In my last Vive report, I took a look at the setup and gave a brief description of my first experience inside the headset. Initital impressions were OK but a perhaps a little underwhelming.
For the past week I have been stacking my Steam library with VR releases and I’ll try and sum up my experience with some of these games as best I can. The problem with VR is that it’s almost impossible to explain how a game feels in words or even show a video to convey the experience. VR is a very personal experience.
In this article I’m not “reviewing games”, that will come later, this is more about how I felt while playing them and general impressions. A point to note, the screenshots in this article are a lot better looking than you see in the Vive.
Let’s start with CCP who have been working hard on VR with EVE: Valkyrie for the Oculus Rift as one of the main launch day releases. EVE: Valykrie was not bad but it was quite a shallow game and it still needs more done to it. It’s also not on the Vive yet which is problem.
However, they do have Gunjack on the Vive which can best be described as a seated shooter in space where waves of aliens plant themselves in front of your face. Like Valkyrie where you look is where you shoot and the weapon controls for firing and utilising power-ups are handled with the triggers on the two Vive controllers.
Inside the Vive the game looks great which was to be expected after Valkyrie so I have no complaints there.. It’s also fun. It’s gaming at its simplest, and if you think about it, this is space invaders inside a VR headset. Waves of aliens which have to be shot. There’s not much else to it. It is however priced at a reasonable £6.99.
Gunjack was fun but there has to be more to VR than this?
Next on the list is Hover Junkers from Stress Level Zero. Now this is a full priced £26.99 game so there sould be little excuse for this to fall short on content.
This is an arena style shooter where players board their own hover vehicle to fight other players. The vehicles can be moved around inside the arena via the left or right controller when the vehicle control device is activated in either the left or right hand. The other free hand can be used to wield a weapon or both hands can be used for weapons.
The developers have worked hard at making this a true VR experience with a clever vehicle control system and some great weapon mechanics. For example, to reload a weapon you pop it open with the push of a button, move your finger around the circular control pad to fill the cartridge slots, then flip your hand to close the weapon as they do in all the movies and then start shooting. It feels quite instinctive.
The idea is to dash around the different arenas and take out other players while standing inside your vehicle. The room-space works well because players are kept to the confined space of the vehicle. When you eventually come across another player it’s then a matter of ducking around inside your vehicle and dodging enemy fire. Again, this works well and it’s fun to watch other players ducking and dodging your shots using the cover of the vehicles. Loot can also be colected to improve the cover on the vehicles.
As far as a VR experience goes, this was definitely making me think there are some real possibilities but the game is far from complete and still feels like a buggy mess which is a shame. I’m also not sure how often I would end up playing this before it felt tedious.
Next was the Budget Cuts demo from Neat Corporation is free on Steam. As it was a demo I didn’t have high expectations but wanted to give it a go. The idea is to move around an office building, solving simple puzzles and avoiding deadly robots.
The controllers can be used to pick up objects and move around. To get around the limitations of room-space, players target an area in-game and pull the trigger to jump to that target spot., Once in that spot you can move around within your designated room-space.
If Budget Cuts taught me anything it was that VR’s limitations are frustrating. The game looks great when inside the headset and you do feel you’re there. Being able to peek around doors and through vents, felt very natural. Not being able to simply walk around feels strange and then there’s the limitation of the Vive’s (room-space, cable, resolution) which is always in the background nagging you.
So far Budget Cuts was proving to be a hit despite the Vive’s limitations. Such a shame it’s just a demo at the moment, I would have liked to have experienced more of this.
Fated: Silent Oath
Next up was Fated: A Silent Oath, a recently released VR game from developer Frima Studio transports you to a Viking land where you need to save your family and world. It’s described as a “movie-length narrative-adventure game” so I wasn’t expecting a huge amount of action. Just a few interactions and some walking about. What could possibly go wrong?
It’s the walking about that was an issue. The game uses a controller to rotate your view and carry out basic interactions in the world. It’s designed as a seated experience which is where the problems for me started. This was the first game I have tried for a while where I experienced mild motion sickness. Using the pad on the Steam controller to rotate the view sounds logical but it also causes nausea.
