to the hardware; more about the visuals and the experience than motion tracking and precision hand movements. Keep it simple, stupid.
However, when you start to get into more complex games (especially ones that utilize motion controllers as guns or hands), you start to peer around the curtain a little bit, especially when played at length. On the PSVR specifically, there can be problems tracking motion controllers behind the player (given the fact that the camera can’t see through you) or slightly out of range of the camera, leaving your hands sometimes drifting out into space after they’ve decoupled from the real position of your limbs. While I understand that some of this can be solved before starting a game by “correctly” placing your sensor and ensuring your proximity to the “correct” area, thrusting your hand at a critical item or button in the heat of the moment, only to have it lock up a foot away or a giant can be extremely frustrating.
I mean, overall, I accept the limitations of the platform itself. I specifically chose to go with PSVR (for Rez) but also because of the low entry barrier, fixed platform (which means no dicking around to make it work/deal with incompatibilities), and also Rez. It doesn’t have the best specs in the world, but it’s the fucking future and I have a working virtual reality machine so I can let a few damn things slide HOLY SHIT we have working virtual reality. The hardware, whether or not you have a Vive, a Rift, one of those kooky knock-off bullshit headsets, or whatever…the real work is going to be in software and finding solutions for the 800 Pound Gorilla in the room: movement in first-person.
While I haven’t played every single VR game out there (I still haven’t even played my copy of Star Trek: Bridge Crew and oh God the idea of it makes me so happy) I’m fairly certain, even from my limited experience, that nobody has figured out movement. There are tons of different workarounds for the problem: fixing the player in place, movement that doesn’t involve player intervention (like…Rez?), teleportation, telekinesis, forward movement with buttons that adjust the player’s body angle left or right by x degrees..as you can see, it’s tricky. I may not readily have a solution to the problem, but I certainly can state that the more movement involved in a game…the more irritating it seems to be. This worries me to a certain extent: a lot of early games end up locking the player in place and just having them interact in a ring around themselves, center of the universe. Couple that with physics and, yeah, you have something that can be fairly entertaining for a half-hour or so. But the novelty doesn’t lend itself towards particularly long or deep experiences. There are only so many times I can throw something through a window or make a mess of a room before I get bored and go back to playing a more satisfying game that doesn’t require throwing on a suit of VR armor (or, God forbid, cleaning my floor of dirty clothes so I can actually walk around in-game). Nailing down a workable solution for movement would go a long way towards opening things up for deeper experiences.
This post is kind of a prototype for the future, so fill the comments/discord and let me know if any of it made sense or felt out-of-place. It’s meant to be an optional supplement after I go off the air to “wind-down” and discharge the kind of mind-wandering that happens when you play something. I don’t have any delusions of turning this into a bare-bones video game site for fraudulent entry to E3 or anything, just had to get the evil out.