- By Stefan Powell
- Player reports
Is virtual reality the future of gaming?
It’s a question that people in the industry have been arguing about for some time, with passionate views from both sides.
And there’s nothing like a shiny new set to reignite the debate.
With the release of the PlayStation VR2, one of gaming’s biggest players says virtual reality will have a significant role to play in the industry for years to come.
Some thought Sony might abandon its virtual reality experiment after failing to invest in many blockbuster VR games, suggesting a lack of faith in its first foray into this space.
I found the original PlayStation VR to be uncomfortable, bulky and a cable tidyer’s worst nightmare.
Released in 2016, it gave players some real moments of joy, creating wide smiles when they played Tetris Effect for the first time. Resident Evil 7, experienced via the headset, is without a doubt the scariest and most traumatizing gaming experience of my life.
But the memorable moments were few and far between. Lack of truly must-play games, especially those exclusive to the device, was an issue that was never resolved. Despite that, a reported five million units were sold worldwide.
PS VR2 is undoubtedly a slimmer, lighter and more comfortable experience than its predecessor. It wants to place itself in the middle of an increasingly crowded VR marketplace.
You already need a PlayStation 5 to use it. If you own one, then it’s a virtual reality gaming option that isn’t as expensive as the high-end Valve Index (which requires a top-shelf PC to run). Still, it offers technical performance that is more impressive than cheaper alternatives such as the Meta Quest 2 (which costs around £400).
So does the release help answer the question that has dogged gaming since Nintendo’s Virtual Boy came out in 1995? Is this what all gaming will look like in the future?
Videogames Chronicle (VGC) gaming journalist Jordan Middler spent time with the device before its launch.
He says he always wanted a better experience from VR than it has been able to provide.
“From a hardware perspective, it’s incredible, a really impressive headset,” he begins.
“The price (£529) might put some people off because it’s actually more than the PS5 console itself, but for the graphics power you get in that headset, it’s more affordable than its PC equivalent.”
As impressed as he is with the headset, Middler worries that the same complaint that has dogged VR gaming from the beginning still applies now – what do people want to play? There is a lack of unique experiences available to the unit, he says.
“You’re really only getting Horizon: Call of the Mountain as a true PS VR2 exclusive.
“Where are all the other big Sony titles that make the PlayStation itself so popular? Where is the Spiderman VR game or a Last of Us VR experience?”
A lack of so-called “system sellers,” titles that are so good they encourage people to buy new hardware just to play a particular game, is a criticism often leveled at many virtual reality devices.
If the majority of titles playable on PS VR2 are currently also available on other headsets, why would players choose it over the rest?
“There’s not much coming down the track either,” says Middler.
For now, Sony is relying on their Horizon series VR tether to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
Horizon: Call of the Mountain may be the only significant exclusive title at launch, but Middler says he’s very impressed with the game, describing it as “absolutely gorgeous”.
The release sees you climb mountains and hunt with a bow and arrow in a post-apocalyptic world made famous by the character Aloy back in 2017.
“I was shocked and a little embarrassed at how quickly the game made me tense up my arms and start feeling sick about walking up a virtual mountain!” he’s laughing.
“It captures the scale of the machines that call this place home in a way that can be compared to scenes in Jurassic Park. There are moments when you walk under a tall neck, which is a massive kind of mechanical giraffe, and the game really tricks your brain for to make you believe you are in that world.
“The game supports that too – this isn’t just a theme park experience.”
Games for the original PlayStation VR are currently not compatible with its new sibling. This means players who have built up a library of games for that device will have to start over if they choose to upgrade to a PS VR2, or wait to see if a fix is offered.
That’s part of the reason why Middler believes this is a headset that will attract “the hardest of hardcore gamers” who truly believe virtual reality gaming is the future.
He argues that gamers need to have “a lot of faith in the PlayStation” to invest time and money into making more games, given the way the previous iteration was “abandoned” towards the end of its time.
PS VR2 has many positives, but also raises many questions – it’s a microcosm of the virtual reality gaming experience to date.
This device doesn’t provide any definitive answers, so the role of VR in the future of gaming is likely to be a topic of conversation for those in the industry for some time to come.