Before my PlayStation VR2 arrived at my doorstep last week, my experience playing in VR was minimal. I’d reported on the industry and its games for years, but my actual playtime in a headset was limited to an Eve: Valkyrie demo at a GameStop ahead of PlayStation VR’s launch, a couple of demos at trade shows, and one 15-minute session of Phantom: Covert Ops on Meta Quest 2 while hanging out with a friend.
Despite claims by companies like Meta that VR would serve as the future of communication and entertainment, the technology seemed too scattershot and underdeveloped for my liking, with many competitors putting out underpowered headsets, many of which need a wire or two. That said, part of me still wondered if it would take the right headset with the right features and game library to transform the gaming medium forever. Although the Meta Quest 2 has tempted me for some time, it was the PlayStation VR2 that finally got me to bite the bullet and embrace VR.
PSVR2 is expensive at $550, but it appealed to me with its impressive specs and the fact that it only requires one wired connection to the PS5. That was all I needed to bite the bullet. Since it arrived, I’ve gone all-in on the tech to make up for lost time, trying out games like Gran Turismo 7, Horizon Call of the Mountain, and Zombieland: Headshot Fever Reloaded. Although I’m impressed by the headset’s power and how comfortable it is, don’t consider me a convert just yet. I can’t imagine it replacing traditional gaming on my PS5 or becoming my preferred social setting anytime soon, and that leaves me to wonder how high VR’s ceiling can actually go.
My first thought when I got my PSVR2 was that the package was much smaller and lighter than I expected. VR always seemed large and clunky from an outside perspective, so I was impressed by the sleek and easy-to-unbox packaging and the headset’s manageable size. Next, I had to set up the headset, which was something I was dreading as a first-time user. Surprisingly, the setup process was pretty quick after I plugged in the headset.
Within about 15 minutes, I had completed the initial setup and was already familiar with the passthrough tool. It didn’t dig into my head and nose like I thought it would, mercifully. The few times I’ve strapped on other VR headsets, they’ve always felt like they’re squeezing my face. That was not the case here, as I easily adjusted the headset to my liking. Even the feeling of the wire quickly became a non-factor for me as I played more and more.
Before I knew it, I saw the PS5’s home menu in a virtual space, and I wanted to play a game. Unfortunately, I hadn’t charged my headset’s Sense controllers before setting PSVR2 up — an amateur mistake — so I settled for playing Gran Turismo 7 in VR with a regular DualSense controller. As my first extended stint playing a game in VR (I played it for just under an hour), I found driving around Gran Turismo 7’s racetracks extremely novel.
Looking around while driving allowed me to take in the detailed track designs and meant that I used the mirrors on my vehicle a lot more than I ever did when I played and reviewed Gran Turismo 7 last year. On top of that, the high resolution and refresh rate of the PSVR2 made the experience feel more realistic. The black void surrounding my VR view disappeared in my mind as I raced lap after lap. Gran Turismo 7 is a technical feat, but driving in the PSVR2’s sitting playstyle was an approachable concept that made for an excellent introduction to VR gaming.
That experience reaffirmed my hope that this would be the best VR headset to start with — and thank God considering how much I spent on it. Within an hour of opening my PSVR2 box for the first time, I was enjoying an entertaining game in virtual reality. Sadly, the magic did come crashing down when I eventually took my PSVR2 off after a race and immediately got hit with a bout of nausea. To PSVR2’s credit, this is one of only two times I’ve gotten nauseous from it. Chalk it up to growing pains for a VR newbie.
That light sickness didn’t deter me from playing more PSVR2 games, so after a bit of rest, I strapped it back on, intent on exploring more of the headset’s launch gaming lineup and seeing how it compares to playing games normally on my PS5.
Although one of the significant concerns with the PSVR2 is that too many of its games are ports of months or years-old games, that isn’t a deal-breaker for me as I’m playing all these games for the first time. I was looking more for approachable VR titles that showed me the strengths of gaming in VR or served as technical showpieces for the PSVR2’s power.
On that first point, Zombieland: Headshot Fever Reloaded became an immediate favorite. It’s a classic arcade light gun game in the style of The House of the Dead, with the primary goal being to get through on-rail shooting gallery levels as fast as possible. You save time with accurate headshot double taps, making it a great game to hone my VR shooting accuracy with. Its design is familiar, which makes it less intimidating than some other VR games, and its short levels and focus on speed running entice me to pick a level and do a couple of runs every time I boot the headset up.
Right now, it’s my most-played PSVR2 game, which I wouldn’t have predicted when the headset first arrived at my doorstep. It speaks to how shorter, arcade-like experiences are an excellent fit for the tech, especially in an era where those types of games are less popular on consoles. That said, other PSVR2 games are much more ambitious.
