PSVR Impressions

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I was never compelled to give PSVR a whirl. It was an expensive peripheral with demo-like software, and with that in mind, I thought four hundred dollars was a steep asking price. There weren’t any kiosks around me to try it out, and none of my local friends had purchased it. What was perhaps the final nail in the coffin was that I had an industry friend telling me horror stories about how this platform wasn’t real VR anyway, and that Shuhei Yoshida himself got motion sick while playing Driveclub VR. That has ‘yikes’ written all over it!

The immediate question I asked had been, “Well, why isn’t it real VR?” Well, there’s a couple of things that VR needs in order to provide total immersion: fantastic graphical fidelity and a steadily high frame rate. The PS4, which the PSVR is meant for, has trouble pushing 1080p at thirty frames-per-second, let alone 60 (or even 90), and that’s with only a single video stream. Virtual reality sends video to each eye, so concessions are made to hit performance targets… meaning the resolution is lowered and the graphics are compromised. That’s not to say that a game tailored for PSVR can’t look good, but you’ll never experience the same crisp visuals that you’re used to seeing on your flat screen television.

It was a reasonable enough explanation.

But one year I bought one of those stupid ‘slide your phone inside this headset’ things. Its primary purpose was to be used in conjunction with my Ghostbusters costume a couple of Halloweens ago, but curiosity got the best of me and I tried some of those VR experiences on YouTube. The novelty was cool, but I thought it’d be better if I could do something proper in VR one day.

Well, with all the cool titles available for the headset in 2018, I was beginning to feel like it was time to give Sony’s hardware a chance. There were bundles that came with the headset, the camera, two move controllers and even a couple of games, but at $350, I still wasn’t willing to bite. Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know? Well, when the holidays dropped the price down to $250, I was finally ready to open my wallet.

As a longtime skeptic, I’ve got to hand it to Sony: PSVR isn’t perfect, but it’s addictingly fun and makes me wish every game had VR capabilities.

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Setting up the hardware is a drag. If you’re adamant about using the Move controllers, they have to be charged a while. You have to connect the PS camera to the back of your console and put it in a suitable spot. The PSVR headset comes with its own external box which has cables out the wazoo: The headset has two cables that plug into the front, two HDMI cables plug into the back (one to the TV and one to the PS4), and then there’s one for the power cord. It’s crazy to see so many cables running for a single device in 2018, so here’s to hoping that the next wave of virtual reality hardware is wireless across the board (with the option of plugging the headset into an outlet if need-be).

Once everything was charged and connected, I figured I’d ‘test drive’ the unit with Driveclub VR.

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The first thing I noticed was the lower resolution of the PSVR ‘screen’. Because of the lower resolution, there’s definitely a bit of ‘screen door’ effect. In practice, things look immaculate up close, but distant objects are somewhat blocky. This isn’t an issue when you’re just looking around prior to a race, but when your car is going well over one hundred miles per hour, it can be difficult to discern which way a turn is going to bend, meaning you’ll have to, at times, rely on your memory.

Outside of that, my initial impression of VR content was quite good. The car’s cockpit was in my face as it should have been, and depth was immaculate across the board. I truly felt immersed in that world. You can stand on the side of the road and view your car from a variety of angles before a race, and looking around made my jaw drop. Seeing little details, like a plastic bag flitting in the wind, really helped to sell that this wasn’t just a virtual world.

For racing, VR introduced a substantial quality of life improvement. In most 2D racers, you never know how close another vehicle is unless you’ve positioned the camera behind the car. In VR though, the ability to turn your head in the cockpit makes this a non-issue.

Despite loafing about on a sofa, the sense of speed you get from barreling down the road is incredible. Taking turns at breakneck speeds as you’re millimeters away from crashing into the car next to you is exhilarating.

The only real downside to the Driveclub VR experience was when the in-game movement didn’t precisely track with what my head was doing. If you made a quick jerk of the wheel, for example, the game would sort of jerk your vision for you, and that produces a brief feeling of dizziness. Not enough to make me feel nauseous, but it didn’t feel good. This caveat aside, Driveclub VR was enough to get me hooked and I simply did not want to stop playing.

