Virtual reality has been an emerging trend in gaming for years, but 2016 is when it really gets serious. That's when some of these headsets we've been writing about finally become available to the general public. Arguably, the biggest name in the market right now is Oculus Rift, but Sony's Project Morpheus has plenty of positive buzz of its own. I was able to spend some time in Sony's Morpheus meeting room at E3 2015, and my first experience with the PS4-compatible headset was a good one - if not quite the best VR demo I saw that day.
The first thing I noted about the Morpheus headset was how comfortable it was. It fit squarely on my head with no jiggling out of place, and was padded all around. Except for the goggles over my face, I could have been wearing a hat. Okay, a hat that felt somewhat heavier depending on how much head-swinging was involved, but that wasn't an issue during my first experience, Battle Zone.
This futuristic VR tech demo was my first experience with Project Morpheus, and I immediately smiled as the Tron-like visuals sprung up all around me. Developer Rebellion was inspired by the 1980 Atari game of the same name, also known as the first official VR gaming experience. Sure, the green lines against a black background from decades ago can't compare to what virtual reality technology can do today, but it's a nice nod to the history of gaming while moving it into the future.
I had a controller in my hand, so the interface was familiar as I drove a tank around shooting... well, everything in sight. If I looked down, I could see the radar on my dashboard; this let me know where the bad guys were. Looking left and right, I could see my tank's cockpit and had a great view of the environment from the wide panel of glass that stretched left and right. I used the controller to move and shoot, but was guided by Morpheus' display. Opponents were both moving and stationary, but I didn't have any problem taking them down; the enemy AI wasn't particularly sophisticated. It did have that arcade-y feel, like the games you used to sink quarter after quarter into, and I could see it being super fun with multiple players. Multiplayer isn't confirmed for Battle Zone yet, but it's something Rebellion is considering, and I hope they're able to implement it.
After finishing off the demo Rebellion's Robbie Cooke told me I was one of the quickest of the show (but he probably said that to everyone), I moved over to The Playroom VR. Just as the PS4's Playroom showed gamers how the PlayStation camera could augment their reality, Sony Magic Room's Playroom VR is making a similar example out of the Morpheus hardware. In this one I actually did get to face off against another player, one using a DualShock 4 to control the little robots who were running from a giant, Godzilla-like creature. That would be me. I swung my head around to destroy buildings, hopefully taking out some of the little buggers along the way. They ran straight along a bridge while I crushed everything as I followed behind. It was an interesting use of controller-free VR, if a little shallow; you can only bob your head around so much before you feel the weight of Morpheus and remember that you're sitting in a chair in a meeting room, probably looking a little silly.
Near the end of the experience, we reached a pier and suddenly I was on defense. Tired of running, the nuisances began throwing objects at me. Again, I had to swing my head back and forth, this time to dodge projectiles. I could also head-butt helicopters, which is always a good time, but found it hard to get my noggin where it was supposed to be. I was an easy target to hit, and the demo ended with me succumbing to the flying debris.
Though my time was almost up, I did jump into a first-person shooter using a specially designed gun peripheral for my last few minutes in the demo room. The accessory had a PlayStation Move pointing outward and a Navigator in place of a trigger, which made it easy to use and easy for the tech demo to track. There was just one problem: my character was walking, and I was not. It's probably a testament to the power of VR how this tricked my brain; at one point I stumbled. I didn't get motion sick, but I did get a sort of uncomfortable feeling that made me want to take off the headset and back away, so that's what I did.
I didn't play every Morpheus demo available at E3 - I wish I had, but there were many and time was short. It didn't leave quite the same impression on me that Oculus did, but on its own, Sony's VR has plenty of promise. What's better, it also has a lower barrier for entry; instead of a beefy computer, it's compatible with the PlayStation 4 and Vita (both of which I already own, conveniently). Putting aside the comparisons to Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus delivers a great VR experience with solid hardware; it's just going to take the right games to sell it.