Sony's VR headset promises a whole new world, but when will it deliver?
- Very immersive
- HD display is nice and crisp
- Compliments existing PlayStation hardware
- Some rough visuals
- Motion tracking occasionally disconnects
When the creator of
told us that he
didn't think consoles were fit for virtual reality
, I wondered if he might have a point. But as is the way with
Morpheus is in prototype right now.
It certainly feels more "finished" than Oculus; not only does the main eyepiece look like a polished product, there's a dynamic plastic headstrap to boot. Getting it to fit wasn't too difficult and the headset felt secure enough for the purposes of the demo.
However it does feel like the weight balance needs addressing, and Sony will want to relocate some of those wires that I kept almost chewing on.There's also the tiniest of space near the bridge of your nose. It's not too distracting from the overall experience and, during the more intense sensations, served as an easy reminder that my feet are still planted safely in reality.
Morpheus hits the ground running with a 1080p display - some of you will never know the nausea that an SD screen with lag can induce. We asked Sony if its God of Dreams might end up in 4K however it didn't sound promising. As it is, Morpheus is satisfyingly crisp, but I did notice the occasional jaggedly-rendered object and felt the odd frame rate stutter. It's the same stuff we've seen with Oculus.
Morepheus's 90-degree field of vision does lose out to Oculus's 110 degrees but this is hardly noticeable - and likely to change come the final product.
Lost in space
The first game I tried was space simulator Eve: Valkyrie. Already a fan of Strike Suit Zero on the Oculus Rift, I was reasonably prepared for what was about to come.
Hurtling through space, admiring the view of giant ships as you pass under them, dodging your way through asteroid fields - this is exactly the kind of stuff we all dreamed about when we were younger.
And even though I'd experienced space in VR before, there were a couple of barrel rolls that sent my stomach spinning.
It's clear that some people are more prone to feeling physically affected by VR than others, but the clarity and low latency of Morpheus in its current state mean the risks of nausea are low. I felt ok during my 10 minutes with Eve, but like I said, there were a couple of hairy moments.
Beyond the sea
But as great as space was, it was exploring the ocean depths that really set the pulse racing. The Deep , Sony's second demo, was a perfect tease at what's possible when you wed VR and horror.
The game begins with you in a diving cage, floating near the surface of the ocean. What was different about this experience was that I was standing up so the game needed to account for this. Sure enough, when I squatted down I noticed my virtual legs bent at the same time, a feat made possible by the motion tracking.
It's these little touches that help make the experience that bit more immersive. As I sunk further down to the ocean depths, it became clear that I'd made an enemy among the aquatic wildlife as a shark began circling my cage.
The Deep wasn't a very interactive experience. I could look around me was holding a flare fun that would move with my real hands thanks to the motion-enabled Dualshock 4, however there were a couple of moments where I "broke" the connection between my real hands and my virtual ones.
As it turned out, the flare gun was about as effective as a bacon sandwich when the shark started ripping into the cage. But it was fantastic way to experience VR, especially with the lack of any form of HUD.
It was just me, under water, face to face with Jaws. And for a couple of brief moments it was absolutely terrifying.
Where The Deep represented pure fantasy as only a faux-holodeck experience could provide, the Street Luge stood out for its ability to make me cringe, wince, yelp and ultimately feel like I was on a roller coaster without the intense wind and bodily sensations.
It started slow, allowing me to get used to the controls - lean left to drift left, lean right to go right. Then came my first car. I dodged left and, in doing so, earned a small speed boost. There was a timer ticking in the corner of my screen that I hadn't noticed before; this was one of virtual reality's first time trials.
More cars came and went as I slowly became comfortable balancing the hardware that was secured around my head and the bodily sensations I was starting to feel. I could look straight up at the clouds and left and right over the mountainside. If I hadn't been sharing the road with sedans and semi-trucks this would've been a relatively zen-like experience. Alas.
The crowning moment came when, unable to dodge left or right, I slid unscathed between an truck's wheels and looked up into its undercarriage. When I did eventually crash, however, the screen briefly flashed red before I slowed down some - there were no gruesome, Tomb-Raider-getting-impaled-on-a-tree-branch moments here.
I crossed the finish line with two minutes and thirty two seconds on the clock. Not bad for my first downhill run.
The final demo was called Morpheus Castle, a smack-'em-up that served to demonstrate how Move can be used so brilliantly with Morpheus. You may have forgotten about Sony's Wiimote rival, but these glowy sticks may be about to have a serious comeback.
By pressing the back triggers you'll curl your fingers into a fist. Extend them rapidly and you'll throw a punch. Because the PS Camera can track your position in a room, you'll be able to walk a few feet forwards and backwards - but not very far left or right.
You're asked to punch a hanging dummy. Complete the task and you're rewarded with your first weapon, a sword. I held the trigger on the back of the Move and I was able to cast the sword in huge arches, eventually lopped off the poor dummy's arms, legs and head.
This was a smooth, seamless experience and gave me hope that the Star Wars game we've always dreamed of - the one where lightsaber duels are not only plausible, but an enjoyable part of the game - are within arm's reach. (See what I did there?)
Next I grabbed a mace that, when extended, felt the force of gravity and hung low on its chain. I swing it a few times to get some momentum going and before long was using it to dismember a newly furnished foe.
After which was a crossbow demo, the least exciting part of my experience. I didn't need to hold down a button in the back this time and was only required to press the trigger when I had lined up a shot. The arrow tended to curve down and, while realistic, it felt a little unfulfilling in a so-far, so-good demo.
But as with the flare gun in The Deep , there was occasionally a disconnect between my virtual and real hands. There are clearly some technical boundaries when it comes to body motion with VR, and making them harder to break will be key to immersion.
Like the Playstation camera and the Dualshock 4's tracking blue light , Move suddenly makes a lot more sense with Morpheus. Sony's master plan is coming together.
The most frustrating thing about VR right now is trying to convey it with words. You really do have to see
There's still work to be done - edges were rough and objects seemed a little less than their HD display - but Sony is clearly determined to iron these out before it comes to market.
When that might be is hard to say. But take Morpheus for a spin and I guarantee you'll be as excited as I am for what virtual reality will offer. This is the missing piece of the PS4 puzzle, and it's a big one.