PS VR2 review: high cost, high reward virtual reality
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Featured Image Credit: Review unit supplied by Sony
I’ve never pooped in my pants while playing a game before, but Horizon Call of the Mountain sure got me close. With one hand held onto a precariously hanging rope, the other firing my Grabcaster across a chasm atop a giant mountain to hook onto a conveniently placed metal hoop, I took a deep breath. Then, I let go. After a short fall, the Grabcaster rope caught me and I swung towards the other side - only it wasn’t far enough. I let go, gravity propelling me through the air, falling with style, and I just about grabbed another hanging cord on the other side. My clasped hands slipped down the line. I felt genuine panic. Thankfully, I came to a stop, hanging from the bottom of the rope. It was at this point I realised how tightly my skinny butt was clenched.
If you prefer your reviews in moving form, please see our very silly and unprofessional video review of the PS VR2 below.
It’s moments like this that truly make PS VR2 special. Where the quality of the production shows through and the worlds within feel less like facades and more like what you expect to see and feel in a real AAA budget experience, like a mainline Horizon title. But it’s not all like that sadly, as most of the PS VR2 launch lineup consists of ports from other VR systems.
I’m not saying the stripped-back ports are bad in any way. WHAT THE BAT? is a hilarious and compelling puzzle game where your hands are replaced with baseball bats, and each level involves some sort of creative twist on what you think you know with an added sense of whimsy. My issue comes with ports like Jurassic World: Aftermath where the cel-shaded art styles and almost complete lack of interaction with the in-world items feels incredibly dated after something like Horizon, or Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge Enhanced Edition (more on that later).
The issue with Jurassic World: Aftermath is it was built for Oculus Quest, an older standalone VR system that doesn’t have anything near the power that PS VR2 does with the PS5, and unfortunately that really shows. Also, Velociraptors are very scary and I’m a 31-year-old child who struggles with experiences like this - especially one with echoes of Alien: Isolation!
Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge has moments that are truly stunning. The first time you get up close with an Ithorian, the detail and scale really - and I apologise for the cliché - bring the world of Star Wars to life. Although it’s a port from the original Oculus (Meta) Quest, it really can be a stunning and fully engrossing experience. I just can’t help but feel that VR enthusiasts who would pay the high price for PS VR2 will have likely played through this already and not see it as an enticing reason to splash the cash.
Testing out Kayak VR: Mirage is probably one of the most realistic and immersive VR games I’ve ever played. I’ve only managed to fit in around an hour, sticking to just having a kayak around the locations, rather than the races - but what I’ve played has been both the most relaxing and genuinely existential-dread-inducing experiences I’ve had in a game.
Only time will tell if Sony will invest further into big budget releases like Horizon Call of the Mountain that make the PS VR2 worth the plunge. Hopefully the new virtual reality modes coming to Gran Turismo 7 and Resident Evil Village will feel like worthwhile reasons for those who have invested in the system, but what PS VR2 really needs is a port of Half-Life: Alyx.
That’s enough about the games; what is the hardware like to use?
The PS VR2 Headset
You can tell instantly from a distance that the headset is intrinsically linked to the PS5, thanks to the sleek curves on the headband and the contrasting white and black colouring. It’s lightweight when worn and never feels overly heavy on the front or back, which avoids head movements from feeling laboured and strenuous during longer play sessions.
The padding on both the back of the head strap and the forehead is soft and comfortable, and unlike with my original Oculus Quest, I’ve had no issues with feeling itchy or any rash during a longer session of climbing a mountain. My main issue comes from the padding around the face and eyes and how it links to the focus area on, what I assume could be specifically, my face.
During many of my first sittings I found myself having to rest the head strap high on the back of my skull, rather than hugging just under the bigger sticky-outy-bit (I don’t know what parts of my head are called). I did this as it brought the lenses closer to my eyes to be more in focus. This meant the headset was never properly stable. A few days later, I found a position with the headset resting further down my head, but never matched the sharp focus of when it was closer to my face. I’m not sure if this is a head shape issue or I’m due a visit to Specsavers. I guess I’ll find out when more people get the headset into their hands.
Although I’ve not seen much use outside of Horizon Call of the Mountain’s menus, eye tracking is genuinely impressive, and somewhat magical. Progressing through menus, and scrolling through options with just your eyes is a completely seamless experience, I’ve yet to see it (haha, “see”) falter in any way. It’s genuinely impressive.
The headset also features haptic rumble in the front, alongside what can be felt in the Sense Controllers. I’ve found it to be used sparingly by developers, but the few times it has been implemented the effect is natural and immersive. My first experience was in Star Wars Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge as a ship outside my window in outer space was blown up by the game’s villain. It’s one of those feelings you don't really clock until after it happens, as it feels entirely natural.
The best use though, as of right now, is in Kayak VR: Mirage. At any point while kayaking about, taking in nature, you can just pop your head over the edge and into the water to gander at all the fish, sunken planes and great white sharks (yes, really). The headset starts rumbling softly, replicating the feeling of water moving and applying pressure against the top of your head, as if you really had just lowered your face into the ocean. The sound design also aids this, but it truly adds to what is a fantastic use of VR technology.
