During this weekend’s EGX 2015 in Birmingham, I became the latest writer in what has now become a rather long line of Power Up Gaming staffers to experience PlayStation VR – until recently known as Project Morpheus – first-hand.
Having last experienced virtual reality gaming all the way back in 1998 at the ill-fated SegaWorld London arcade, I was both excited and a little apprehensive about getting ‘heads on’ with Sony’s latest foray into VR ahead of its 2016 launch. While slots to try out PS VR were extremely limited and had to be booked in advance with Sony, with a little bit of good fortune and a slice of cheek, I was able to squeeze in a solid 20 minutes of play time.
Presented with the choice of trying out either Capcom’s Kitchen tech demo – a horror title that is far less innocuous than its title would have you believe – or BattleZone, a reboot of Atari’s 1980 vector tank shooter of the same name, I opted for the latter, being both the fainthearted person and retro enthusiast that I am.
Although the Rebellion (best known for the Sniper Elite series)-developed title isn’t perhaps the most graphically demanding of games for the tech, considering PlayStation VR’s OLED 1920 x 1080 display (which works out at 960 x 1080p per eye), BattleZone nevertheless makes for an impressive demonstration; and, most importantly, is perfectly suited to VR.
While the game is a far cry from its arcade roots, with crisp and colourful Tron-inspired graphics and a modern dual-analogue stick control scheme (rather than the dreaded old-school tank controls), it still finds plenty of time to pay homage to the original: with an arcade-style start-up sequence, stylised voxel-like visuals and blocky explosions all contributing to its retro appeal.
The short demo level I found myself quickly immersed in was fairly straightforward, allowing me plenty of time to familiarise myself with the PlayStation VR itself and explore the game’s environment with the full six degrees of freedom head tracking the tech provides. BattleZone is played from the player’s perspective within the cockpit of their vehicle, allowing you to tilt your head down to see a radar on your dashboard indicating enemy presence.
In this short teaser demo, I came up against a number of enemies, in the form of ground-based tanks, sentries and swarms of drones, in a rather paradoxically bright and cheery battle arena. The game is interesting in that the aiming of your vehicle’s weapons (machine guns or cannon, each better suited to different enemies) is not married to the PS VR’s head tracking, with the right analogue stick instead being used for this purpose.
While I initially found this a little confusing, I soon came to appreciate that it actually allows you more freedom to immerse yourself within the game’s world, allowing you to look around and explore the environment without being restricted to viewing it through the crosshairs of your weapon.
Along with these mechanics, it’s a fairly simplistic affair. R2 is used to fire, square is to change your weapon (and the corresponding reticle), while L1 can be used for a temporary speed boost, allowing for devilishly fast evasions if you’re feeling outnumbered or overwhelmed by enemy combatants.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that while I found PS VR momentarily a little disorientating, the way it sits on your head is easily adjustable, and with the press of a button and a few minor tweaks, my field of vision and focus were greatly improved. As someone who is prone to motion sickness, I was relieved that I suffered no ill-effects of PlayStation VR’s head tracking at all.
As somewhat of a virtual reality cynic, BattleZone and PlayStation VR, in the 20 minutes I got to experience them, have certainly gone a long way into turning around my way of thinking, and I’m very much looking forward to playing something a little more substantial – be it from Rebellion’s title or one of PS VR’s other 20 launch games – in the near future.