Frima has included “comfort options” which add reference points, kind of like a cockpit to help with nausea so they knew this was going to be a problem. While the comfort options are a great idea, they do ruin the visual experience. I lasted about 15 minutes and that was it. This was a shame because the game’s cartoon-like visuals are rather nice. I’ll be giving this a go again when the stomach settles down.
After a breather, it was time for Fantastic Contraption which ships free with the Vive. The idea in this is to make weird and wonderful contraptions and get an object into a specific zone in the play area. With wheels, rotating arms and join pieces that snap snap together it sounds easy buy it’s damn hard. If anything this game has made me realise I was right to give up on my engineering degree years ago.
Fantastic Contraption makes great use of the room-scale and you can create your contraptions well within the confines of the space. The only issue I found was that the Vive cable was once again an annoyance. You have to reach up and through the pieces you have to piece together to get it right which requires a decent range of movement and that pesky cable can get a little twisted as you fine-tune the creations.
Again, a good idea impaired by the limitations of the cable.
Out of Ammo
Next up was Out of Ammo, the new game from Dean Hall’s studio RocketWerkz. I didn’t expect too much from this, after all, Dean himself commented that VR was like playing on a glorified Wii. A comment that should not be dismissed.
RocketWerkz has created a slightly more interesting version of a shooting gallery where players peer down onto a small battlefield area and have to build defensive structures to defend against oncoming hordes of enemy troops. Resupplies are also dropped in as the mission progresses.
The player has to place structures around the base and then assign troops to man the defences. Snipers, rocket soldiers, medics, and engineers. As the enemy attacks the player can also take direct control of any soldier and play as that soldier. Once in control you are playing in first-person and have to shoot down the enemy and also reload your weapon.
Like Hover Junkers, when in first-person view, players need to replace the bullets in their weapons as the ammo runs out. With a machine gun, the clip is pulled out with the left hand and replaced by moving the left hand to your hip and grabbing a new clip which is then slid into the weapon. This works very well and is a great use of the controllers and very immersive.
There are also air strikes and mortar attacks which can be called up via a remote control in the left hand. Simply push the button on the remote and then select the target spot while in the main god-type view.
Out of Ammo is not bad but it still feels underdeveloped which is to be expected as it’s still in early access.
Portal Stories VR
Portal Stories was supposed to be a stand-alone game but is now a Portal 2 mod which meant I had to hunt down my copy of Portal 2 from my large collection of older games. Amazingly I actually found it.
This is another puzzle game set inside the Aperture Labs, and like Budget Cuts, utilises the point and fire system to move to a targeted location. This is the best way to get around the limitations of the cable and the designated room-scale space.
The development team has done a good job coming up with puzzles which involve moving cubes around a level to activate an exit. Lasers have to be dodged, force field walls have to be navigated around and there is some thought required. There are ten puzzles to solve but none are particularly hard. The VR experience was also quite decent so a thumbs-up even if it was quite short.
Project CARS has just received Vive support and as far as racing games go this was as good as any to try. The game is quite stunning on a monitor so I was intrigued to see how it stacked up in the Vive.
Utilising a Steam Controller, navigating around the menu system wasn’t that bad but there’s the usual problem if the tiny text is not enlarged for VR which meaning a lot of leaning forward to read it all, and there’s a lot to select in Project CARS.
Once on the grid, the game shifted me inside the car’s cockpit and it looked pretty decent. After the first lap, I experimented with the different driver views and eventually opted for a cockpit-less above the bonnet view which worked well inside the headset. Playing from inside the cockpit felt a little claustrophobic as you’d expect from a top-end racing vehicle, even if it is a bit more realistic.
The VR support here is really good, the only thing that let it down is the resolution of the Vive itself. The racing is fast, and surprisingly, even without the cockpit view, I didn’t experience any motion sickness. Project CARS was an interesting experience in VR but whether it makes it feel more realistic than the monitor is debatable.
And so concludes a week of testing some of the more popular games currently available for VR and the Vive. How do I feel about this generation of VR? I’ll be summing it up in final part this week as I need time to gather my thoughts and pull myself back to the reality of a monitor, mouse and a keyboard.