PAX East 2016: The Virtual Worlds of PlayStation VR

While the hype for the newly released Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets continues to light up the gaming world, there’s still another contender in the PlayStation VR display for PlayStation 4 (and potentially 4.5) scheduled for the fall of 2016. The main demo experiences for the headset so far are mostly built around action with titles like Until Dawn: Rush of Blood and The London Heist on the show floor at PAX East 2016; there’s a broad selection of experiences on Sony’s virtual reality hardware at PAX East 2016 and I got some hands-on time with some of them.


London Heist

My experience with this game was similar to my PAX Prime 2015 session, an inconsistent shooter that couldn’t consistently recognize my grabbing of loose magazines from the car dashboard or my insertion of ammo into my submachine gun during the extended combat sequence. It’s unfortunate that the visuals were very blurry and exacerbated by the high rate of motion in this particular demo, resulting in a thoroughly dissatisfying experience where I approximated movement and aiming rather than making precise actions.

My experience with other PlayStation VR software suggests that the issue is a combination of hardware design, software design and my personal perception of 3D through this specific headset, but there’s definitely room to improve on the visual fidelity and interactive tracking before London Heist is released as a consumer product.


Harmonix Music VR

I swung by the crew at Harmonix to try out their Music VR program, a 3D creation tool combined with a selection of licensed music tracks that continues the company’s history of being an early adapter of new gaming technology. The demo is built around a virtual easel, a free form illustration experience that pairs a background track with a 360 degree illustration palette that can be drawn on and moved around with the Move controllers. The experience was comparable to Google Tilt Brush, with a little less precision compared to that program which may be the result of using the re-purposed Move sticks rather than a VR designed device in the HTC Vive controllers.

The selected song changes the hue and luminosity of your 3D creations as the song progresses, it was surreal to illustrate a mix of cubist exploratory art and jagged musical notes in free space as Metallica’s “Battery” thrashed in the background and visually shifted my doodles in luminosity and chroma from time to time. The game is expected to come with some starter tunes and eventually incorporate selected DLC tracks from Rock Band, an unexpected bonus for those who chose the PlayStation 3 or 4 as their console of choice for Harmonix’s flagship music game series.




I also drove through 15 levels of Thumper at breakneck speed, a wild ride through TRON inspired racing levels with a series of trigger points on the track timeline paired with audible cues to trigger attacks in a style similar to rhythm game Amplitude. The levels are segmented into looping chunks that run back if the audible triggers are missed, providing multiple chances at nailing the entire sequence to proceed. It became quite challenging on the 10th level, requiring precision curve bounces and a fair degree of memorization to navigate through the later stages.

The game has a striking neon style that looked consistently crisp even during rapid motion, but the stark contrast between the lit car and stages with the black void environment became slightly headache inducing in the 45 minutes it took me to clear the demo stage.

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