Was I wrong about virtual reality?

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

My name is Matthew Hanson, and – sadly – I’m a VR sceptic. It wasn’t always this way. Years ago, when mainstream virtual reality was starting to take off courtesy of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PSVR, I was incredibly excited about the possibilities.

The prospect of stepping from boring old normal reality into something completely new and strange enthralled me. With gaming hardware getting ever more powerful, bringing realistic graphics and physics, the possibilities, it seemed to me back then, were endless.

Then I tried it. Now, don’t get me wrong, that initial ‘wow’ factor was definitely there. I tried both the HTC Vive, and then the HTC Vive Pro (amongst others). These were expensive bits of kits that promised to be the best of the best when it came to virtual reality.

Pair that with a powerful PC and plenty of games, and I was ready to say goodbye to the real world. However, after a few admittedly fun excursions in virtual reality, I set down the headset to gather dust, and returned to regular gaming. What happened?

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Not worth the faff

Perhaps the biggest reason why I stopped using VR is the faff. Back then, the Vive headsets I tried out required setting up little base stations around the room, as well as trailing all kinds of cables around the house.

While this undeniably allowed for better room-scale tracking, it was annoying to set up. Also, as I didn’t want cables running all over the place, I couldn’t leave them up, so I would have to set them up and take them down for each play session.

The idea of doing all of that just to play a game soon became a chore. I’d sit at my gaming PC, think about playing something in VR, then the thought of having to get everything set up put me right off, and I’d just load up a regular game instead.

I also tried out a number of Windows Mixed Reality headsets, and while they are often considered inferior VR products, I really appreciated the fact that their inside-out camera tracking meant there was no need to set up additional base stations, and there were fewer cables to plug in. To be honest, I also didn’t see that much of an impact to the experience compared to the much more expensive VR options I’ve tested.

Still wasn’t enough to get me to play more VR, though.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Where are the games?

Another thing that put me off back then was the lack of games. By that I mean lack of games that were worth playing.

You see, there were plenty of VR games back then, but many of them were half-baked ‘experiences’ which had little in the way of gameplay. Other games had potential, but hadn’t quite figured out how to use VR well – especially when it came to moving around.

The lack of compelling games was yet another reason why I gave up on virtual reality. However, there were some great games. Skyrim VR was a particular highlight. While it wasn’t a game originally built for virtual reality, I had spent hundreds of hours in the game when it first launched.

The virtual reality edition allowed me to return to that world – and it was great. Visiting familiar places like Riverwood, Whiterun and Solitute, or sitting by the fire in a tavern after a long trek, was a profound – and sometimes even moving – experience. It wasn’t perfect – after all, as I said it was not a game that had been built from the ground up for VR – but it gave me a tantalising glimpse of what virtual reality gaming could be.

But it wasn’t enough.

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Antisocial play

Perhaps the biggest reason I never got into VR was how antisocial it seemed. While gaming can at times be a solitary affair, putting on a headset that completely blocks out the world around you isn’t ideal for people who live with other people – who might not like being shut out and ignored.

All of these issues meant that I ended up abandoning virtual reality. However, I’ve often felt I had unfinished business with VR. After all, there was a point when I was so excited about it.

So, a couple of years later, I’ve decided to give it another go. The hardware’s changed, the games have matured, and I want to see if I was wrong about VR. Perhaps now is a great time to lose yourself in a virtual world.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be testing a variety of virtual reality games and experiences to see if my mind can be changed, and that VR is now worth it.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Getting back into the VR game

My first foray back into VR was playing some multiplayer matches in Tower Tag. What excited me about this, is that it addresses two of my biggest complaints about VR originally – the lack of games and antisocial nature.

Back when I first tried VR, the idea of playing multiplayer games was laughable. But with Tower Tag, I was able to experience a multiplayer game that was designed for virtual reality.

I also used the new(ish) HTC Vive Cosmos. Not only does the Cosmos boast improved hardware, including higher resolutions, than the original Vive, but it no longer requires base stations to track your movements (though you can still use them).

That means it should be – on paper – easier to set up – something that bugged me originally. And, while plugging in the unit was easy enough, having the PC recognise the HTC Vive Cosmos ended up being an exercise in frustration.

The drivers wouldn’t install until after you install the VivePort software, and for some reason that kept failing without explaining why. Cue lots of swearing and changing of ports while I tried to figure out what was going wrong.

After a few failed attempts, VivePort began to install, but before I could rejoice, it started bugging me to install Steam. This bothered me, not because I don’t like Steam, but because I do. And I have it installed already.

For some reason, though, the software insisted I didn’t and kept trying to get me to install. Over, and over again.

Just as I was about to unplug everything and chuck the whole lot back in its box, the install finished, and my PC recognised the headset.

I have to admit, though, that that initial installation soured my experience, and reminded me why I stopped playing VR originally.

But, with that now seemingly installed I was ready to get back into VR. My return to VR hasn’t got off to the best of starts, but I’m still hopeful that I’ll turn into a VR convert. But will I? Tune in next week to find out…

Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. He’s personally reviewed and used most of the laptops in our best laptops guide - and since joining TechRadar in 2014, he's reviewed over 250 laptops and computing accessories personally.