VR on the PlayStation: game on
Sony's Project Morpheus is dead. Long live PlayStation VR. While we're sorry to see Sony's VR headset lose the name of a character from The Matrix (or for the more classically educated among you, the Greek God of Dreams), PlayStation VR is considerably more descriptive of what the product actually is.
And with that final name in place, PlayStation VR can now ramp up to delivering on what could be virtual reality's best shot at mainstream success. PlayStation VR doesn't require high-end PC hardware like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, nor does it use an expensive mobile phone like Samsung's Gear VR.
In fact, while final pricing hasn't been announced, we expect PlayStation VR will actually be the cheapest way of getting a really top-drawer VR experience, at least if you ignore the not insignificant cost of the PS4.
So, while we await the final release of PlayStation VR in the first half of 2016, here are the 10 best experiences we've had on the device so far.
Chances are, the original Battlezone might have passed you by if you're under 40 – Atari's 1980 arcade game doesn't quite hold the same iconic status as Pong. However, it's generally considered to be the very first VR game, which is why British developer Rebellion bought the rights from Atari so that it could remake it for modern VR headsets. The result is one of the best VR experiences we've had to date. The gameplay is fun (think a futuristic take on World of Tanks), but it's the striking but simple graphics that are the key to the overall enjoyment. While a lot of VR games try to go as realistic as possible, Battlezone's Tron-like game world is more absorbing than nearly everything else we've played.
The Playroom VR
Even the coldest of hearts will be melted by The Playroom. The little robots that star in the game will be familiar to the three people who played the original Playroom, which was bundled with the PlayStation Camera when it launched with the PS4 back in November 2013. Basically, these droids are the anthropomorphised versions of the company's famous Aibo dogs, and you get to play around with them in this virtual Playroom. In one mini-game, the player with the VR headset is a monster, while four players using a TV and DualShock 4 controllers try to avoid the debris he throws at them. There are also toybox demos where you just look into a miniature house and observe the droids as they go to the gym, go swimming, watch TV and so forth. Although it's not been confirmed, we expect that The Playroom VR will be bundled with the headset when it launches, essentially becoming PlayStation VR's version of Wii Sports.
The London Heist
The London Heist is Sony's most obvious attempt to make a VR game that will appeal to traditional PlayStation gamers – it could even be a sequel to The Getaway, right down to the dodgy Guy Ritchie-esque Cockerney gangster stereotypes. We've seen the game demonstrate a lot of different gameplay strands – there are interrogations, car chases and even actual heists – but from what we can ascertain the finished game is going to be an on-rails shooter. While no one was particularly asking for a VR update of Virtua Cop and Time Crisis, the genre is definitely suited to virtual reality – and leaning out of a moving car to shoot bad guys does make you feel pretty badass.
Developer: Media Molecule
Listing Dreams here is cheating a little bit, as it's the only game on this list that we haven't actually played. However, as it's from Media Molecule, the Bafta-winning creators of LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway, we'll make an exception. Even if it doesn't reach the lofty heights of those games, Dreams is highly original – you recreate your dreams and explore the dreams of others within a 3D space. It's not clear how it will actually work, but the E3 2015 stage demo showed someone using a PlayStation Move motion controller to make characters dance. And who wouldn't want to be able to explore their dreams in virtual reality? OK, probably a lot of people, but at least Dreams appears to be exploring the abstract nature of your unconscious mind, rather than those nightmares in which you're giving a presentation to your boss and you suddenly realise you don't have any trousers on.
Developer: CCP Games
Eve Valkyrie isn't exclusive to PlayStation VR – it was originally unveiled for Oculus Rift, and it will probably come out on every VR platform going next year. However, because it's been in development for so long, it's one of the most polished experiences on any VR platform right now. Developer CCP Games was one of the first companies to start working on a VR-exclusive game, and while it was impressive when it was first shown a couple of years ago, it's really starting to look like a finished game now. There's no genre better suited to virtual reality than space combat: when you realise you can just move your head around to track enemies you'll wonder how you ever played such games on a flat screen.
There are two things to say about Sony's The Deep: one, it isn't a game, and two, we're not actually sure it will ever be released as a finished product. But it sure is cool. It invents the 'getting attacked by a shark in an underwater cage' genre – you can move around and take in the sights for a brief period, but then a shark comes by to test the structural integrity of your underwater prison. It's another example of how the immersiveness of VR can improve practically anything: what would be boring viewed on a TV is a thoroughly engrossing experience on PlayStation VR. Our only concern is that while The London Heist has turned into a proper game in the months since its first demo, we haven't seen The Deep becoming anything more than just a short, non-interactive tech demo.
Eagle Flight is the strangely Assassin's Creed-esque flight simulator set in the skies of post-apocalyptic Paris. This strange premise puts you in control of an eagle as you swoop through narrow pathways and kill your fellow birds of prey. Eagle Flight appeases that simple wish to fly that, until now, you've only had in your dreams. Your eagle will fly wherever you look, whether that's through an open window or down a derelict sewer tunnel or straight into the wall of a 15th century chapel. Gameplay is both strangely addictive and nail-bitingly intense when you're on the wrong side of a dogfight. Best of all, according to Ubisoft the game will be available on launch day.
RIGS: Mechanized Combat League
Developer: Sony (Guerilla Cambridge)
You might be surprised by the lack of first-person action games being developed for virtual reality platforms. However, RIGS may explain why there aren't more: it's pretty nauseating, at least when we played it at E3 2015. It's a sports game rather than a traditional shooter, although guns are involved – certain players have to make it through a hoop in the middle of an arena to score a point for their team, while the opposing team has to try and shoot them down. It's a cool concept – like a game of Capture the Flag with a basketball twist – but it's too fast and frantic for VR. Hopefully these issues will be ironed out ahead of release.
Developer: Highwire Games
Golem will be one of the first hybrid virtual reality console games. Some parts of it will be spent with DualShock 4 in hand controlling a human character and crafting the eponymous fictional creatures then, when it's time to take them out for a spin, you'll don the headset and see the world through the creature's' eyes. Golem's creator, Jaime Griesemer, was one of the creators of the original Halo on Xbox. Now he and Halo's composer Marty O'Donnell have set out to pioneer the next big platform with a platformer that they hope will sell as well as Halo did all those years ago.
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood
Developer: Supermassive Games
One of our favorite aspects of PlayStation VR is just how many different genres of games it has. DriveClub in VR will satiate racing game fans' need for speed, while GNOG will put fans of puzzle games face-to-face with a dozens of colorful enigmas to solve. Unlike either of those, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood will be PlayStation VR's first foray into the horror genre that will strap you into a carnival-esque rollercoaster and send you hurtling through of funhouse of horrors. While the controls are fairly limited, the real "fun" to be had in Rush of Blood, a standalone VR game set in Until Dawn's engrossing frightworld, comes from tumbling from one jump scare to the next with a deathgrip on both the controller and your bladder. Trust me kids, nothing is scarier than almost peeing your pants in a room full of your friends.