PS VR2 Review: Sony is betting big on virtual reality

The new PS VR2 headset weighs 20 grams. Sony interactive entertainment

My excitement increased as the date for receiving Sony’s new PS VR2 headset approached, although I wasn’t quite sure why. Sure, I remembered enjoying the first virtual reality headset for PlayStation 4, released in 2016, especially Moss, a 2018 game about a young female mouse warrior and her puzzle-filled world. But there were too many cables, a separate plug and the headset was on the heavy side. So, like other VR headsets under the entertainment center, I played only occasionally.

But what I had seen in videos of PS VR2 for PlayStation 5 gave me hope. The graphics were so detailed even in 2D YouTube videos. And the machine’s tech specs looked good: a 4K OLED screen and cameras in the headset to follow the eyes as you look around a virtual world, especially the lush environments that the best VR is known for. (I was less sure about the new headset’s haptic effects. Especially after a recent concussion, I wondered if vibrations could be turned off inside if they felt too strong.) Sony is pinning a lot of its own hopes on PS VR2 and betting big with over 100 games in the pipeline and an expensive $599 purchase price that includes a game.

When the headset arrived, it was indeed bulky to wear at 20 grams. They all are. But quickly download and enjoy Kayak VR: Mirage, the first game I played, was like a trip around the world. I’ll probably never kayak in Antarctica, but this made that trip possible, including snappy penguins. With a controller click or three, I could quickly move to warmer climates, like an abandoned Costa Rican port, and see tropical angelfish around me. I want to be clear: the shimmering clarity of everything on the water and under the water was like moving across the ocean on the sunniest of days.

Kayak VR: Mirage lets you explore beaches, ice floes or canyon rivers. Better Than Life B.V./Sony Interactive Entertainment

The light controllers, one for each hand, have the same intricate haptics as the PS5’s larger controller. (The haptics can be turned off, but the vibrating as the action heats up wasn’t too strong.) Instead of paddling all the time, I just started sitting in the kayak, bobbing around on the small waves, breathing slowly in casual meditation. That pursuit was made more relaxing as the soundtrack’s music was chilly and soporific. Tropical fish swam nearby, solo and in schools. Kayak VR: Mirage is a perfect distraction from the sometimes stressful days of running a journalistic nonprofit. And yes, I traveled around and explored beaches, ice floes or canyon rivers. I avoided the multiplayer mode where I would race against someone else. This one is for peace and quiet.

Even more enticing is the essential app for PS VR2, Horizon Call of the Mountain. It is based on the world of the popular sci-fi series by Guerilla Games with a red-haired woman named Aloy as the protagonist. Here you start in a canoe as a male prisoner named Ryas who has been sent on a mission to discover why machines, animal-like robots, attack humans. If you can imagine the jungle of an amusement park water ride made much more hyper-realistic – and surprisingly – you’ll understand the excitement you felt within the first few minutes of Call of the Mountain. It’s done so deftly that you’ll think you’re about to be killed by five different mechanical animals.

In Horizon Call of the Mountain you will battle Machines, animal-like robots. Sony interactive entertainment

After surrendering to the opening three times, I realized that the game makers were relying on the VR trope to pass under a thunderous monster, in this case a towering mix of wild animal and machine called a Tallneck. But it’s more than that. It is the panic of the pair of soldiers in the boat as they try to paddle away from the machines. It’s the giant Stormbird threatening from above, or more machines bursting through a dilapidated tunnel overgrown with vines. And it’s the crocodile-like Snapmaw, knocking over your boat and dropping you underwater, sliding closer. There was no fear of any of this, just three or four miraculous “holy crap” gasps that made me realize that Sony had created a super-attractive piece of software that takes up nearly 45 gigabytes of the PS5’s data space.

In Horizon Call of the Mountain, sharp-toothed robot animals come into your face as you shoot them with arrows. Sony interactive entertainment

Since you’re climbing a mountain here, there’s a lot of virtual climbing up ladders or cliffs using a grab and pull motion with the left and right handheld controllers. You also move left and right, which gives the feeling of a great outdoor space. Like a dinosaur movie in 3D, there are battles with sharp-toothed robot animals with wide open, almost in your face as they try to maim and destroy. After shooting them with arrows, there’s more work to climb the mountain in this six- to seven-hour offering. But it’s never boring, as there’s a beautifully lurid waterfall, ravine and river view below.

At a rugged settlement I discovered some panpipes. When I brought them to my mouth and pushed some air out of them, I was magically able to make several notes. I’m not sure how this was creatively accomplished, but it was a wonderful little detail that I’ll remember.

Although the device’s field of view is 110 degrees, you can turn around to see what’s going on behind you. There is also no need to stand while playing. The couch-sit mode is soothing, even when the adventure gets exciting.

Setup is quick and doesn’t require a lot of light like in the early days of Oculus. Still, even though there’s only one cable to plug into the console’s USB port, I’d rather be untethered. In fact, I prefer a lighter headset, one that allows me to play for more than half an hour before fatigue sets in.

A computer in the headset explains the weight. The processing power of PS VR2 combined with amazing art and design make for the best VR gaming experience I’ve ever had. All in all, it’s a powerful twist on the familiar that works. In addition to the Horizon game being part of the system launch, it’s Sony’s own story-rich creations like The Last of Us, Uncharted, and God of War that could draw other established fans to this VR system in the future.

PS VR2 Review: Sony is betting big on virtual reality

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