VR - the good, the bad & the horror!



Hello, come on in! I quickly found VR games, like absolutely any media in existence, to be an endless minefield of good and bad content. I tried music videos, rock gigs, a violin rehearsal, underwater simulations, CGI films, documentaries about the animal kingdom, a trek around Everest. You'd go from mind-numbing awe one moment, to blurry, headache-inducing crap the next. One nature vid saw a 360 degree camera plonked in the middle of a herd of elephants; the resolution on the lumbering pachyderms was so low that they were practically Minecraft-esque blocks of grey. I laughed out loud at the contrast with the gently awe-inspiring music. Is that supposed to be an elephant?, I was audibly heard to say.

With time, I was able to mostly weed out the lesser stuff, and used the online community to zone in on the must-try things, and it did occur to me how many people may not make it this far past the multiple barriers of interest, cost, set-up, potential illness and them possibly being turned off by bad quality. But if passion had carried you past all that and further, there were extremely good things to try out, and crucially, wonderful and dense gaming experiences. In other words, it was like any new, burgeoning medium; experimental and young. And really fresh in an industry with a lot of homogenous trend-chasing and fewer risks being taken.

I zoned in on horror games, naturally, wanting to know how virtual presence could heighten one of gaming's most emotionally charged genres. A mix of Resident Evil VII, The Exorcist, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood and many other indie titles had me shrinking back in horror, dreading what was around the corner, glimpsing fleeting things (or did I?), and on one difficult occasion, being covered in spiders.

There aren't many racing games out there, mostly due to the smooth movement of cars causing nausea concerns, but it's a shame because VR driving, when it works, is great. Driving is all about awareness after all, and being able to check your mirrors in real-time and quickly whip your head to take stock of your competitors, gave a new lease of life for the genre and for me. Driving is the VR thing that's waiting for it's big future moment with better headsets, if we allow it. With my stomach of steel it was like glimpsing the future of games.

On the gentler, less fraught side, Moss is a beautiful puzzle game about a little mouse, and you guide him from above like some ethereal angel presence. Tethered was a sort of strategy defence game that had you arming a small race of people against night-time threats by controlling, of all things, the weather. Batman Arkham VR toyed with madness and crime scene investigation in first person. Astro Bot is a beautiful platform game that serves as PSVR's Mario moment.

Today, in 2021, VR is doing well but feels a little threatened, slightly flawed, endangered species of a medium, just like those blurry elephants. Continued support from companies and dedicated player bases can see the technology become better and better, through to wireless sets, better resolutions, more functions to battle sickness and more haptic levels of control. That's kind of why I was in on the ground floor, to throw my support at a thing that was already frequently incredible, but could be mighty.

But one of the biggest threats to VR, in my opinion, is the fractured nature of the various systems, segregated into their own player bases. This all began when Facebook bought Oculus Rift, separating the premier VR system from its indie PC gaming home space and putting it at the forefront of the social media titan. Other headsets then stepped in to fill the void with the Vive taking charge on PC, but PlayStation developed its own one with its own game base, sectioning off the VR pie further. This lack of unification will only server to hurt VR as each and every one develops independently and with its own, sectioned off library of games. What VR really needs to thrive is fewer barriers to entry, not more.

Those are my thoughts, anyway. Let me know what you think, and feel free to recommend me some VR treasures as I'm always on the lookout.

Virtually yours, Jamie Jones

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