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Review: PlayStation VR – launch titles unspectacular, but this is the future

Working as a convenience store clerk is cool. It’s not like I’m doing anything super interesting. I fill up slushies. I serve hot dogs sitting on those rollers. I sell newspapers.

No, I didn’t pick up a second job. I’m playing Job Simulator, a video game launching with PlayStation VR, Sony’s long-awaited virtual reality headset for PlayStation 4, which will be released worldwide – including in Hong Kong – on October 13.

Having spent several days experimenting with games on PlayStation VR, it’s hard not to walk away impressed. Once you get set up and work out some of the technical details, PlayStation VR delivers some exciting experiences, from manning tanks or spaceships to working as a chef to taking an ocean plunge involving a scary encounter with a shark.

Although Sony’s VR headset steps into the future, its launch feels like that of your traditional video game console: potential is high, but we won’t know where the bar is set until we see more VR ready experiences well beyond launch.

With PlayStation VR, Sony officially enters the increasingly competitive virtual-reality market, with the likes of Oculus, HTC and Samsung, and now Google. Sony brings some unique advantages to the table, though, specifically the 40 million PS4s in homes capable of running a VR headset.

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Price wise, PS VR enters the space in the middle of the pack at US$400 (in Hong Kong it will sell for HK$3,180), more expensive than Gear VR but cheaper than higher-end headsets like Vive and Oculus Rift. If you don’t own a PS4, it sets you back an additional US$300 (at least HK$2,380 in Hong Kong), still better than buying a VR-ready PC.

PlayStation VR includes the headset, stereo ear buds, a small processor unit resembling a mini PS4, and all the cables to connect to the console. Setup is pretty straightforward. It’s important to note the headset requires PlayStation Camera, which is sold separately.

There’s also the option to purchase PlayStation Move motion controllers, which should cost around US$100. Most of PS VR’s games work with the standard PS4 controller, but some titles just aren’t as immersive without Move.

After going through a painless initial set-up process, you start digging into games. PS VR includes a demo disc with several launch titles included, to offer a taste of what’s to come. They include the exhilarating Eve Valkyrie, which places players inside a spaceship to compete in battles while flying in space, and Kitchen, a frightening horror demo used at E3 last summer to tease next year’s launch of Resident Evil 7.

The other thing to keep in mind is having the appropriate play space. Some games will require players to move around, and because you have a headset strapped to your face blocking your vision, you don’t want to trip and fall or bump into a wall while playing. Fortunately, there are also plenty of experiences where you can just sit down and enjoy the VR ride.

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The headset itself feels comfortable, and looks slick. There are buttons to extend the headset and display to fit your head and face. It takes time at first to get the view just right. Because it’s connected to the PS4, players should also be mindful of the giant cord hanging from the headset that could get in your way while playing.

There were several moments PlayStation VR highlighted the promise virtual reality video games can deliver. In Battlezone, a VR remake of the classic Atari game, I sat inside a giant tank speeding across a map taking out enemy aircraft. PlayStation VR Worlds is the platform’s grab bag of virtual reality experiences, from escaping death by shark to playing a first-person game of Pong using your head to control a paddle and redirect a fast-moving ball.

There’s Batman Arkham VR, where you virtually put on the costume of The Dark Knight and focus on the superhero’s role as detective. Another favourite was Thumper, a colorful rhythmic action game where players move through a fast track as a beetle. The variety in experiences is robust, giving any player an outlet to enjoy VR.

However, PlayStation VR’s line-up feels like those launch day options players see whenever a new video game console arrives. There’s no one game that really stands out. Again, the potential of VR is apparent in many of the experiences here, but not one title I saw where players will strap on the headset and play for a long period of time.

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An interesting perk with PS VR is cinematic mode, allowing players to enjoy current PS4 titles, and even entertainment apps like Amazon Video, within the headset. Players can adjust the screen size as needed, then start playing. I tried this with a couple games of the first-person shooter Overwatch. After an initial feeling of queasiness (fast-moving first-person experience plus larger screen), I was able to settle in and enjoy it.

PlayStation VR offers an incredible view into gaming’s future. But like other VR platforms, PlayStation VR will only be as successful as the experiences it hosts. What does PS VR’s lineup look like six months from now? Or a year? But considering the price compared to other high-end VR platforms, it’s a great option, especially if you already own a PS4.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have slushies to refill.