Virtual adrenaline

When it comes to VR and the possible physical side effects, I apparently rolled double sixes. Or I’m holding a full house. Or… some other words that mean, “I got lucky.” No sweats, no nausea, no balance issues, no problem.

It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, because the result is that I grew almost instantly disillusioned by the VR content I’ve experienced thus far. I’ve boiled it down to one basic concept: I need more zoooom!

Many of the games that I’ve played have some sort of movement option geared toward comfort. Farpoint has a “no turning” mode, but you can also choose click turns or smooth turning. Smooth turning is basically the key to normal movement, which is the mode most likely to cause icky side effects. Skyrim has a teleportation movement option, which I turned off as fast as I possibly could. VR is supposed to be more realistic, after all, not less, and the idea of hopping around the landscape left me a bit cold.

Other games don’t give you a choice at all, and teleporting from one spot to another is your only real movement — which really isn’t “movement” at all. Sure, you move from one spot to the next, but the transition is muffled or eliminated entirely. In some games, this makes some sense; in others, it’s just frustrating. Take Batman: Arkham VR, for example.

This is Batman, fer cryin’ out loud. I expected heights, and I got them. Standing on top of a building, looking out over Gotham, is as pretty and awe-inspiring as it should be. The game gives you a utility belt, a batclaw, batarangs, and the scanner, and you can holster or draw them pretty much at will. Pulling the batclaw off your belt and pointing it at a hook feels right. It’s the bit that comes next that’s disappointing. I wanted to zoom, but instead, I got a teleportation transition.

Don’t get me wrong: though it’s short, Batman: Arkham VR is worth a look. The story is intense and unsettling, the environments are generally awesome, and there are extras that can extend your playtime. The Riddler, as usual, has scattered stuff around for you to find and solve, and there are a number of things to play with in the Batcave.

But there’s no zoom, and that left me wanting more.

Speaking of short, I happened across a freebie in the PS store. Spider-Man: Homecoming Virtual Reality Experience is an almost hilariously pretentious title, given what you get. Of course, it was free, so I can hardly complain, but it felt like the entire thing was geared toward frustration. After spending some time messing around with the web shooters on a rooftop, you get to web sling up to a crane. Woot! Except you then get a disappointing transition that takes most of the zoom out of it. Your vision contracts, and you just don’t feel it much.

Standing on top of the crane, on the other hand, made even me go, “Woah” for a second. Because damn, that’s high. There’s only a mesh catwalk underneath you, and it feels like you’re precariously perched on a crane that’s… well, really damn high. Then you get to web swing using a freaking helicopter, and even with the shrinking-vision effect, for a few seconds there was plenty of zoom and a whole lot of, “WOO HOO!!!” For a few seconds, I felt like Spider-Man.

And then it ends.

You don’t even get a full swing. Just as you reach the bottom of the arc, the “experience” ends.

Again — free. But seriously, if they’d just gone a step further and let me swing around a tiny, empty city, it would have been so. much. cooler. Let me take that stupid vision effect off and just swing around the buildings. That would have kept me occupied for quite a while. As it is, I’ve played through the stupid thing at least ten times, just to feel that half-a-swing over and over again.

SM-HC.jpg
Spider-Man: Homecoming Virtual Reality Experience: It’s like being given a glimpse of awesome, only to have it cruelly ripped away.

I understand the need to soften movement in order to mitigate physical side effects. You don’t want to turn people off, after all. If VR makes you queasy at first, you should have options that help you get used to it. I just want more options for zooming.

For a few seconds, I had high hopes for the luge mini-game in Playstation VR Worlds, but steering with the headset feels too kludgy, and that makes it hard to enjoy. The “London Heist” game is pretty damn cool, and it includes a bit where you’re speeding down a freeway that has some decent zoom factor… but it’s over all too soon.

Of all of the games that I’ve played, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood has provided the most zoom. As you progress through the game, there are a number of sections where the relatively tame funhouse car turns into a monster roller coaster. It didn’t take long before I was playing the game just to get to those sections. I still haven’t finished the game, because every time I find a new coaster section, I replay it over and over. I need more of that, please.

It’s only been a few weeks, and I’ve already turned into a VR adrenaline junkie. And I need more. I want to swing around a city as Spider-Man. I want to zoom to the tops of buildings as Batman. Hell, I want to perform a goddamned leap of faith. I plan to check out Thumper next, because while I’m not a huge fan of rhythm games, it looks like it might have the speed that I’m looking for.

Not every game has to be about the rush, but now that I know my body isn’t going to freak out, I want at least some of them to be. I can’t swing around the city on a web in real life, but I could in VR.

If they’d let me, that is.


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