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There is no “must-play” virtual reality game of 2016

Our Stevivor Game of the Year debate was lukewarm to the prospect of a winner in the “Best VR” category. There are some cool experiences and some really solid games available, but nothing that has those yet to buy a headset stinging with jealousy. Most of the full priced PS VR games so far have been multiplayer focused; Battlezone, RIGS and EVE: Valkyrie are all solid games lacking for player bases, and most of the smaller games and experiences feel like developers dipping a toe into the waters.

There are some great ways to show off the hardware — Job Simulator, Batman: Arkham VR, the Star Wars: Battlefront Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission are on PS VR alone — but all of those can be experienced in a single sitting and don’t offer much replay value. The games that resonate longest are the score chasers focused on single mechanics: SuperHyperCube for PS VR, Holopoint and Space Pirate Trainer on PC, with too many games that extend beyond an hour or two playtime falling into repetition.

Small games, big prices

If you can afford a VR headset publishers are assuming you can afford to pay a premium for games and experiences. Of the four full priced ($80 AUD) PS VR releases only Robinson: The Journey is not a multiplayer-focused release. What you get for $40-60 AUD is usually experiences lasting only a few hours or arcade games you would pay $15-30 for outside of the headset. PC headset owners don’t get it any better, the gameplay to price ratio on most $15-30 USD games is shocking though Steam reviews are a good gauge as to what is rushed shovelware.

With many releases not coming with a free demo you are taking a risk with every purchase, particularly those worried about performance issues or motion sickness. Steam refunds are useful in this regard but PS VR owners have no such recourse and following the launch week rush, reviews for new PS VR games are few and far between. Just because you can afford the hardware doesn’t mean you should accept being gouged for software.

The hardware will get better

With the release of the Oculus Touch controllers the Rift and HTC Vive are on even footing when it comes to functionality. The Vive has a small advantage in headset quality and supported room scale VR from day one while the Rift with Touch has better controllers and more flexible space requirements while also being able to operate at room scale. Both headsets have room for improvement and it is very unlikely we reach the end of 2017 without at least an announcement of improved hardware from both manufacturers. Regardless, both PC headsets have few issues with tracking and accuracy, and now we are beginning to see required PC specs for running VR headsets dropping ever so slightly.

The PS VR has had issues with controller tracking and headset stutter, largely thanks to relying on outdated camera and motion control hardware with the PS4 camera and PS3 era Move controllers. Your virtual hands will shake (and your headset screen in particularly rough cases) and image drift is a regular concern that some games handle better than others. The PS VR is also inferior at tracking movements behind you, particularly motion controls. These are the limitations you accept when the hardware costs half the price of the PC setup, but hopefully improvements can be made with firmware updates or at worst, by making a better camera and controllers available in the future. These issues aren’t deal-breakers with PS VR, but anybody who has used a PC headset for a length of time will notice how rough PS VR is in comparison.

Oculus wants to have its cake and eat it too

Oculus founder Palmer Luckey has claimed many times that the company wants to be open and supportive of competitor headsets, but in many ways its actions are not reflecting this sentiment. Where Vive exclusives are mainly so due to either being developed by Valve (such as The Lab) or because they require room scale functionality that the Rift could not provide until December, Oculus is securing exclusives and locking out Vive owners through DRM.

Oculus’ reasoning is sound; it is funding the development of these games and wants the chance to make back that investment with exclusives to the platform. This arrangement has led to games such as Superhot VR and The Climb, standout VR experiences that otherwise would not exist, but when VR has so few must play games it hurts to own a headset but be excluded from playing a game for arbitrary reasons.

Oculus also stubbornly insists on running the Rift through its store and home software layer, adding unnecessary overhead when playing games through Steam. It reeks of Oculus wanting to stamp its brand on your experience at every opportunity, to keep a foot in the door lest it lose all control of sales and experience to the ubiquitous Steam. Without the social features and consumer advice available through Steam the Oculus store risks turning into another unwanted burden of gaming like Origin, UPlay and many other proprietary UI layers thrown up by publishers screaming, “me too!”


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About the author

Stuart Gollan

From Amiga to Xbox One, Doom to Destiny, Megazone to Stevivor, I've been gaming through it all and have the (mental) scars to prove it. I love local multiplayer, collecting ridiculous Dreamcast peripherals, and Rocket League.