Although this was my first E3 ever, and with such big names like EA, Ubisoft and Microsoft out in full force, my first day at what would be the world’s gaming mecca for the next three days saw me making a beeline for the Oculus VR booth. After all that I’ve read about their groundbreaking VR device, I finally managed to get my hands (and head) on one.
Although I had planned ahead of time to run straight to Oculus VR’s booth once the doors opened at noon, the wait to get inside was still considerable, and I wound up standing in line for well over an hour. As the line inched forward with almost subliminal speed, the glass walls of the booth gave those in line a tantalizing view of what awaited.
The Oculus booth had a series of chairs and TVs neatly arranged to allow up to twenty people to try out the Rift, with each seat having its own usher to help guide the user. From what I could see, there were demos of Alien: Isolation, Lucky’s Tale, Super Hot, and what appeared to be Super Mario 64 at play.
As I got to the front of the line, we were told we would be assigned the earliest seat that became available, and would have no choice on what demo we would play. I wound up demoing Super Hot, a first person shooter with a rather unique twist.
As my designated usher helped me put on the bulky Oculus Rift, he told me the goals of the game: Reach the center of the room without getting shot, pick up the gun lying on the floor, and kill anyone that wasn’t me. The twist was that time would advance only if I moved. So, if I stood still, time would freeze and I would be free to scrutinize the trajectory of incoming bullets and thus plan my moves accordingly. The faster I moved, the closer time sped up to real-time, so it was often best to move as slowly as possible.
Right off the bat, the Rift felt very comfortable. Even though it extends outward from your face quite a bit, it wasn’t particularly heavy and I did not find myself having to fight its weight. Putting on the Rift and being transported into the game world was initially disorienting, and once the game began and I started looking around, I felt as if I would fall over. I’d spent my entire life playing games with the game world at least a couple of feet from my eyes, and now the Rift reduced that distance to none. However, it only took a few seconds to adjust to the game world, and the experience went from feeling queasy to natural.
The demo began me in a monochrome hallway, and as soon as I rounded the corner I was greeted with three red armed figures at the end of the hallway who fired upon me. As soon as I advanced, however, the windows to my right were shattered by oncoming bullets from outside and I was promptly killed.
A few more deaths later, I was more accustomed to the game and playing with the Rift, and found myself turning my head and angling myself to try and study the paths of the oncoming bullets. The simplistic nature of the game’s graphics coupled with the almost-but-not-quite-there screen resolution of the unit I played with made it occasionally difficult to see bullets that were headed directly towards me, and it was also difficult to gauge how much of a berth I would need to give the bullets without getting shot. Often times I found myself hugging the left wall of the corridor, thinking an oncoming bullet would pass me by, only to have it hit me. I’ll chalk this up to me not being used to playing in a VR world.
At any rate, I finally managed to evade a hail of gunfire and pick up the pistol at the center of the hallway. Using my time manipulating abilities, I managed to shoot and kill each of the three attackers, an act that felt particularly satisfying with the Rift, considering that the pistol-gripping arm that extends outwards really felt like my arm, as opposed to a disembodied arm appearing from the corner of the monitor.
After beating this demo, the game invited me to try a “hardcore” mode, in which the enemies were now armed with shotguns instead of pistols. You can imagine how that went.
Overall, my brief but enjoyable experience with the Oculus Rift leaves me with little doubt that VR gaming is a serious and very real thing that will change the way we play games forever. The fact that it could be adapted to a variety of games, even older ones like Mario 64, is evidence of the unit’s adaptability and potential to be used across all genres. Many of the games featuring the Rift were adapted for it after the fact, but one can only imagine the kinds of games we will see when developers start building games around it.