I’m just going to come right out and say it: It’s a great time to get into virtual reality. I know you hear stories to the contrary, and how the numbers can sometimes paint a different picture, but I don’t think that’s a true reflection of what makes it a good time to jump in and pick up a headset.
Virtual reality, or at least owning your own virtual reality headset, was never going to be for everyone. It’s often a one and done experience, and to actually buy in it’s still rather expensive, even on the cheaper side of things. That’s even without factoring in other costs, such as buying any VR games to actually play on it. But this isn’t an article about that. No, I just felt the need to proclaim how great VR is as a gaming platform right now despite everything I just mentioned.
This all largely stems from my time recently with the Oculus Quest 2, a standalone VR headset that launches tomorrow. Although it’s just as much about the games that now exist to play with a VR headset as it is the headset itself.
That’s not to say the Quest 2 isn’t an impressive piece of kit. With a 72Hz screen, 1832×1920 per-eye resolution, and inside-out tracking, it’s a price-savvy yet functionally complete package. At $290, it’s also a steal.
Why I’m so particularly smitten with this design is that it offers plug and play simplicity but also a window into the world of tethered VR, which is streamed right from your gaming PC over to your headset. With a simple USB Type-C to either Type-C or Type-A cable ($89 Oculus Link cable not required but make sure it’s a high-quality cable nonetheless) you can juice up your standalone headset with discrete graphics card power.
Oculus supports Steam VR, which means that not only have you access to its own library of Oculus-compatible titles, but Steam’s entire catalogue too. You’re not quite getting the perfectly tailored experience of the Valve Index, still my favourite headset going, but you also need not invest over $1,000 to play.
Whichever headset you end up with, be that the budget-friendly Oculus Quest 2, the much-loved Valve Index, or perhaps you’re waiting for the upcoming HP Reverb G2 (better move fast), the level to which modern virtual reality games utilise the space and the technology is particularly stunning as of late.
Take Half-life: Alyx, for example. Even on the $299 Oculus Quest 2 that experience is fantastic. Perhaps there are a few bumps along the way, but it remains the fully-immersive experience into the world of Half-life that I, like I’m sure many of you, have been quietly anticipating since I was frivolously pushing a cart back in Black Mesa.
Then look to Star Wars: Squadrons, a game that plays as if it were built natively for VR and VR alone. It’s not, there’s of course a standard version, but it’s so befitting of exploration in virtual reality that it’s almost a shame not to try it out at least once. Paired with a joystick—I know they’re tough to find right now—it’s once again a dream fulfilled from my youth, born out of the time I spent blasting womp rats in Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader.
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And I think Star Wars: Squadrons is indicative of another emerging theme for VR in 2020: games which offer both a PC/console experience and a VR mode, without charging any extra. Phasmophobia, for example, is another game I’ve been exploring somewhat timidly with the volume low through a VR headset this past week. A great game, as I’m sure many will attest to (“the best ghost game ever made” says Rich), that offers a hauntingly real experience of semi-professional other-wordly cryptozoology. Is there a word for that?
I’ll admit, the VR experience isn’t quite a smooth as the standard game. Yet with full compatibility with the standard version for co-op escapades into the accursed, it’s a welcome addition to an otherwise excellent package.
Further to that, we’ve got Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond coming out later this year, developed by Respawn Entertainment no less.
All of which I guess is to say I’ve had a great time in VR these past few weeks, and I’m genuinely excited for what’s to come. Perhaps that’s all this is—an expulsion of excitement from someone that’s regained the wow factor after a gradual decline in interest for some of the more gimmicky VR experiences over the years. But considering my own on again, off again relationship with virtual reality, ever since the first Oculus Rift development headsets dropped, I think it’s worth mentioning that I feel VR is in a really great place right now.