In the context of video games, virtual reality (VR) projects a simulated environment in front of the player. Since its inception, virtual reality has taken the gaming community by force, changing the way people become immersed in their games. VR technology replaces the player’s field of view with an artificial world derived from the game’s setting.
Players that put on their headsets can explore their surroundings or interact with objects, guided by visual and sensory feedback. VR gear can be hooked up to a PC setup or a handheld controller, though some gadgets are strapped onto haptic gloves. Though the future of gaming is headed towards VR, the wearable devices themselves aren’t without their drawbacks.
It is a given that these headsets and goggles are not only uncomfortable to wear but also heavily encumbered, detracting from the gaming experience whenever the player must respond quickly to timed events. If the player’s movements are not being registered on-screen, it could result in a lot of frustration and ragequitting as picking up important items becomes a chore.
The truth is, VR prototypes have existed since the 90s. Nintendo pitched the idea by releasing the Virtual Boy, which was sadly a colossal failure because it could only display games with a hellish, red filter over it. One of the biggest challenges was avoiding eyestrain and unnecessary headaches brought upon by motion sickness.
Next Level Gaming with VR Systems
Nevertheless, gaming companies saw the potential in VR and has facilitated its revival to help enhance video game content. For once, competitors were driven to improve their line of products, and thus developed the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Valve Index, Sony Playstation, and Mantra VR. Advanced models such as the Virtuix Omni even included a spacious treadmill to simulate walking.
Headsets like the Oculus Rift feature 360-degree tracking, providing users with a panoramic view of the virtual environment, mapped out by their motion in 3D space. I won’t delve into the specifics but I recall that you could turn around to reveal places that were offscreen and zoom in on areas of interest.
Soon enough, we’ll all be able to get some exercise while playing our beloved first-person shooters. Henceforth, you can make the argument that video games are not bad for your health in moderation. The modern VR system allows for extended playthroughs, despite the shrunken down digital screens that might be hard on the eyes.
Of course, some things just never change: Gameplay controllers are always preferable to keyboards, and likewise, video game mechanics will remain untouched. VR gaming has also spawned a separate genre of mobile app games. Behind the widespread popularity of Pokemon Go are apps that present unique takes on exploring the unknown as well as fighting for your survival.
For instance, in Lightblade VR, you can envision yourself as a Jedi-in-training, wielding the iconic lightsaber to deflect the incoming lasers from your trusty droid sidekick. There has been a VR app about climbing Mount Everest, showing a realistic view of the landscape as you ascend in altitude. And who could forget the Apollo 11 moon landing? (Now accessible to the public as a VR movie!)
How VR Revolutionized First-Person Video Games
Moving on, I would like to discuss the transition from earlier games with VR gimmicks to current VR games that puts the player at the center of the action. My first exposure to VR was through the infamous game, Surgeon Simulator. It was a hilarious parody of surgical operations in which the player had to pick up free-floating instruments or transplant organs and try to insert them in the correct slots.
As you might imagine, it went horribly wrong for many Let’s Players, given that the controls barely worked at all; the organs would slide everywhere and objects glitched into the wall. Nonetheless, games like these inspired better mechanics and motion sensors that could respond directly to the player’s actions.
Beat Saber is another rhythm game that slightly resembles Guitar Hero, except the buttons have been replaced with neon-colored flying blocks the player has to slash open. Beat Saber lets players choose from a number of catchy songs to test their reflexes against. Those who enjoy dancing on a futuristic stage will love this game to pieces.
To mix things up a bit, some obstacles force the player to duck their head or swing their saber in a specific direction. There are also bombs to trip up the player in place of music blocks. Overall, Beat Saber is quite a flashy game available on Steam and for the Oculus Rift. Watch the release trailer to see a pro swing their lightsabers to cut through blocks like butter:
If you take a look at rhythm games like Rez Infinite, you’ll see how a space shooter is amplified by a 360-degree view of the player traveling at hyperspeed. In the demo, incoming enemies and mini-bosses take up the screen before the player blasts them away. Cyberspace has never been this exhilarating until it was composed of rendered polygons moving to the beat of catchy techno music.
In my opinion, Rez Infinite looks like a lot of mindless fun for anyone who wants to try their hand at rail shooting. The game offers an out-of-world experience targeting old-school fans of arcade-style games. It was originally released for the Dreamcast but was later ported to the PC. Why not go check it out if you get the chance?
And who could forget when Half-Life Alyx made the front page of gaming news? Although many fans were utterly disappointed by the lack of conclusion to the Half-Life franchise, they were ecstatic to hear that Valve was making another game. Instead of serving as a proof of concept for VR testing, it truly became a groundbreaking title just like its predecessors.
Judging by the overwhelmingly positive reviews, people clearly enjoyed using the new weapon modding system and gravity gloves to once again, fight for humanity’s freedom against the Combine forces. Step aside, Gordon Freeman, Alyx won’t be needing your help with infiltrating City 17. While Half-Life 3 might be a pipe dream, Half-Life Alyx is no mere spin-off either.
I don’t recommend buying it now because it costs $60 on Steam and is a relatively new title. You might as well wait for the Summer Sale before adding it to your Steam Library.
The most mainstream VR headset is probably the Oculus Rift, which costs a whopping $600, enough to put a dent in the average gamer’s budget. Fortunately, with Facebook’s backing, the software received some upgrades and now carries a variety of applications.
As for Sony’s Mobius, an in-house model priced at $400, it was a little cheaper but not nearly as adaptable as the Rift when used outside of the gaming sphere. In its defense though, the Mobius had been designed from scratch by Sony without any third-party interference.
And finally, we have the HTC Vive developed by Valve. This is the most expensive option at $800, meant to complement high-end gaming PCs. Valve has selected a few notable titles to optimize for dynamic gameplay. They have plans to deepen immersion on a whole-body level someday.
What’s your take on the whole VR landscape? Are you looking forward to the evolution of sit-down and play video games?