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Next up was Skyrim VR. It was the first game I played using the Move controllers. It takes a little getting used to, because while the wands are intuitive when it comes to attacking and blocking, the rest of the controls can be a bit cumbersome. On the plus side, the game gives you plenty of options. You can teleport over short distances by holding a button, pointing it on the ground a short distance away and then releasing. You can also opt to hold a button down for walking. Both methods of control have their pros and cons. The teleportation method means you don’t have as much control as you’d like, and walking around means you’re going to deal with some funky head stuff. When you’re standing on a ledge and looking down, it can be dizzying. Turning while you walk is also disorienting, but a few PSVR games have a ‘fix’ for that: snapping. Instead of having the camera spin you around, you can push a button that will ‘snap’ your vision around 30 degrees. This definitely helps with VR ‘motion sickness’, but it’s immersion breaking. The major draw for a game like Skyrim is its immersion, but I guess this is what happens when you retrofit an older game for VR.

Another thing I noticed was that Skyrim doesn’t sport the Special Edition’s graphical improvements. It’s a bummer, but I’m not surprised. Bethesda’s engine has never been the most optimized, and VR requires 90 frames-per-second. Still, if you’re a fan of this game, the VR experience is well worth playing. I pump at least fifty hours into this game each year, so being able to ‘live’ in its world is nothing short of a dream come true. The game looks extremely dated in 3D, but Skyrim’s open world is still a marvelous sight to behold.

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Beat Saber was the next game I tried, and I already knew what it was about. It’s basically Guitar Hero, but you’re slashing blocks with light sabers. That sounds fun enough, but it’s even more so in practice. There are obstacles that come at your head, which requires you to physically dodge out of the way. Each block requires to be slashed from a specific direction, so the difficulty can ramp up pretty quickly. I experienced some tracking issues though. My in-game vision slowly veered off to the left, but I figured out the culprit. Because this game requires you to flail your arms around, it would cover the VR headset from the camera on occasion. Moving the camera up higher seemed to resolve the problem.

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Tetris Effect was already one of my favorite games of 2018 in flat screen mode, but in VR it’s even better. The Tetris grid itself is still mostly flat, but you can control how close you are to it. Either watch the blocks fall from a distance or get up close and personal, having to look up a bit to get a complete look. Either way, the real treat comes from the backdrop that envelops you. This game is loaded with particle effects, and to see them all around and even blast at your face when you finish a level is nifty. What I really appreciate is that they didn’t turn this into the Virtual Boy’s 3D-Tetris, which turned the flat, rectangular grid into a cube. Keeping the core ‘fit the blocks’ gameplay was a wise decision, and I can’t wait to see what a sequel could bring to the table.

I still have to try Borderlands 2 VR, Astro Bot Rescue Mission, Moss, and that VR mission that came with Star Wars Battlefront… but all in all, I’m satisfied with my purchase.

Overall

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There’s no denying that PSVR very much feels like a ‘best bang for your buck’ entry level VR headset. The growing pains are apparent. It does not deliver the clarity or fine detail that we’ve grown accustomed to in gaming, and it’s clear that developers are still trying to find ways to keep people from feeling dizzy during normal play. It doesn’t help that control solutions are still rather archaic. The Dualshock 4 works well enough when it’s an option, but it’s painfully obvious that the Move controllers were never designed for VR. It was existing tech that Sony felt they could utilize, so they did.

But all in all, PSVR is good enough. As an introductory device to virtual reality, it’s mind blowing. I’m already wishing for future iterations to refine the experience with higher resolution and better solutions for curbing motion sickness, but stepping into virtual worlds is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and I mean that in the best way possible. Yeah, PC VR headsets undoubtedly does better, but they’re also pricier and you need a good enough rig to run games optimally in the first place. For the asking price, PSVR is absolutely worth the money.

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No Man’s Hype

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Everyone knew that at the very least – and the very least is what they gave us – that No Man’s Sky would have us gathering and managing resources so we could make our way to the center of the universe.  Why?  “Because!  That’s why!”  Its real appeal stemmed from a procedurally generated universe, as it promised each player would embark on a truly unique journey.  Nobody would ever share the same experience, and because of the size of said universe, you might not even encounter another player online.

Problem was, the game really didn’t deliver more than the whole ‘procedural generation’ thing.  You’d go from world to world, breaking things down with a tiny ray gun to collect resources, satisfy a multitude of needy ‘feed me’ meters (health, suit, ship shields, ship fuel, ray gun energy, etc.), and craft various other things that are necessary to finish the game.  That was it.  Blast, blast, blast.  Mine, mine, mine.  Occasionally you’d be harassed by drones that serve no purpose other than to slow your game down.  Maybe you’d see an animal or two, meet a trader in an outpost, scan the environment with your info gathering techno-goggles, and not much else… unless you left the planet, at which point you might have a few space pirates trying to take you down.  Rinse and repeat a gajillion times, and that’s No Man’s Sky in a nutshell.

