gdc 2016

Hands-On With Some Of PlayStation VR's First Titles

by Matt Bertz on Mar 17, 2016 at 07:56 AM

We've spent quite a bit of time demoing PlayStation VR games for our January Year of VR issue. Alongside the big pricing and timing announcement for the hardware, Sony gave us a chance to dive into some of the games launching alongside and shortly after the headset releases in October.

Unlike Rift and Vive, the PlayStation VR launch lineup is far from solidified, though Sony expects around 50 games. For many of these, the demos are still early enough that it's hard to get a complete sense of how these games will shape up. It's important to understand that developers launching with the hardware still have six months, quite a lot of time, to polish and perfect. Here are some impressions from the Game Informer staff.

Developer: Rebellion

I remember standing on an overturned milk crate to reach the small periscope-like viewport of the original Battlezone as a kid. Looking into that vector-filled world was an experience unlike most arcade games. Rebellion's reboot in VR feels right given the pioneering approach of the original. It's also an extremely smooth experience that is likely to elevate to one of PlayStation VR's killer apps on day one.

In my single-player demo (Battlezone will also have a competitive multiplayer component), we first selected a sector on the campaign map. Each time you play, the campaign will be generated anew, making each time through unique. In each sector, you'll take on aggressive enemies, sentry towers, and swarms of drones. My tank was equipped with machine guns and mortars. After destroying enough of the attackers, an EMP was enabled allowing me to clear out the rest of the forces and win the day.

Cruising around the arena was extremely comfortable. Head movement allows players to look around independent from the tank's motion. This might result in discomfort for some users, however I had no problems. I was delighted by the speed and can't wait to check out the multiplayer. Battlezone will be available day-and-date with PlayStation VR in October. – Mike Futter

Developer: Highwire Games

Highwire Games is no stranger to developing platform exclusive launch titles, as the former Bungie devs worked on Halo, one of the most successful day one games in console history. For the PSVR, this team is building a unique VR experience that calls to mind games like Infinity Blade. In Golem players assume the role of a kid who is bedridden after a tragic accident. Using the mysterious powers of a crystal, the child gains control of a doll in the room and can start looking for a path out of the home. 

Players navigate through the medieval cabin using their eyes to choose a direction, maneuvering under tables and into creaks in the floorboards. The level of detail in the environment is impressive. As I move into the darkness below the crystal illuminates the area around me, allowing me to point the Move controller in any direction to see the scurrying rodents and possible paths ahead.

From here the demo transitions abruptly into an arena combat scenario that almost feels like an Infinity Blade battle. As a 20-foot tall golem with a sword in hand, I square off against another towering rock figure, moving the Move controller to block incoming sword attacks to open up a window for a counterattack. The fidelity of the controls was underwhelming – it almost felt like a Wii game with the clumsiness of responsiveness – but the studio has a lot of time to polish before launch so we wouldn’t be surprised to see the controls tightened up. – Matt Bertz

Rez Infinite
Developer: Q Games

I came to the Rez party late, when the HD version made its way to Xbox 360. I was instantly enamored of the pulse-pounding music, sleek aesthetic, and trance-inducing gameplay loop. It's been a long time since I played it, but like a familiar song, diving back in with PlayStation VR instantly recalled the game's rhythm and lyrics.

One of the trickiest parts of the virtual reality experience is motion. Take too much control away from the player and simulation sickness will kick in. Move too fast in-game and you risk overloading the senses and creating an uncomfortable experience. By all accounts, Rez should suffer from those problems. However, some smart implementation makes it a comfortable experience. 

Targeting is handled with the head, which is an extremely natural sensation. Because the player is always being pulled in one direction, you don't need to worry about sharp turns out of your control. The synesthetic effect originally pioneered on the PlayStation 2 is enhanced when fully immersed in Rez's grid-like world. And with new content coming, it's likely going to be worth revisiting this thumping classic. And even if you aren't on board with VR, you'll be able to play Rez Infinite on PlayStation 4 using traditional screens. – Mike Futter

Megaton Rainfall
Developer: Pentadimensional Games

When a hostile alien race approaches earth in mysterious UFOs and starts racking up the body count, the only recourse humans have is to tap the shoulder of a superhero. In Megaton Rainfall you play a Superman-esque savior who must fend off the invaders using your faster than a speeding bullet flight skills and a few well placed power beam attacks. 

This PSVR experience is not for the faint of heart or those who get simulation sickness quickly; the demo starts with your character hovering above Earth before descending to the surface at an amazing pace. Once there, you must track down each UFO of varying shapes and sizes and shoot the shiny bits to take them out before the casualty rate goes through the roof. You are playing against a timer as well. 

The combat is basic and the graphics are plain, but it's pretty amazing zipping around the cityscape at supersonic speeds. – Matt Bertz

Developer: Guerrilla Cambridge

While we've previewed the mech-powered sports game RIGS a number of times since its E3 2015 debut, it's importance as a comfort litmus test for PlayStation VR drew me to it. This was my first time with the game, and I came away impressed with its design and surprised at my own reactions.

To put things in context, I don't do well with heights. I don't delight in the falling feeling that comes with plummeting on a roller coaster. However, simulated thrill rides like Star Tours are a different story. For some reason my body is completely fine with them even though the physical sensations are similar. For me, RIGS is more akin to the latter. I expected to become nauseated during my time and was ready to pull the plug at a moment's notice.

For all intents and purposes, RIGS is a competitive first-person shooter. This genre is extremely tricky to implement in VR because of sudden movements and frequent disconnection between view direction and locomotion. The goal is to destroy enemies, become overcharged and then jump down into the scoring hoop from above. I fully anticipated that would be a deal-breaker for me. I pushed myself even harder by choosing a mech class that can double jump. I most certainly felt my stomach drop out on many occasions during the demo. But it didn't stop me from having a fantastic time (and taking the MVP spot in the three-versus-three game). 

I expect RIGS will be the game people use to contextualize intense VR experiences. At least early on, it will be part of our vocabulary for attempting to anticipate our reactions to high-speed and drastic vertical movement. It's not going to be for everyone, but for those that can handle it, RIGS is likely to be a hot ticket this fall. – Mike Futter

Waltz of the Wizard
Developer: Aldin Dynamics

Wizard battles always seemed like a natural destination for the Move controllers. Now Aldin is combining that fantasy with the power of virtual reality. 

Our demo of Waltz of the Wizard begins in front of a cauldron. Using the Move controllers as hands, you can grab the various objects around the table and throw them into the pot or around the room. The orbs sitting to the right activate spells when added to the witch's brew, allowing the player to do things like shoot bolts of energy and transform objects into butterflies. 

The final orb I throw into the cauldron opens a rift and transports me into an ominous, dimly lit cave. Stuck in a stationary position, I look around to find a spear, sword, and mace. I pick up the sword just as a large shadow appears on the far cave wall. It continues to get bigger until a small cat turns the corner and approaches me. False alarm. There are no wizard battles for me to fight today, but it's clear this is the direction Adlin Dynamics is going. – Matt Bertz