HTC Vive Review: Part 2, Games

In Part 1 I talked about setting up the HTC Vive VR headset. Here’s what it’s like to play.

You can walk around and it’s amazing. I ended up moving my sofa so I had a bigger virtual area. It’s such a natural thing, stepping forward to pick something up. Sure you feel the weight of the headset (though it’s pretty light) and the tug of the cables, but being able to physically move around a virtual space is a revelation. If you try this and you don’t giggle, I think you might be dead inside.

To start the experience, you enter The Lab. It’s a series of mini-games intended as an introduction, but also subtly teaches you the “language” of the interface. For the intro to the intro, you’re transported atop a mountain. The view is 360-degrees and gorgeous. This isn’t CG, or at least it doesn’t look it. It looks like a photosphere. You can walk around the outcropping where you first warped in. Using the hand controllers, you can warp to other locations.

The hand controllers. These are bulkier than the slick handgrips that are coming for the Oculus, but they work. Even cooler, they’re rendered in the game as they appear in the real world. So you can put them on the real ground, and see where they are in the virtual world. It’s a little thing, but it’s cool.

You’re not alone on the mountaintop. A small robotic dog-looking thing comes bounding over to you. It’s about as friendly as I’ve ever seen a robot. It clearly wants to play. It’s human nature to want to touch the “puppy,” so you reach down, the controller glows yellow, and you press the trigger. The “dog” responds like you’re petting him. It’s nearly as satisfying as the real thing, I kid you not.

Other mini-games in The Lab include a defend-the-castle game that uses a bow and arrow (very natural feeling), an arcade shooter where you move to dodge incoming fire, and a few more, including a solar system simulator.

This last one is pretty amazing, letting you warm around a scale model of the solar system, and if you want, toss a planet out of its orbit. It’s neat, but there’s better.

By far the best game I tried during my time with the Vive was the Universe Sandbox2. It’s a physics-based sandbox where your toys are planets, moons, and stars. Sure you could try to set up lovely planetary systems. But really, it’s all about destruction. Ever wondered what the Earth would look like if the moon crashed into it? How about if Neptune was as close to the Sun as Mercury. Ever wanted to toss too red giants at each other and see what happens (a big mess is what). It’s beautiful, it’s fun, and it’s the type of experience you could only have in VR. Played on a screen just wouldn’t have the same effect.

HordeZ, is an on-the-rails zombie shooter that’s one of the few shooter-type games on the Vive. The controls are unnecessarily clunky, but it is wonderfully terrifying to have waves of zombies come at you from all directions.

The only game I didn’t enjoy was Hover Junkers, a multiplayer shooter where you control hovering platforms and zoom around an arena. The first issue is that apparently the designers had never played a FPS before, since the reload mechanic is mindbogglingly obtuse. Second, the lag was enough that I could fire point-blank at another player, and he’s unscathed while I end up dead. Third, and this isn’t specifically their fault, but when I played there was one player with a score of 20, while the rest of us had 1s and 2s. Yeah, that’s super fun.

But the biggest issue was my computer. My PC meets the minimum specs, and for most games this wasn’t an issue. But with this, it occasionally hiccuped or chugged. If I was playing on a screen, this would be annoying, but livable. In VR… motion sickness. I’m not normally susceptible to motion sickness, but when you’re turning your head, and the image lags or hangs… I think anyone would start to get a bit queasy.

What does this mean? If your computer has the minimum specs, you should probably upgrade it a bit, for your own comfort.

Next week I’ll wrap this all up with some overall thoughts and a light comparison to the Rift.

jnemesh's picture

Go play that NOW! You won't regret it!

Also, a more passive experience, but awe inspiring nonetheless, go download "TheBlu"!

I am curious as to what your PC specs your weak point your GPU or your CPU? I would HIGHLY recommend getting a new GTX1070 or 1080...those are designed from the ground up specifically for VR and should greatly enhance your experience!

Geoffrey Morrison's picture
I missed playing Space Pirate Trainer. It looked just like a stationary shooter. Is it more? The Blu looked great. My friend played it and from what I could see it looked incredible. This is the PC plus a GTX970.
jnemesh's picture

Watch the gameplay video on a regular monitor and it's a dull, lifeless shooter. Little variety in gameplay, and just wave after wave of enemies coming at you... this game in VR, and it's a whole different story! You duck, dodge and weave to avoid getting shot, you can deflect shots back at the enemies with your shield (and orientation MATTERS!), you have multiple different firing options for your guns...each with plusses and minuses. It's IMMERSIVE! You feel like you are there, holding guns, and your aim is tracked EXTREMELY accurately! It's like nothing you ever played. Yes, it's a "pre-beta" release, yes, it's limited, but it's currently one of the most fun experiences you can play, and it's also well suited to group play, as a "round" doesn't last very long, so you can swap out with your buddies and all have fun, instead of some of the other titles, where you wait for your friend to finish for 20-30 minutes at a time!

Geoffrey Morrison's picture
Cool, I'll check that out.
Warrior24_7's picture

I'll wait. Typical 1st gen fare, corridor shooters (on rails) and tech demos. These games pale in comparison to what I'm playing now. I thought more sensory type games would be the order of the day. Like flying, amusement park rides, space etc.