VR is the Future of Gaming: A First Impression of the HTC Vive
A few weeks ago, an old friend came back into town and let a group of friends and me have a go on his HTC Vive. Folks, the future is here. I know that sounds like I'm being overdramatic, but I really mean it. I have never had an experience like this in my entire time playing games. The immersiveness (that's a word right?) was absolutely stunning. Every experience I had in the Vive really put me into the shoes of the character I was playing. When you're actually moving in real life like you expect the character would move, it's truly a unique experience.
The hardware itself was also impressive to me. The headset feels sturdy and the controllers are very intuitive. The two controllers that you have use the touchpad technology that is in the Steam Controller and those work very well. That and there are buttons for everything you need without being overbearing. There are two buttons on top of the controller with the touch pad (one button above and one below the touch pad), two side buttons on the handle of the controller, and one trigger on the back of the controller. You do have to have a set of headphones to get the real immersion experience so that could be a downside for some people. If you want a really immersive experience, I recommend getting a decent set of over-the-ear headphones that sit snugly on your head.
As for general in-game experiences, I had no problems. I experienced no hiccups or any lag of any form while playing. The head-tracking had no problems for me and at no time did I get motion sickness. The only time we ran into issues was when someone was standing between one of the base stations and the headset I was wearing, but once they moved, things went back to normal. You do have to be mindful of the cord attached to the headset leading back to the computer, but I really didn't have much of an issue with that.
I tried out two games (There were a lot of people there to try it so I wasn't able to play any more, sadly) and I will detail my experience with both here.
Budget Cuts (Neat Corporation)
Have you ever wanted to be a spy? Like stealthing through a room, rolling from cover to cover, license to kill kind of spy? Then Budget Cuts is the game for you. You play as someone who put an application for a job into a company and you decide that you want to sneak into the company and approve your application for the job. Simple right? Here's the catch; robots trained to kill on sight are guarding the way to getting to your application. So you must sneak past all the robots in the building to get to your application and approve yourself for the job. Armed with only a portal gun (no not that portal gun) and a collection of throwing knives, you set out on your mission.
The primary movement mechanic for the game is the portal gun. The portal gun shoots a ball out in a projected arc and lands on the ground. Upon landing on the ground, a window opens up on the in-game controller that allows you to see the area that the portal landed on and gives you an opportunity to scope out your new vantage point before actually teleporting to it. This allows for planning your move and testing different strategies for progression through the level. Now in an intense combat moment, this may not be an option. There isn't any lag to wait on for shooting portals and teleporting to the new location. The only hindrance that you could run into is if the portal lands in a location that doesn't work for the in game character you play. For example, shoot a portal too close to a wall and if you were to teleport to that location, you would be stuck in a wall. But with some nifty portal maneuvering and some spot on knife throwing, you will be unstoppable.
Very early in the game you find a stash of throwing knives that you can take with you to defend yourself. These throwing knives are the primary combat item for the game (later on you get a crossbow but I didn't get to mess with it much in my short time with the game). These throwing knives are a bit tricky to master but you are able to get back the knives that you throw; and you really are throwing these knives. I found this mechanic to be a bit difficult to get down. My knives usually ended up being thrown a bit short but, land a good knife throw on a robot, the robot goes down spurting inky, black oil.
I think the strongest point of this game was the whole immersion factor. You really feel like you're sneaking through the building. Those moments where you are hiding behind a counter with two robots on the opposite side of it, and you have to devise a way to get around them without getting caught or find a way to kill them both quickly. This really gets you into character. All around this game was stellar.
The Gallery - Episode 1: Call of the Starseed (Cloudhead Games)
The Gallery is probably one of the longer experiences I was able to be a part of while using the Vive. You play as Alex. You're looking for your sister, Elise, who you were supposed to meet to look for a strange device. Upon getting to the beach, you find a cassette tape left by your sister giving you instructions on how to find her. On your journey to finding her, you meet a crazy mad scientist and enter his lab devoted to understanding some unknown, cosmic element.
Now, due to the length of this game, we split the different sections of the game between different people that were there to play. I was chosen to do one of the late game puzzles, so this is only an impression based on that puzzle.
The game itself is the most gorgeous game that I got to mess around in. The detail is absolutely astounding. As with the other larger scale games I played, you have a play area that is outlined in light on your headset screen that you can walk around. There is a teleporting mechanic that you use to move that play area around the game space. In this game, you have an icon that appears when you want to teleport to a new location that also tells you which direction you will face upon teleporting. This really does help with keeping you oriented in the way you need to move in the game. I found no issues with it.
The puzzle I had to solve was finding fuses to plug into a circuit board to unlock a box holding the cosmic element you were looking for. You had to plug different colored fuses into the board to change the number values at the top of the board to unlock the box. Now on the picture above, you will notice that there are wires that connect between all the plug-ins on the board. So placing a fuse in one spot can affect multiple number values on the board. On top of this there were different fuses you could plug into the board that would change values in a different way. Some fuses increase the values by 5, and the others will increase the value by 10. Hidden around the room are the values you need to get on the board.
This puzzle was quite the challenge because on top of learning how to manipulate the values to get the number you need, you have to hunt down all the different fuses to plug into the board. Luckily, you are given an electromagnet that will pick up lots of fuses that are floating around the room. But, it doesn't pick up all of them. That and the number of 5-volt fuses compared to 10-volt fuses is huge. For every ten 5-volt fuses, there would be like one 10-volt fuse. So I spent a lot of time wandering around that room searching for one more 10-volt fuse. The fuses also look very similar. The only identifiers (that I saw) was that all the 5-volt fuses were blue, green or yellow while the 10-volt fuses were silver. The colors were also a very soft hue of those colors so you spend a bit trying to find out which fuse is which. On top of this you have to find out which order those values you found align on the board. It took me a solid hour and a half to figure out this puzzle. This just may be me exemplifying my stupidity, but it was challenging nonetheless.
As a whole, this game was absolutely gorgeous and I think had I experienced the entire thing by myself, it would have been much better. But, I got very frustrated with that puzzle and the pay off of completing it was given to the next person to play. So if you're going to play this game by yourself, it will probably be a much better experience. I'm not upset for playing it (it really is gorgeous and the gameplay is solid) but I wish I could have played it by myself.
I truly enjoyed my time in the Vive but I think the thing that sold me on the whole thing was one of the most basic things that comes with it. In between games you are dumped into a waiting room of sorts where you can pull up the Steam menu to pull up a new game to play. You are able to customize this room with different wallpapers that actually make it a completely different room. You can get wallpapers of things like the Holodeck from Star Trek or even Rick's Garage from Rick and Morty. My friend had the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon as his wallpaper (get it here Millennium Falcon wallpaper). For those who don't know me, I am a huge Star Wars fan and play a lot of the table-top RPGs that are in that universe. I usually play the pilot for all of those games, so when I was dumped into that waiting room, I was giddy. I was really in the cockpit of the fastest ship in the galaxy. And that right there is why I think VR is the future. The ability to be in your living room and then put the headset on to be transported to worlds beyond our imagination, or even worlds we never dreamed of being able to actually experience on a personal level is truly amazing. I hope VR is here to stay.