At first, it wasn’t a horrible way to spend your time.  If you wanted a ‘chill’ game that provided something different than the usual loud action most modern games provide, No Man’s Sky could scratch that itch, at least for a little while.  It’s so easy to be fascinated by the one thing this game does that nothing else in the AAA scene has:  Planets are large and any place you see, you can go there without hitting that ‘sandbox wall’.  And hell, you can even look up to the sky, see a planet or two, and say, “Gee, I’d love to go there”, and then actually do it.  Between that and seeing the various styles of world the procedural generation formula could create, it was enough to keep players hooked for hours…

…Until you realize that it’s all basically the same.  All that ‘freedom’ came at the cost of actual gameplay.  Sure, one planet might be red and lush with plants, while another would be dark and rocky… but because the game has to be careful not to strand you on any given planet, you’re mining the same resources no matter where you go.  All the abandoned bases you come across look the same, as well as the space points spread across each planet.  There’s always a trader outpost, some sort of facility to break in to, and some alien monuments where you can learn bits of language.  Once you’ve had your fill, you leave one planet to hop to the next, only to find you’re doing the same shit over and over again, regardless of how each planet’s been ‘dressed’.

Coming to that realization is when I started to feel more and more disgust for the game… because for all the comments I’ve made about Destiny being an empty shell of a game, it’s No Man’s Sky that earns that ‘accolade’.  A lot of others felt the same way, too… and I’m talking about the people that actually tried the game without letting all the ‘Sean Murray lied’ stuff affect their objective opinions.

But that disappointment quickly ruptured into something else… hatred.  Sean Murray made a couple of passive-aggressive remarks at launch and then POOF, just disappeared.  A lot of people were upset that there was no more transparency.  Hell, they weren’t even sure if their $60 investment would amount to something greater, or if Hello Games had simply disbanded as a result of the shame their product had generated.  Couple their radio silence with Shuhei Yoshida throwing the studio under the bus, and it seemed like the future for No Man’s Sky was basically dust in the wind.

And now, out of nowhere, Hello Games have resurfaced to release No Man’s Sky version 1.1.  And to be clear, this was the best possible way to come back to the gaming community.  Sean Murray did enough talking prior to the game’s release.  Anything they said post-launch would have been met with more and more skepticism, so they only thing they COULD have done was shut up, and work on their game.  Now that they have something to offer, they’ve broken that silence.

Good.

So, version 1.1 allows you to claim a home planet, build new save points across planets, build self-owned outposts from uninhabited bases, transportation and even teleportation of materials you’ve collect to freighters in space, create tools which will actually auto-mine while you’re off doing more important things, additional aliens inhabiting trading posts (there’s now two where only one used to be), you can hire aliens to work in your home base, and they’ve even added new, challenging modes that cater to a variety of play styles.  I’m writing off the top of my head here, but I believe there’s a pure creative mode where you can do and build whatever you want, ‘normal’ No Man’s Sky but with the new gameplay features added, and a ‘Survival’ mode where it’s still No Man’s Sky, but with permadeath as a penalty.

So, does this resolve the issues the game had at launch?

This is one of those ‘the answer must come from within’ moments.  Because if mining and hopping around a planet is all you want out of No Man’s Sky, then sure, this patch is going to make for a substantially better experience.  The fact that you can actually do more with your resources than fix, fuel and fly is going to appease you, making this the ‘Sci-fi Minecraft’ you probably wanted from the get-go.  However, if you actually wanted a world that’s brimming with life and activity, then you’re going to dislike the experience just as much as before.

I’m in the latter camp, because what really sold No Man’s Sky to me was not just the chill playtime it offered, but a universe that actually looked… well, alive.  That’s what No Man’s Sky really needs.  Not this base building crap, but ships making space and the skies on any given planet look busy.  We need alien races that do more than sit or stand behind a counter waiting to sell you stuff, and more importantly, THEY need to have some sort of history.  There need to be factions that unite or rebel, and that needs to be seen and felt based on the solar system you’re visiting.  How about seeing some miners in some of those caves?  Or just some aliens in space suits hopping around a planet’s surface just for the hell of it?  How about seeing more wildlife?  Some of these ideas are a personal wish list, but others were blatantly shown in early advertisements and shown off in early footage.

Oh, but don’t tell the ASA.  They have apparently made a ruling on whether or not No Man’s Sky’s ads were misleading or not, and they basically said, “Nope!  All’s good!”

