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Hands on with PlayStation VR: space dogfighting and undersea adventures

What a year it’s been for virtual reality: The HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift are available now, Google and Microsoft are investing heavily in its future, and the PlayStation VR is only four months away from hitting store shelves. In preparation for the third major VR launch of the year, Sony is demoing its headset across the US and Canada, and we finally had the opportunity to try out the PSVR.

Last Friday, my girlfriend and I took a detour on our trip to Pennsylvania, and spent some quality time at a Best Buy in northern Delaware. We stood in line behind three people, and ended up waiting about 20 minutes in the middle of the afternoon. When my turn arrived, I saw two PS Move controllers sitting on the table, so I asked if any of the demos supported them. Sadly, none of them did. Instead, the representative recommended that I try Eve: Valkyrie — a space dogfighting game set in the universe of Eve Online, and a game our own Joel Hruska first tested with a PC and proprietary VR headset at AMD’s E3 event last year.

The $399 PSVR is something we can all soon buy for ourselves, though, and we were eager to test it out. The representative placed the helmet on my head, and instructed me to press a small button on the bottom to properly focus on the screen. The headset was light on my neck, and adjusting it for a clear image was extraordinarily simple. After a brief run-down of how to play, the rep put on my headphones, and I immediately felt immersed. The field of view was slightly bigger than I was anticipating, and the head tracking was dead-on.

Even when I snapped my head quickly to the side, the visuals kept up nicely. Unfortunately, everything looked a bit more pixelated than I was hoping for. The cockpit was especially low-res, and it made me wonder if the game was even rendering at a full 1080p. But at the very least, the frame rate and head tracking kept the nausea away.

As for the game itself, I didn’t have much fun. The movement was inverted, and there was no way to fix it in the current build. I only had around five or six minutes to actually play the game, so the first half of my experience was spent trying to compensate for a control scheme that my brain wasn’t pleased with. Beyond that, it was just a straightforward shooter. If it didn’t have the novelty of VR supporting it, I can’t imagine it being very enticing.

My girlfriend took the seat next, and she decided to try the “Into The Deep” demo from the VR Worlds compilation. This experience put her in a virtual dive cage, and let her look around as she sank deeper and deeper into the ocean. There was no controller needed for this demo, so she spent most of her time craning her neck to see all of the sea life. She wasn’t bowled over in the way the Sony rep seemed to expect, but her overall impression was positive.

When the PSVR ships on October 13th, she’s definitely interested in playing more. And after using the hardware first-hand, I feel the same way. I’ll just be sure to steer clear of EVE.

If you want to try out the PlayStation VR for yourself, head over to Sony’s “Experience PlayStation VR” page. Scroll down to the map, type in your ZIP code and the distance you’re willing to travel. If you live in a densely populated area of the US or Canada, there’s a good chance that you’ll find a participating Best Buy, GameStop, or EB Games.

Even if they’re aren’t any kiosks available near you, not all hope is lost. Sony is adding more retail locations and dates to this promotion, and PSVRs are also being demoed along with the Road to Greatness tour. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see a substantial uptick in demo availability as the launch grows closer, so just hold tight if your local stores don’t have a PSVR just yet.

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