I sit down in the dilapidated wooden chair, and put on the headset. It's the 12th time this week. I've gotten really used to Sony's Project Morpheus, and I love the way it feels. I pretty much just press a button to pull the display closer to my face, and boom -- I'm in another world. I just wish there were more worlds I'd actually like to explore.
I'd wager there's a good reason that Sony only spent two minutes on Project Morpheus during its big E3 2015 keynote. There's not a lot to play right now. Even though Sony had nearly 20 titles on the E3 show floor, most of them are experiments -- not the polished, beautiful experiences I had in the final Oculus Rift. That's not necessarily a problem yet: Sony won't be shipping the Morpheus until the first half of next year. More games are on the way.
For now, here are the most awesome things I tried in Sony's Project Morpheus... and the demos that didn't really grab me.
What is it? Sony's flagship Project Morpheus exclusive game at E3, a first-person experience that puts you into the cockpit of a death-dealing robot equipped with giant weaponry. You're not military, though, but rather part of a six-man team competing in the sport of the future -- a game where you have to blast enemies to smithereens, then dunk yourself through a basketball-like net at the top of the arena.
What's the big deal in VR? That's what I kept asking myself the entire time I was fighting with the (admittedly alpha) controls. In the hanger bay, before you get lifted up to the arena all Hunger Games-style, it's pretty damn cool to see your mech in front of you, large as life. The cockpit's pretty cool too, particularly when you looking left and right to see the detail on the gigantic weapons. It's neat. The graphics also look pretty amazing for a PS4 game.
But once you're up in the arena, and need to turn your head to turn your body, it feels a bit awkward. I actually felt a little nauseous trying to play. And because -- as soon as you're actually fighting -- you can't really afford to look around any more than you would in a non-VR game, I didn't really see the need for the headset. I guess it might be nice to have peripheral vision, but you could say that about any 3D game that you'd consider bringing to VR.
What's the big deal? I've probably written enough about EVE Valkyrie already in my Oculus E3 piece, but it's on Sony Morpheus too. And it's worth pointing out that -- unlike the alpha build of RIGS -- it does the whole I'm-in-a-cockpit thing well. Since you're piloting a starfighter through 3D space, and your vision isn't coupled to the direction you're moving or aiming, you can actually turn your head to follow your foes while you're dogfighting. It's the best actual VR game I've played on either headset.
And while we're on the topic of "cockpit games done right", Battlezone felt pretty damn fun too. It sticks you in the cockpit of a tank with pretty traditional tank controls -- except your tank is a hover tank that floats over the surface of the sci-fi environment. It's got enough momentum to drift around a bit, which -- combined with the wide field of view and depth perception that VR affords you -- makes for a super fluid, awesome blasting experience. Instead of having to stop and line up a shot with your tank cannon, you can be zooming around the environment, spot something you want to shoot, blast away and hit it, without having to turn your tank towards it.
Super Hyper Cube
What is it? Also a real game for the Morpheus, not an experiment. Super simple: just rotate a bunch of cubes stuck together to fit through a hole -- like Human Tetris -- to rack up points. Each time you clear one of the barriers, another cube gets added to your block, ramping up the difficulty.
What's the big deal in VR? VR gives you 3D depth perception, making it that much easier to imagine how the block will fit, and how long you have before you're up against the wall. I had a huge streak the very first time I played, and it made me feel pretty amazing. It's also cool how you lean to look around each side of the 3D shape, and see how it's constructed. I don't know how long it'd hold my attention, but it definitely feels like a game where I'd take turns with friends and try for high scores.
What is it? You're a disgraced footballer in rehab -- rehab consisting entirely of hitting balls with your head. Throwing machines send balls flying your way, and you use your head -- literally -- to send them at targets. Targets that get progressively more interesting, by the way. You'll start with a simple soccer net, but soon you'll be sending them flying at a shooting gallery, a pinata, etc. There are beach balls, baseballs, and explosive balls too.
What's the big deal in VR? You actually have to intercept those balls with your head -- so it honestly feels a bit like you're developing a real skill! Definitely a game that's only possible in VR. I sucked at it so badly, but I definitely wanted to play more. Another game that would be great to trade off with friends, but also not the kind of epic, immersive experience that would make me want to buy a headset.
The London Heist Getaway
What is it? The only game so far that might make me consider a Morpheus instead of competing virtual reality platforms, The London Heist is basically an incredible first-person amusement park ride / shooting gallery. In part one, I stole a priceless diamond from a safe by blasting away at guards while cowering behind a desk. I needed to rifle through drawers for more pistol magazines, and actually shove them into my pistol, with my own two hands.