An unexpected, and not entirely unobtrusive, issue I’ve had is what looks like a dead pixel in the left eye. In darker scenes, like anything space related in Star Wars, or a dip to black while transitioning in Horizon or Jurassic World, there's a small bright green pixel just there, taunting me. I reached out to Sony for more information and, as stated in the manual, “Black (dark) pixels and continuously lit pixels may appear in certain locations on the screen. The appearance of such spots is a normal occurrence associated with screens and is not a sign of a system malfunction. Screens are made using highly precise technology. However, a very small number of dark pixels or continuously lit pixels may exist and colour irregularities or brightness irregularities may be visible on each screen.” Now whether that’s the case here, or the unit was faulty on arrival - it should all be factored in before making a £529.99 purchase.
It should go without saying that with OLED screens and 2000 x 2040px resolution per eye, PS VR2 is one of the most vivid and high resolution VR experiences you could imagine. My main experience of at home VR is my generation one Oculus Quest, and PS VR2 blows it out of the water. But that comes with the caveat that it’s still a VR headset - don’t expect your entire field of view to be taken up by the games you play, and just like any other headset, any slight movement on your head, or misalignment with your eyes can cause the image to become blurry and at times uncomfortable to look at it. VR technology has come a long way from sliding your phone into a cardboard box, but don’t expect this to be much more than the next little step (albeit a big and brilliant one) in the evolution of virtual reality.
Small quality of life features like a button to activate pass through, allowing you to see through the outside cameras at the real world (in black and white), is very helpful when a small dog has decided to start running around your feet, and you need to make a quick pick up and drop off into their bed without taking off the headset and compromising the perfect positioning. The headphone holders are a neat addition to keep the complimentary earbuds nice and neat once packaged away (although I can see these getting a little dirty if you don’t clear any wax from them, you filthy people). And speaking of the in-ear headphones… they’re alright. They do the job.
The PlayStation VR Sense Controllers
The new controllers feel mostly great in use, blending into the background in almost any playthrough. There were concerns from some after the initial reveal that the outer rings may clash into each other during play, but I’ve never had any such issues. They’re mostly always accurate, with only a few situations in Horizon Call of the Mountain, where in fast-paced moments of combat, the headset fails to track the sideswipe dodging motion causing a frustrating body blow. Or, while climbing in the same game, if the player tries to over-reach to the next section, you can lose sight of the other controller. This all happens rarely enough to not be a major concern, but in the few times it directly correlated to a death, it was frustrating.
Surprisingly, Sony has managed to package adaptive triggers into both L2 and R2, offering the same sort of pressure you’d expect from the DualSense. Firing a weapon in Star Wars, or while shooting your bow comes with a clear tactile sense. Combine that with the built in controller rumble, the Sense Controllers are probably the most immersive of any VR product. Simple things like lowering your hand into the water in the opening moments of Horizon and feeling the water cause a vibration on your hand is a genuinely brilliant touch that I never expected, but fully appreciate.
The PS VR Sense Controllers aren’t perfect though. They could really have done with a built in strap to slide your hands into, as there are moments when using the underside L1 and R1 buttons that would feel more natural if you were able to let go of everything else - but that would end up with a pair of very expensive controllers crashing to the floor. The hanging straps are great in moments of clumsiness, but don’t offer that extra layer of freedom proper slide-in ties would bring. I give it a month before third party straps appear on the market.
The controllers also take one negative from the DualSense: poor battery life. This should be expected given what's packed into the technologically-advanced VR controllers, but after only a few hours of play you can expect a pop-up informing you the controller batteries are low. To make matters worse, the PS VR2 box only comes with one USB-C cable to charge them, and the PS5 itself only has one USB-C input on the front, meaning in most cases you’ll have to charge the controllers one by one - unless you fork out an extra £39.99 for the VR Sense Charging Station. It feels like a real unnecessary faff.
I had the benefit of receiving the review unit and a collection of games to highlight how great the PS VR2 unit is, but it's hard to say if it's truly worth the huge price tag, especially when factoring in the available games. I’m not saying any of these titles are bad - in fact some are brilliant (looking at you Horizon Call of the Mountain, Kayak VR: Mirage, WHAT THE BAT?, and Star Wars Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge) - but when the majority of launch titles are available on cheaper platforms, and the total cost of entry is at least £1100 (PS5, PSVR2 and the game) to play the one big exclusive VR title (Horizon Call of the Mountain), it becomes clear how big an investment it all is.
For those diving in on day one, I hope Sony will keep up production of big budget AAA releases, otherwise we’ll be seeing lots of ports of games that would be cheaper to play on lower cost, rival VR headsets. That being said, PS VR2 is pretty damn good though.
PlayStation VR2 will release February 22nd, and requires a PlayStation 5 console. PlayStation VR2 console and a selection of games were supplied to GAMINGbible by Sony for review purposes.
Topics: PlayStation 5