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Critical Consensus: PlayStation VR

Mainstream and enthusiast press agree on the headset's strengths and weaknesses, but split on whether the experience is worth it

Sony's PlayStation VR headset launches next week, and the first reviews hit today. For this Critical Consensus column, we decided to compare the grades the headset received from mainstream outlets with the reception of the enthusiast press. While they all made similar points about the strengths and weaknesses of the tech, their overall affinity for it varied greatly.

CNET's Jeff Bakalar gave the PSVR 3.5 stars (out of 5), and was clearly impressed at what Sony had put together.

"The question I get asked most about PSVR is, 'Does it work?' Make no mistake: I let out an audible gasp the first time I tried Batman Arkham VR. It felt similar to the first time I demoed the HTC Vive Portal: Aperture Robot Repair demo," Bakalar said. "That feeling of shocking immersion is certainly ever-present. The PSVR lets you escape the world you currently occupy and warp into a fully 3D artificial existence. It works."

"If you want game console virtual reality right now, the PlayStation VR is your only choice. And it's a pretty great one"

Jeff Bakalar

While the PSVR may not have the visual fidelity of its more expensive PC counterparts like Rift and Vive, Bakalar said the experience was "in the same ballpark." What's more, he deemed the graphical hit an acceptable tradeoff for more affordable and comfortable hardware that doesn't suffer from installation hassles or driver issues.

"Do you need a PSVR? Of course not," Bakalar said. "But it definitely elevates the standard PS4 experience to a whole new level. There is absolutely something remarkable about trying it for the first time. While it's the cheapest full VR around, it doesn't change the fact that it's still an expensive luxury. Sony has done a commendable job at ensuring a promising future for the platform, but there's no absolute guarantee this will remain endlessly supported... If you want game console virtual reality right now, the PlayStation VR is your only choice. And it's a pretty great one."

In his own more technically minded review, Eurogamer's Richard Leadbetter came to a similar conclusion.

"The full-fat PC VR experience has been nipped and tucked in terms of core technology and visual accomplishment, but the sense of presence required for a top-tier virtual reality experience is undiminished and there's plenty of promise in the initial launch line-up," Leadbetter said. "Bearing in mind its price in relation to the competition, PlayStation VR is a remarkable achievement - especially bearing in mind that it manages to outscore its much more expensive rivals in key respects, principally in terms of comfort, fit and finish."

Leadbetter was particularly taken with the headset, calling it "an undoubted masterpiece of design" and "far and away the most comfortable VR headset on the market." He also lauded the easy setup of the device, and the "social screen" function that displays the player's view on the TV for others to see, but found that the movement tracking components of PSVR, the PlayStation Camera and PlayStation Move controllers, were "the weaker links in the chain." The camera's field of view is limited, and easy to knock askew by tugging on the wrong wire accidentally while moving around with the headset on. Additionally, the Move controllers don't track properly if players put their bodies between the controller's glowing orbs and the camera, a common occurrence when players turn around.

The PSVR's ease of setup and comfort were widely praised in even the most negative of reviews, such as that from The New York Times' Brian Chen. While Chen said the PSVR is the only premium VR headset he might recommend for consumers who can't wait to get into VR, he said it still has glaring issues, among them a lack of compelling games.

"I wouldn't run - or even stroll, for that matter - to buy a virtual-reality system. Batman can't even walk yet, anyway"

Brian Chen

"Among the nine games that Sony provided for testing, I found only two titles to be noteworthy: the Batman simulation and Super HyperCube, which is like Tetris with a virtual-reality twist. The other games were awkward to control with the game controller or Move wands; some were just plain boring."

Even Batman: Arkham VR had serious issues for Chen, including the way it handles locomotion. Players can't walk around as Batman; instead the use of a grappling hook to get around or simply teleporting from location to location means players will "feel more like Batman confined to an easy chair."

"[F]or the average consumer, the thrill of virtual-reality gaming with PlayStation VR may be fleeting," Chen said. "Initially, virtual reality will probably mesmerize you because it's so unlike any gaming experience you have ever had. But the scarce number of good games available today, combined with the fatigue you will experience after 30 minutes of game play, may drive you back to gaming on your smartphone or television screen. So I wouldn't run - or even stroll, for that matter - to buy a virtual-reality system. Batman can't even walk yet, anyway."

Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton also gave the PSVR a fairly negative review while bringing up many of the same pros and cons as his peers.

"PlayStation VR should be better," Hamilton said. "At its best, Sony's new virtual reality headset manages to conjure the astonishing, immersive wonder of modern virtual reality. Just as often it is frustratingly held back by outdated hardware that can't quite do what's being asked of it."

While it's the cheapest premium VR hardware on the market, it still isn't cheap, Hamilton noted. And its reliance on older tech that wasn't apparently designed for VR (PlayStation Move came out in 2010, while the PlayStation Camera launched with the PS4 in 2013) results in immersion-breaking moments like jittery in-game hands and limited functionality in some games ported from Vive or Rift.

"My sense is that VR as a whole is just not there yet"

Kirk Hamilton

"I understand why Sony would use existing controllers and cameras rather than developing and releasing much more expensive new ones, but the compromise they've made is evident in almost every moment of every game," Hamilton said. "It's difficult to shake the feeling that this older hardware has been conscripted into the service of a pursuit that is beyond its capacity."

He added, "All last week, I kept coming back to the fact that the PSVR peripherals I've been using are mostly failed Sony hardware products... The PSVR, then, starts to feel like Sony's Island of Misfit Toys. It's a magnet for gadgets that didn't succeed on their own merits, and it's hard to believe that, together, they might finally break through."

That should be concerning for early adopters, Hamilton said, because the lack of software support Sony provided the Move controllers and Camera after their launches doesn't exactly speak well of the company's commitment to keep supporting PSVR.

"My sense is that VR as a whole is just not there yet, and that Sony is valiantly attempting to make the first mainstream version of a technology that is not yet mature enough to go mainstream," Hamilton said. "PlayStation VR is inferior to the competition in several significant ways. It's also less expensive and easier to use, and for all its flaws it still manages to communicate the goofy, surreal joy of modern virtual reality. Time will tell if that makes it good enough. Best to wait and see."

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Brendan Sinclair avatar

Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry International in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at CBS-owned GameSpot in the US.

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