PlayStation VR – Four Months On

In Gaming, Op-Ed by Jake GreenLeave a Comment

It’s been almost four months since Sony released the PlayStation VR to the masses and despite a strong launch window, with a robust launch line-up, many are already declaring the hardware a failure. There are signs that perhaps Sony isn’t putting the support needed behind its headset. Full-length AAA experiences are almost non-existent in the current library of games and with little on the horizon to be optimistic about. There have been rumours of a manufacturing issue, meaning that Sony simply hasn’t been able to meet the demands of consumers. As a result, PlayStation VR is currently sold out at all online retailers, causing people to speculate that perhaps Sony is waiting for more units to be sold before being bullish about their plans for the device. Parallels have already been drawn between PlayStation VR and some of Sony’s previous ill-fated hardware, like the PS Vita and PS Move, both of which fizzled out due to lack of support from Sony.

Many gamers, myself included, looked to December’s PlayStation experience to set these worries straight. If ever there was a time to ensure early-adopters in PlayStation VR that there was a plan moving forward, this would be it. Unfortunately, we were met with a mostly muddled message, as PlayStation VR had little presence at the conference and what we did see left most people feeling unsatisfied. Other red flags came in the form of the news that both Gran Turismo Sport and Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, previously thought to be fully playable in VR, would only feature add-on VR content to supplement the main game. This was a huge blow as these two franchises are why many chose to buy a PlayStation VR in the first place.

There are, of course, still many games to look forward to including Farpoint, Golem, Star Trek: Bridge Crew and many more smaller titles. A huge ray of hope arrived on January 24th in the form of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Taking the series back to its survival horror roots and marking a shift into the first person perspective, the game is fully playable in VR. Its campaign, lasting around 10 hours, is a fantastic proof of concept that it is possible to make a full-length AAA experience work in VR. Players choosing to don their headsets in favour of a controller will get the full experience, no mini-game add-on, no dumbing down (although the visuals do take a significant downgrade, naturally), the game can be played start to finish.

Many are saying that the VR version of the game is the definitive way to play and that it is worth investing in the hardware just to play it this way. Is this Playstation VR’s killer app perhaps? Early signs seem promising, with Capcom revealing that 10 percent of people playing Resident Evil 7 are choosing to do so in VR. This is a huge number considering the small install base of PlayStation VR (it is estimated there are between 800,000 and 1.5 million headsets in the wild at the time of writing, although these numbers are mostly speculation). Hopefully, Sony and other companies will see this as a sign that people do in fact want long, big budget experiences on their headsets, and that it would be worth their while to invest accordingly.

Like with any gaming hardware, though, it’s not all about the big budget games, and smaller indie experiences is where the headset is shining very brightly indeed. From asymmetric co-op games like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, to arcade puzzle games like Super Hypercube, PlayStation VR’s library is varied, imaginative and rewarding, given you take the chance to play the right games that is.

This brings us to one of the biggest problems with PlayStation VR’s first months on the market – the lack of coverage from the gaming industry as a whole. Any PlayStation VR owner will tell you that trying to find reviews, impressions or information on some of the games being offered on the PlayStation Store is damn-near impossible. Leading up to the release, the industry was at fever pitch, covering any little piece of information they could get hold of. However, as the hardware launched, they fell almost silent. Even marquee titles such as Battlezone launched without many reviews at all, and this remained largely unchanged weeks later. This led gamers to go into purchases completely blind, and many to be hurt as a result. A large number of the games on the PS store were released broken, with very little content, or any real replayability. This problem was somewhat alleviated by the smart pricing structure explored by developers, with games costing anywhere between $5-60. The general consensus up to this point has been that while there are some fantastic experiences on offer, there is very little in terms of replayability and substance to a lot of the games.

Saying that though, I have heard an overwhelmingly positive response to the hardware from the people who bought it. While many will admit that perhaps the library is a little thin, the games which are there are absolute must plays. Many developers have started porting games over from other VR platforms, with games like Arizona Sunshine confirmed to be making the jump over to PlayStation VR. This will expand the library massively, countering claims that there isn’t much to play on the device. As people have time to settle with the device, its place within the gaming ecosystem is being defined. At the moment PlayStation VR seems to be a boutique item, something that gamers play every now and then. At the moment I am playing Resident Evil 7, completely in VR. It is the most I have used the headset so far, putting it on nearly every day without fail. Up to this point it had mostly sat dormant, after the initial two weeks that is, when I wanted to play something a bit different.

But with all the defeatist articles circulating at the moment, you would get the impression that there is absolutely nothing to play, that PlayStation VR is a sinking ship, dragging all of VR’s promises down with it. But load up the PlayStation VR Reddit and you’ll see a different story, you’ll be met with a community buzzing with stories and praise for the hardware. It’s an impassioned community eager for their next gaming fix, willing to take chances on new experiences and offer up their impressions to their peers. It is here that I believe Sony should take note. They should know that they need only invest in these early adopters in order to grow the platform as a whole, that for every “VR is dead” think piece there are a hundred comments from people who can’t get enough of this new way to play games. It may be optimistic but I think the future is bright for PlayStation VR and the concerns that Sony has abandoned it are mostly hyperbolic.

Of course, we have been hurt before (although I love my PS VITA deeply for its capabilities as an indie machine, it’s undeniable that Sony left the little handheld to die) but I think that what is happening with PlayStation VR is different. We will have to see what 2017 has in store for PlayStation VR and with titles like Star Trek: Bridge Crew, Arizona Sunshine, and Farpoint it’s looking like it will be a very good year indeed.

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