Virtual Reality could be considered the trend of the year at E3 2015, even though the public won't get their headsets until 2016. Fortunately, Project Morpheus, PlayStation's VR device, had a wide range of games and tech demos available to try to give gamers a sense of what this technology can do.
The first thing you notice about the Morpheus headset is that it fits completely differently than the Oculus Rift. For those concerned about pressure on your face and neck, try out both devices before making a choice, because unlike the Rift, Morpheus doesn't physically touch your face. The primary support is a padded band that goes around your forehead that's adjustable via a button at the back. The eyepiece then hinges down in front using another release button, allowing you to customize the angle of the headset so that the image is as sharp as possible. If you don't have a VR headset on properly, the images look smeared, and the feeling of motion sickness some people experience gets even worse.
My first spin with Morpheus was with a game called The Playroom VR, which is a five person game. I was immediately intrigued by this, since it addresses my concern that VR has the potential to be an isolating experience. Four players armed with conventional controllers have to first evade, then defeat a fifth player that’s controlling a more cuddly version of Godzilla with the Morpheus headset. The first thing I had to get used to with VR is that it's a 360 degree experience, I could look behind me by just turning my head, in this case, allowing me to see my virtual monster tail.
Then I got to the smashing, using my monster head to destroy buildings as I pursued the robot avatars of the other players. It's not rocket science, but it's pretty fun, and it was my first sense of how much you can actually move while wearing the Morpheus headset. After a few minutes, the tables were turned and the little robots start throwing stuff at me. It was time to dodge the projectiles, which I proved terrible at! It's totally pointless, but it's cute and fun, kind of like an elaborate Wii U game.
There were much more intense experiences to come, starting with the Impulse Gear shooter tech demo with a large zapper style adapter for a PlayStation Move controller – yep, the Move. It's not dead. Blasting away alien spiders and enemy spacemen in a VR setting was great fun. It gives the player a great sense of power, and it's quite the adrenaline rush! There were moments, however, where I stumbled because the movement in game didn't match the fact that I was standing still in the real world. I think VR is best experienced sitting down... although that's no guarantee that you'll avoid motion sickness, as I discovered with the demo for London Heist: The Getaway.
The Getaway is an undoubtedly impressive demo, with a wisecracking sidekick, impressive VR immersion, and lots of action as you smash out windows and fire a submachine gun, reloading with magazines from the glove box. It all feels very real and very fun, and I'd play it again. However, I was also left with that dreaded VR nausea, possibly because that headset wasn't properly fitted and it slipped during the fast-paced action.
VirZOOM was a gentler experience as well as a more active one. Using a bike to travel around a virtual reality environment, VirZOOM transformed me into a horse. The steering took some getting used to, since unlike a regular bike you can't lean into turns, but that was an easy correction after a few tries. One powerup later and I was a flying horse, with a shadow on the distant ground and all. It was pretty cool, and I can see the potential applications of this sort of program for things like physiotherapy. I started doing stationary bike exercise after knee surgery, and something like VirZOOM would make it a lot more fun. It even helped take away some of the E3-induced ache. My knee thanks you, VirZOOM!
Overall, the Project Morpheus E3 press arcade managed to give me a sense that VR does have a practical application within gaming... provided they can sort out the whole nausea issue. My one remaining concern is cost, thanks to the multiple Move wands and a number of other peripherals, plus the cost of the headset itself and the software, which are currently unknown. Perhaps VR gaming will find its niche in settings like pubs – think Dave and Busters or the Rock Band night at your local bar – where multiple people can try it, and the initial investment makes more sense. Other natural uses are in physiotherapy clinics, gyms, and training and teaching environments. These more practical applications grant VR legitimacy as a technology, and I'm partial to the Morpheus headset just because it doesn't put pressure on my sinuses.