In part two, you're in the getaway van, and there's loads of things you can play with that make it feel like you're there. Grab a drink, change the radio channel, play with the air conditioning and your partner will comment on your actions. Then, thugs on bikes start chasing you, and you've got to fend them off with your uzi. But you aren't stuck in a fixed perspective like other video game chase scenes. You can literally stick your head and body out the window, even stand up through the windshield, while blasting away at foes.
More Like Experiments
What is it? A horror experience. Remember the dilapidated chair? There's one just like it inside Capcom's tech demo. You wake up tied to that chair, your hands bound together, in a disgustingly dirty kitchen in what appears to be an abandoned house. Abandoned saved for your fellow captive, lying on the ground. He wakes up, finds a kitchen knife, and frantically tries to free your hands. Frantically, because she is coming. She wants to finish the job.
She appears. She cackles. She moves in the blink of an eye, and the other captive doesn't have a chance. She brutally murders him right in front of you, and carries his body to another room. Alone, you hear her carving him up. You realise she's coming for you next. You struggle, but you can't move. You can't tip the chair. When his severed head comes rolling through the door, you cease struggling. Stare at the blood seeping out. Maybe resign yourself to your fate. (I did, anyhow.) Soon enough, it's all over.
What's the big deal in VR? The complete lack of control, combined with the ability to see in vivid detail just how terrible the predicament is, really made me feel helpless. Too helpless, honestly. It wasn't really very much fun, and I can't say I'd want to play a game like it. Still, being helpless was a pretty intriguing feeling.
You are a horse. Except you're riding a bike. If you pick up the right powerup and pedal fast enough, you can sprout wings and fly. It's damn good exercise. VirZoom tells us it will probably cost $US100 for the hardaware and your first month's subscription to a whole variety of exercise games like this -- you could just as easily be driving a tank. It's got a sensor that can detect your rear wheel spinning, and another that sits under your front wheel as you turn.
What's the big deal in VR? You are a horse.
Unnamed Impulse Gear Tech Demo
An attempt to create a first-person shooter in virtual reality, by a company called Impulse Gear. You're exploring a canyon on some distant world, one infested with space spiders and enemy soldiers that drop from the sky. It works, but it's pretty weird and currently requires a PlayStation Move Sharpshooter submachine gun peripheral that's been specially modified with additional motion sensors. The upshot is you've got a very realistically handling gun in virtual reality, that moves much like you would think.
What's the big deal in VR? Since the gun is tracked independently of the headset, it effectively "exists" in virtual reality. You can look down the virtual targeting sights, wield it one handed, even fire blindly around corners -- or behind you while you're running away. I definitely liked taking cover behind huge boulders, literally peeking around them, then just sticking my gun out by itself to blast away without fear of getting hit. That's not something you can usually do in a first-person game. But Impulse Gear and Sony haven't figured out how to actually let you walk around the world... right now you're just a ghost floating in whichever direction you push the analogue stick. There isn't even a good, non-nauseous way to turn around yet.
The Playroom VR
You are a nasty Morpheus-wearing monster who literally bashes skyscrapers with your head while four other players with DualShock 4 controllers are the cute little robots running away from you while you carve a path of destruction straight through the city all the way out to sea. Then they capture you in an electrified cage and throw projectiles at you while you attempt to dodge. If they daze you, they blast you out into space. Cute, but super simple and not all that immersive. The experience is very much on rails -- if you're wearing the Morpheus, you're just bashing things you see. If you're watching a flat television and holding a DualShock, you're just hopping left and right for a bit to avoid falling buildings, then throwing objects.
Aside from the head-bashing and dodging mechanisms, this could easily have been a 2D game.
A super-immersive experience that tests to see whether you're a pervert. I failed. But seriously, it's got exactly the kind of super detailed environment that makes you feel like you've actually been transported to another place, and it's damn eerie when she gets close to you. This demo made me feel things I haven't felt in a game before, and it will be interesting to see if some actual games take advantage of the lessons learned here. You know, without being all perverted.
Sega's Hatsune Miku Project
Perhaps the most non-interactive Morpheus demo of all, this one literally just has you watch Japan's insanely popular virtual idol Hatsune Miku perform a concert "live" on stage. She sings and dances her heart out while you wave a glowstick around. Then, you're teleported right onto the stage (aren't you lucky!) for an up-close-and-personal performance too. It's a crazy experience, but you've probably got to be a huge fan to appreciate it.
I didn't get to try these myself, so I can't say for sure, but maybe there's some promise in these remaining titles? Godling looked short, but intriguing: you see the world from approximately the perspective of a garden snail.