Anyway, there’s an even larger problem with these improvements:  They completely go against the game’s core objective, which is to ‘get to the middle… you know, because, just do it’.  No, patch 1.1 basically wants you to settle on a single planet and whittle tens of hours away on building a home and research facility.

But the first argument that’s come up when I’ve discussed this with friends who are savvy about video games has been, “But, Minecraft doesn’t really have a real end game.  People just create or play the survival mode, and they’re more than content just staying in the same little world.  So, why should people get pissed at No Man’s Sky for doing the same thing?”

Well, the simple answer is, “No Man’s Sky is not Minecraft.”  It never was.  It never will be.  Minecraft is about surviving in a given area… period.  A world is generated, and it’s your job to create and adapt so that you can have food, shelter, and whatever weapons are required to fend off the dangers that come at night.  What you’re doing is playing a ‘stay put, and make this your home’ survival game.  There is no end goal.  Not even an arbitrary ‘get to the middle of the whatever’ sort of thing.  No Man’s Sky, on the other hand, is a completely different beast.  The point is to gather resources not only to survive the harsh conditions of any given planet, but so that you have what you need to keep moving.  How much different could the objectives possibly be?

And a lot of people fall into the trap of comparing No Man’s Sky to Minecraft, not just the friends I speak of.  And, not to offend them or anyone else, but why is there any compulsion to compare them at all?  Is it because they don’t fall into the typical mainstream classification system of third-person/first-person shooter, stealth, RPG, or racing game?  They’re survival games, and that’s where their similarities end.  Hell, Don’t Starve has more in common with Minecraft than No Man’s Sky does.

So what does this Foundation Update tell us about No Man’s Sky and the ‘vision’ that Sean Murray and Hello Games had for it?  Well, I think it tells us an awful lot… just not what people want to hear.  Honestly, I don’t think No Man’s Sky was ever going to realistically deliver everything they had shown us.  Sean Murray got a case of Peter Molyneux brain – wanting his ‘baby’ to be everything a standard development cycle could never provide – but at the end of the day, No Man’s Sky would be lacking that ultra-idealistic vision, and the game would disappoint.  No Man’s Sky probably could have been more at the time of release, but I think an unrealistic wishlist kept this team’s focus away from building an actual game.  So, once time and money was up… well, we saw what happened.  “Here’s our universe of nothing.  Get to the middle.”  And now that they’re trying to ‘fix’ the game… are they working towards finishing that original design they had showed off a couple of years back?  Nope.  They’re instead building whatever they feel they have the time and resources for, original intent of the game be damned.

I’ve seen people online actually recommend re-buying No Man’s Sky because update 1.1 is THAT different.

Guys…

You’ve been burned once already, OK?  Don’t be a sucker two times over.

Like most other games, people bought this thing sight unseen.  No Man’s Sky was pre-ordered so much, you’d think it was going to be the last video game ever released.  No reviews, no actual day 1 gameplay, no word of mouth… just people buying a game based on hype.  Hype that was created by Sean Murray, Sony, and of course the media.  Ain’t that a vicious circle?  Company wants to sell you something, the company catches the media’s ear, the media reports to you, you get excited, and because you’re excited and want more, the company continues to upsell, the media continues to act as a shitty marketing echo-chamber, and you eventually decide to buy shit without even knowing what it is.  If you were to temper your expectations and hold on to your money until a game is released, this cycle would break.  The major players in this industry would have to adapt.  And, if they can’t get you to bite on a game BEFORE it’s released, what would they have to do?  Make a game that’s actually worth your time and money in the first place, right?  Right.  Otherwise, their product would be dead in water.

Last but not least, the Foundation Update has been poised not as a ‘hey look, our game is better’ patch, but an ‘our game is going to GET better’ patch.  That’s right.  They’ve dropped this as sort of the new ‘foundation’ for the game, and they’re going to build off of this.  This is, somehow, supposed to make us excited.  Maybe it would if this were an early access game we paid $20 for, but it isn’t.  It’s a game that was shown off on Sony’s E3 stage, had appeared on Colbert’s late night program, and was subsequently sent to factories so discs could be pressed, placed inside plastic cases, and shipped to your local retailers.  For $60.  Sean Murray had been told by Geoff Keighley – who’s an epic douche for not telling everyone how problematic this game seemed mere months prior to launch, by the way – that he should probably pursue an early access route, but nope.  Murray said, “LET THERE BE A $60 PRICE TAG!”

And so it was.

And so it was hyped.

And so.

