Virtual reality headsets of all kinds often get criticized for not having the must-have title. The killer app, if you will. But that dated mindset doesn’t even necessarily apply to standard consoles now, as most of them depend on their breadth of experiences over one must-play game. PSVR is attractive because of its relative lower price and ease of use but it lacks the power and freedom inherent to the PC headsets. Its downsides have always held it back but, after extensive time with multiple titles at E3 2018, I’m convinced that PSVR’s variety will its biggest strength moving forward.
PSVR Game: Déraciné
Pronounced “deh-rah-shi-nay,” this FromSoftware (and Sony’s Japan Studio) PSVR exclusive isn’t what you’d expect from the same developer who created the Souls and Armored Core games. It’s not an action game with repulsive Lovecraft demons or giant mech, but an adventure game in an old mansion.
You play as a fairy trying to prove its existence as it flutters around in a dimension that normal humans can’t see. There is an overarching narrative but most of the demo I played was focused on light puzzles and exploration. Like some other VR titles, you teleport to move around the space, stopping to interact with anything that has a blue halo around it. And, like most adventure games, you have to pick up on context clues to find items and use them in the correct place to move on.
Puzzles usually revolve time manipulation, thanks to the main character’s trusty ring. For example, in the demo I sucked the life out of some grapes and transferred that time into some dead flowers in order to appease the young girl and move on. Sometimes you have to make raisins to grow some plants, as my grandma used to say. Andrew Pugsley from Sony Interactive Entertainment explained to me that this time mechanic is central to the whole game.
Other puzzles had me searching around the mansion to find special vials for a stew, find my way around a cat, and other tasks that moved me around the large house. It’s fairly slow paced but intentionally so. Being a VR-exclusive title, it’s using the medium to give players a more exploratory experience not focused on action or loud setpieces. But it’s hard to say its pacing and simple puzzles will soothe the player or lull them into sleep.
PSVR Game: Blood and Truth
Genre: First-person shooter
Blood and Truth might be more up your alley if you’re seeking a more action-heavy experience. Taking inspiration from films like Atomic Blonde and Heat, is Sony Interactive Entertainment London’s cockney, explosive first-person shooter. Unlike the London Heist, Blood and Truth is a “full game” complete with motion capture and a narrative campaign. In it, you play as Ryan Marks, a bloke who shunned his family’s criminal roots but is — say it with me — forced to crawl into the mafia-laden underworld to save his next of kin. It’s schlocky and a bit cliche but it does its job of setting up the action.
The PlayStation Move controllers handle said action. Aiming, reloading, and switching weapons are incredibly tactile since none are dictated by a simple button press. To aim, you have to line up the gun’s sights to your eyes. In order to reload, you grab a clip from your chest pocket and slam it into your firearm. And to switch firearms, you physically jam the pistol into your leg holster or, for a larger gun, reach behind yourself and hang it on your back. Picking locks even has you twisting the controllers until you hear the tumblers click into place.
Admittedly, it’s all pretty standard VR but it’s still effective. While it’s more of an on-rails light gun game, the tangibility of the actions gave it an advantage that it ordinarily would not have. Shooting samey goons in an urban environment would bore me to tears in a regular, flat game. But the sensation of these actions in VR gave it the required novelty necessary to carry me through the demo. However, it remains to be seen if that novelty can carry the whole game.
PSVR Game: Tetris Effect
VR doesn’t have to carry Tetris Effect because, at its core, it’s still Tetris. However, VR greatly enhances its newfound colorful aesthetic and musical backbone. Director Tetsuya Mizuguchi threw the classic block dropper into the matrix and added some thumping beats to appropriately update the 36-year-old game in a way fitting for the creator of Rez and Lumines.
While not required, virtual reality seems like the way to play Tetris Effect. Puzzle games work best when they can command your attention over everything else, which is where the term “Tetris effect” comes from. Tetris Effect thrives on the isolation that VR provides as it focuses your eyes and ears on its vibrant visuals and smooth music. Tetris is almost always great on almost any screen, but the modernized presentation fused with virtual reality becomes the new best way to play one of the oldest video games.
PSVR Game: Trover Saves the Universe
Even though Trover Saves the Universe isn’t one of the oldest video games, VR also still seems like the optimal way to experience it. While our preview contains a more detailed look at the game, playing it feels like a regular platformer but with a concept that naturally complements the VR medium. Controlling Trover with the analog stick while looking around in VR to move your chair-ridden avatar’s head is both clever and extremely fitting for virtual reality. It’s fitting that Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland would create such a bizarre concept that somehow works well within the unique confines of virtual reality.
PSVR Game: Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner Mars
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner Mars, the PS4/PSVR re-release of the 2003 PS2 game, also puts the player in a cockpit and grants them control over another being, but in a slightly different way. Piloting mechs might sounds like a natural fit for virtual reality, but Mars didn’t realize that potential during my demo. I felt like I was watching someone control my mech as opposed to actually piloting the gigantic, metal beast myself.
VR thrives on “presence” but nothing in the demo succeeded in evoking that key virtual reality buzzword. Battles had no sense of scale and felt weightless since the giant blade that you’re carving up enemies with doesn’t show up on screen. Enemies just explode without actually seeing your blade carve through them. Your avatar lies motionless in the cockpit like he’s been anesthetized. It all felt like a quaint mode meant as just another bulletpoint under “4K visuals” rather than the full front-of-the-box treatment it’s getting.
But regardless of how weak Zone of the Ender‘s VR support is, it has a place within the PSVR library. It fills a void of both a remaster and a mech game. Trover is the endearing comedy platformer. Blood and Truth is the generic, but still novel and immersive first-person shooter. Tetris Effect is god damn Tetris but made even better with its trippy visuals and entrancing soundtrack. And Déraciné is the odd adventure game that lets you explore an old mansion and murder a kid by poisoning his stew. Allegedly. Individually, they (mostly) seem like decent experiences so far in their own right. But together, they help give the headset some of the variety any successful platform needs.