Review : PlayStation VR For A Non-Gamer

Back when I was in my late teens, I knew a guy in his late twenties.  One of his favourite things to do was to play Call Of Duty online.

Once upon a time he managed to coerce a group of us to join him online, and he proceeded to basically give us a lesson, telling us where to go, what to do and where we went wrong.  Most of us sacked it off after 20 minutes because he was draining to fun out of it for us.

One thing that we also used to think was that he surely had better things to do with his time.  He was single after splitting up with a long term girlfriend that he got back together with a week or so before his 30th birthday and his first child promptly arrived 3 months before his 31st.  I once went round to find him on his PlayStation and her on her Nintendo DS, not talking to each other.  It was only a few months ago when I was talking to one of my other friends who had just quit her job and moved back in with her parents at the age of 31 that we realised how much our friend actually had his sh*t together!

That’s because gaming has a reputation perhaps as being a childish pursuit.  Think of playing games and it’s something done either by children having fun or adults playing with other adults heads.

However, and perhaps because I have been referred to as a “man child”, I quite like games.  There’s a time and a place to not to have to adult and to just have fun.  Gaming is no less a viable activity for this purpose than other more grown up activities that can be done on your own.  Because there are other things to do, I don’t play a lot.  It’s a spare time killer rather than something I set aside time to do.

When Sony launched its virtual reality headset for PlayStation, I went and tried it at a studio demonstration at Granada Studios that I stumbled across.  I played a game shooting spiders in a desert.  I loved it!  It was the most surreal experience being able to look around a world.

And I recently got one.

The system uses a headset with 7 lights on the front and two on the back tracked by a camera.  Apparently the headset weighs over half a kilo, but it doesn’t feel it – it feels light when secured by its padded headband and is comfortable.

One thing I didn’t expect was quite how many cables it took to set it up.  The system has a separate processor box sitting between the TV and PlayStation which requires its own power supply.  I thought the headset would be connected by Bluetooth, but alas not – that’s a cable too.

When you eventually turn everything on, all you see is the normal PlayStation UI.  No special effects and no set-up guide which would be really useful.  Performance is much improved when you calibrate the lights and the distance between your eyes.  The set-up reduces blur around the edges and also screen drift.

One of the things I noticed is that the visuals are not entirely clean.  It reminds me of watching a film at an old cinema where you have a slightly mottled, grid pattern.

Then you get in to a game.  My favourite so far is Gran Turismo Sport.  When you start playing, you don’t see all the visual limitations.  It’s a close to 3D image and one of the most surreal experiences.  In game, I can check my mirrors and look in to corners and at apexes.  It really does add realism.  Gran Turismo has a “VR Showroom” for its featured cars where you can actually peer through the windows.  That might not sound spectacular but I find it fascinating.

The whole thing is immersive, which I guess is its intention.  When I first tried it in that studio, the person who set me up could have been doing anything including rifling through my manbag.  You have the headset on and can get 3D sound through headphones and can quite easily fall in to your own little world.

The downside to VR is definitely the price.  PlayStation VR is the “cheap” version at anything up to around £400.  That’s a snip when compared to other versions that also require a high powered gaming PC that would cost more than the PlayStation.  The problem with the price point is that is makes it another console, rather than an accessory.  You’d normally expect price reductions after the initial furore has faded away, but that isn’t happening and probably won’t until VR finds its feet away from gaming so as to not become the next 3D TV.

As a non-competitive casual gamer, I love PlayStation VR.  You feel a bit of a muppet and I dread to think what I look like while playing, but it’s fun and I don’t care that I should probably be adulting because sometimes it’s good to just be a child for a little while.  I now get what my friend did all those years ago.

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