You.

BOUGHT.

And now, because they delivered a modicum of substance in a single update, people are getting excited that No Man’s Sky is going to be some great game again?  Have you learned nothing?  And what good does rebuying the damn game do, anyway?  Let’s say you spent $60 at launch for this.  It was only a matter of weeks – IF THAT – before Gamestop was offering something like $12 for a trade-in copy.  So, let’s say you traded this game in for $12 in store credit.  You essentially paid $48 to rent the game for a little while.  It’s now $28 at the time of writing on Amazon.  So, Foundation Update and all, if you rebought the game today, your total investment in No Man’s Sky would be $76 plus tax.  If it wasn’t worth the $60 before, do you really think it’s going to be worth $76?

A little reason here, folks.  A little reason.

Opinion-Bytes: Will the Dangling Carrot Sway You Into Buying Wolfenstein: The New Order?

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A lot of people give the famed Doom franchise credit for launching the FPS genre, but this style of gameplay had its roots firmly established in the 70’s. That said, if you really wanted to discuss the first game to kick things off proper, that honor belongs to Wolfenstein 3D (1992). I probably need four hands to count how many times I’ve played the game in its entirety over the years, and many more if I were to throw the reboot – Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001) – into the mix. I’d like to pretend the franchise remained a contender ever since, but I’m only able to count how many times I played its sequel – Wolfenstein (2009) – with a single finger.

Opinions vary wildly on that installment, but for me, it was honestly one of the most forgettable games I’ve played in the last decade. Not because the game was riddled with bugs, mind you. It’s just that Raven and Id Software produced a dreadfully boring game, and it all boils down to horrendous AI and archaic level design. Instead of being challenged by adversaries with intellect, I was met with mindless drones which would respawn endlessly until I forced my way through them. Furthermore, the maps only served to make me feel like a rat in a maze. Plenty of people felt the same way I did apparently, because Wolfenstein didn’t sell nearly as well as its publisher Activision had hoped.

So, here we are some years later, and Wolfenstein: The New Order is ready to release on May 20, 2014. I’m obviously not going to buy this game… not yet at least anyway. Despite the fact it’s being handled by MachineGames and Bethesda Softworks, my skepticism remains at an all-time high.

“Wait, Id Software have no involvement in the latest Wolfenstein? What gives?!”

Chin up. This is a GOOD thing. Id Software may have been kings of the industry once, but they haven’t come up with anything fresh in a long, long time. Their most notable effort in recent years was Rage, and it was a flop.

Not only that – and this may sound like blasphemy – but Doom 3 wasn’t as revolutionary as we were lead to believe either, by fans or media alike. Sure, it was a ton of fun, but it was still little more than your standard run-and-gunner. So, why did it work? For starters, the premise validated the game’s linearity – You’re trapped in a space station on Mars, and you’ve got to get the hell out of Dodge. The end. Thanks to the immaculate textures and lighting – which were a gamer’s wet dream upon release – a dark and spooky atmosphere oozed from every pixel. We can’t expect every game to turn out like Doom 3 though, because when it comes to games or even film, simplicity is exceedingly difficult to pull off. Just think of all the summer blockbusters you’ve seen – They’re all eye candy, but some ‘just work’ while others miss their mark. Unfortunately, Wolfenstein (2009) was one that missed the mark, and by quite a bit at that.

So yes, I’ll wait until I see some reviews and actual gameplay before making a decision. I mean, that’s the reasonable thing to do, right? Right.

Well, Bethesda seemingly wants to secure your money before YOU decide to be reasonable, because they’re offering beta access to the next Doom with every pre-order.

It’s a brilliant strategy, to say the least. The previous Wolfenstein all but killed the franchise, so they needed a hook to reel people back in… but how? Why, by dangling a carrot off a stick, of course! “Wolfenstein? Pssh. Wait, huh? Doom beta access is included? SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” Just by glancing at Reddit and various message boards across the web, people are already excited to pre-order because of this announcement, meaning a boost in day 1 sales is now an inevitability. Interested or not, these gamers are going to give the new Wolfenstein a try, and for better or worse, word of mouth will take care of the rest.

Well played, Bethesda. Well played… but I’m still going to wait. ‘Beta access to Doom’ sounds nice and all, but keep this in mind – It’s been in development hell for a while now. It’s nice to have confirmation that it’s still in active development, but it could be years before it’s ready for beta testing.

But how about you? Does this sway your decision to pre-order the game in one way or the other? Leave your thoughts below, and we’ll discuss it!