Before attending Gamescom 2014, I was a VR sceptic. My previous experiences with virtual reality only extended as far Lawnmower Man-esque arcade games from the 90’s, which were ludicrously expensive to play (£5 a go at the local arcade) and less than impressive. The controls felt clunky, the graphics sub-standard compared to the other games in the arcade and they were not very immersive experiences. Each time I read “VR is the future of gaming” I jokingly scoffed at the prospect – that was until I got my hands (and head) on 3 Project Morpheus demonstrations at Gamescom 2014 and now I am a converted VR optimist. Here are my thoughts on what I got to play.
The first thing I noticed when picking up the Project Morpheus headset was the weight. The headset is surprisingly light – lighter than it looks. It still has some weight in it but considering that the set contains screens, head phones, cables and straps to keep it in place, it felt sturdy but light.
Putting it on to my head, I was impressed with how well the Project Morpheus head set is balanced. I expected the screens to weigh down the front and for it to be putting pressure on the bridge of my nose but the back strap holds the head set firmly in place. The set didn’t move too much as I wobbled my head and the screen always remained in view.
The one tiny irritation was the wiring. For something which is meant to be totally immersive, the wires felt a little out of place. As you play, you can often feel them touch your shoulder and it breaks the feeling of being totally “in” the game.
Overall, the head set felt… expensive.
Eve: Valkyrie was the first Project Morpheus demo that I managed to get my heads-on and it was by far the best game I got to trial. Sitting down and sliding on the headset I was greeted by a gloriously detailed cockpit sitting in a tunnel. The attention to detail really shines through on the Project Morpheus’ 1080p screen and the movement tracking means you get to look around all of the buttons and levers.
Hitting the acceleration, you blast along the tunnel at an astonishing speed, lights whizzing by – none of which caused any screen ripping, frame slow down or juddering, even though the screen is only centimetres away from your face.
Once you blast out of the tunnel, you can control the ship around a vast and beautiful battlefield using the Dualshock 4. At first, the divorce between the controller and the head set – controlling your view with your head instead of the thumb sticks – was a little disorientating and I found my head dropping involuntarily, making me look at my feet rather than the enemy ships. After a few minutes I have managed to get the hang of keeping my head up to realise how good Eve: Valkyrie really is. Swinging my fighter around to train my cross-hairs on an enemy, the red reticule highlighted then as they rounded to face me and I unleashed hell on them with everything I had. Missiles. Lasers. Every button I could mash. The following explosion was as satisfying as it was impressive. Flying through the missile smoke trails, I picked up another boggie and proceeded to blow the ass off of them too. A few minuets later and I was convinced I was now Star Fox meets Buck Rodgers and nothing could touch me – until I smashed into a floating structure and blew myself up that is. Dope.
Eve: Valkyrie will be a system seller for Project Morpheus. There didn’t appear to be much depth to the game but the thought of getting this game for multiplayer and having massive Strike Suit Zero-esque battles with friends is certainly enough to whet the appetite for VR.
Morpheus Castle Demo
Those PS Move controllers might just have a late come back in them based on my experience with Morpheus Castle. This short demo has you play as a knight in training as they beat down a dummy using 2 PSMove controllers which respond to your hand movements. Pulling the PS Move triggers grasp what ever in reach. First the game presents a dummy and a weapon rack with a sword in it. Holding your hand out in the general direction and grasping picked up the sword and then you could slice and dice the dummy however you see fit. Next you are given a crossbow. Pulling the trigger lets loose a bolt. Lastly, a dragon eats you. I wasn’t sure if there was anything I could have done to prevent getting eaten by the big lizard but it happened nonetheless.
Project Morpheus Castle is an excellent example of how the PS Move controllers can be used to present your own hand movements in VR. The interactions were very simplistic and no real accuracy was needed to pick up the sword but as a concept demo, it worked perfectly.
The major disappointment of this demo was the graphics. I asked whether this game would actually be releasing for Project Morpheus and was told that no decision had been made but if it is to see the light of day, some serious work will need to go into making the game look presentable. The graphics are simplistic, blocky and thoroughly undermining after playing Eve: Valkyrie.
Just before stepping up to play The Deep I was informed that the version I was about to play was a new build and the improvements were obvious immediately compared to the direct feed I had seen of the E3 demo. The detail and lighting were impressive right from the off as I descended in my cage into the deep-sea, ready to face off against my toothy Selachimorpha hunters.
The Deep is an excellent example of how Project Morpheus and VR in general can enhance experiences past what is possible on a TV and couch. The demo is scary – next level terrifying – extremely immersive and uses all of the survival horror tricks, especially when it comes to the sound, to brown your under garments. Much like Dead Space, you can hear danger closing – water swoosh around you – but when you look, you only catch a glimpse of a shark. Other times, Sharks appear out of no where and are biting the side of your cage – real jump out of your skin moments.
Having not played around with an Oculus Rift, I cannot compare Project Morpheus to its competitor but what I can say is that, with a few tweaks in ergonomic design and some similar but improved support in terms of games, I will most definitely be queuing up to hand over cash on day 1.
Project Morpheus proved to me that VR has come a long way since my arcade days and that the supporting technology has now caught up enough to make this a viable and exciting experience. It is immersive, responsive and beyond my expectations in terms of graphics. I honestly thought, before trying out Project Morpheus, that I would be happy enough to pass over Sony’s VR offering but now, I know I had better start saving because VR really is the future of gaming.