I was impressed by the motion-controlled sword fighting and social aspects of Altair Breaker, getting more and more used to the Sense controllers with each passing moment. Even though I’ve rarely used a controller quite like it before, I found them surprisingly intuitive and was impressed with their accurate motion tracking. Still, I only understood how robust VR games could be once I decided to try out Standing mode and played the opening hour of Horizon Call of the Mountain.
While reception from experienced VR players is mixed, as my first AAA VR game, I was blown away. The Horizon series’ colorful world transitioned beautifully into VR, and its large mechanical creatures contribute to the sense of scale. Combat felt cumbersome, even with simplified controls, but climbing through these highly detailed environments is invigorating and immersive when I’m actually making the climbing motion with my hands and feeling responsive vibrations on the controllers and in my headset.
I found myself detached from the narrative as I looked around the environments and interacted with things, which cemented that I enjoy more gameplay-focused VR titles. I felt similarly about Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge Enhanced Edition, as the gameplay and immersion factor of exploring a Star Wars world enthralled me more than its by-the-numbers story. And when games look as good as they do on PlayStation VR2, you’ll want to stop and smell the virtual roses a lot.
Once I get more used to technology, I may be more eager for those narrative-driven experiences. Still, right now, I’m enjoying games that nail their VR gameplay, like Moss, The Last Clockwinder, Kayak VR: Mirage, and After the Fall, a lot more. These VR games aren’t like anything I’ve experienced before and have justified the $550 purchase in my eyes. That said, I don’t see this completely negating my console-playing experience anytime soon.
Don’t supplant, supplement
I’ve had a great time experiencing a technology that’s relatively new to me over the past few days with the PSVR2. It gives a sense of place and camera control that’s impossible on consoles; for example, Cities VR letting players explore the towns they create in a first-person view, wouldn’t work nearly as well outside of VR. Ultimately, as a VR newcomer, a clear symbiotic relationship is possible between VR and console gaming. So far, one game has shown this to me: Demeo.
Demeo is a turn-based strategy game that plays up the board game theming with tactile maps, cards, and individual character pieces that the player manually moves around. I played the game outside of VR before I got my headset, and while I like the core gameplay mechanics, the camera and movement controls feel clunkier on a flat screen. Walls would constantly block my view, and moving pieces precisely was cumbersome. In VR, I was standing right over a game table and could easily position myself comfortably, making the game even more fun.
Demeo is an excellent case for how VR can supplement and improve an enjoyable experience but not perfect on a standard controller and TV. For specific genres and game ideas, it’s clear that developers can use VR to enhance the experience. That said, there’s not any incentive to use games and apps not explicitly made for PSVR2 while inside the headset.
Regular PS5 or PS4 games also don’t mesh as well with the headset, as its proprietary Sense controllers aren’t compatible with non-VR games even though they have all of the same buttons. That affirms that I’m probably not going to take the extra step of strapping on a headset if all I want to do is play a new PS5 game like God of War: Ragnarok or Forspoken. That puts more pressure on its future game lineup to deliver and enforces the feeling that VR is a side hustle for Sony, somewhat disconnected from the rest of its PS5 gaming efforts.
Although Sony hasn’t really used this messaging, there’s this cultural idea that VR is the key to the future of gaming and social spaces (like the ever-buzzwordy Metaverse). In my early stages as a VR gamer, I don’t see that happening yet. Interacting with other people in socially VR-driven spaces is neat, and PSVR2 is undoubtedly quite comfortable and boasts games with impressive technical specs. That said, my favorite game for it hues closely to a formula that predates VR entirely.
As a newcomer to VR, playing in virtual reality can be exhausting, resulting in shorter gaming sessions. Immersion in worlds is top-notch, but embracing the narrative-driven games that I usually like is more challenging. And inherently, gaming with a headset on feels even more isolating than just gaming on my couch alone. Like animation’s relation to film, I see VR as a unique medium within a medium, not a replacement.
I don’t think PSVR2 is the future of gaming, but I don’t need it to be. I’ve enjoyed plenty of games on my headset already, so I don’t regret my decision to jump into VR now. In fact, PSVR2’s comfort and easy setup process make it a piece of tech that I’d recommend to anyone wondering if they should finally give VR a shot. I just anticipate it’ll be a very supplemental gaming style for me in the future, not something I’ll want to do for hours every day.
It’s underwhelming that VR isn’t quite what I hyped it up to be in my mind, but I’m grateful I have a new way to explore the medium I love.