A Discount’s Nice, But PSVR Needs Full Games

Sony recently announced that PlayStation VR is getting a price drop from $399 US to $199 US until March 3. This is for the base model, which doesn’t come with Move Controllers or the required PlayStation Camera. Of course, bundles have been discounted significantly as well, and now’s a better time than ever to jump onto the PSVR train. At least, it would be – unfortunately, even with PSVR’s decent library of titles, and a handful of announced games, there just aren’t many compelling full-fledged gaming experiences coming in the near future. That’s what Sony needs to focus on.

Sony announced last December that PSVR has sold over 2 million units, which is an incredibly high number considering it had been out for little over a year and cost the same amount as a brand new PlayStation 4 Pro. It was sold out for a while, and though Sony surely wants to sell even more units, the fact of the matter is there’s already a decently high amount of PSVR units out in the wild. Unfortunately, hype for the PSVR has died down significantly since launch, largely due to a lack of bigger games with full-length experiences.

When I bought the PSVR at launch, I had minimal experience with Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, and though it was clear those machines were superior to the PSVR on a technical level, it felt as if Sony was going to win the sales war. As it currently stands, the PSVR is outpacing its competition and much of the reason for this is its lower price (now significantly lower price) and its connection with the PlayStation 4, which has sold over 70 million units on its own. The sales will continue to grow, but a boom will only happen once those full gameplay experiences hit. There have, luckily, been a few good examples of this so far.

Resident Evil 7, which is arguably the best VR game on the market, worked well with the system because it was a great, complete, compelling game in its own right – it just happened to be compatible with PlayStation VR. It had a rich (yet relatively simple for the franchise) narrative, weapon upgrades, various hidden items, rooms and equipment; resource management, well-designed environments and enemies, and more – in short, it was a good game. Throw VR on top of that and it became a horrifying nightmare… with a rich narrative, weapon upgrades, yadda yadda yadda. Resident Evil 7 with PSVR was a total experience, running about eight hours for most players, and though eye-strain and motion sickness was a minor issue while playing the game, it was minimized significantly when compared to many of its VR contemporaries. Our fingers are crossed that Resident Evil 8 will have VR support as well and that a new king of VR gaming will be crowned.

Horror in general works well in Virtual Reality. With this naturally all-encompassing technology, it’s easy to get lost in a terrifying atmosphere, unwilling to move forward out of fear that a zombie or ghost or what have you will jump out from around the corner and scare the living hell out of you. Everything feels more real and tangible in VR and many developers have picked up on that. Many VR experiences available today are rooted in horror – Until Dawn: Rush of Blood and The Inpatient from Supermassive Games did decent jobs of striking fear into gamers with PSVR, but neither title was a fully fleshed out game in its own right, and no amount of horror could give them compelling gameplay and engrossing narrative threads. Neither of these games were the original Until Dawn, in other words, and both only took a couple of hours at most to beat. Luckily, horror isn’t the only genre that has graced PSVR.

Many wonderful, small games have hit the platform, and though none of them are worth shilling out hundreds of dollars on their own right, they do help make a case for the system overall. Batman: Arkham VR launched with PSVR and remains one of the better-known titles for it. It allowed players to jump into the Caped Crusader’s Kevlar suit and solve some mysteries pivotal to the Arkham games. It only lasted about an hour and a half, three if players used a completionist’s mindset, but it was a great experience – of course, the three proper Arkham games were better, more complete experiences, but those aren’t conducive to VR. Rocksteady Studios played to the medium’s strengths and made a great little game. Similar titles include Rez Infinite, Thumper and Job Simulator.

Supplemental VR experiences have been relatively successful as well, though they certainly aren’t system sellers. Some free VR expansions, like Rise of the Tomb Raider’s Blood Ties DLC, were excellent little chunks of gameplay. Games like this are more likely than not just an excuse for developers to dip their toes in the VR waters to see how warm it is – Blood Ties didn’t light the world on fire, but it also didn’t cost anything for consumers. No harm no foul. But then there are paid expansions/standalone experiences based on existing IP, like Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV, a genuinely awful fishing simulator that cost $30 US and should have been a free add-on. Supplemental experiences like these are hit-or-miss, and though they’ve largely missed, they do serve as nice little test runs for developers to get used to the technology. Hopefully these test runs will yield more complete VR games in the future.

As it stands, these fuller experiences are few and far between, and PSVR exclusive games that last more than a couple hours are exceptionally rare. Farpoint, a first-person shooter made by Impulse Gear, did its damndest to be a system seller for PSVR. Unfortunately, it ended up being a shallow (albeit impressive) experience that had solid controls that were baked into an otherwise underwhelming game. RIGS: Mechanized Combat League from Guerilla Cambridge took the same approach to better results and still stands as one of the systems better titles. Still, there need to be more games like this, built from the ground up for PSVR, trying to push the system to its technical and gameplay limits, producing both interesting virtual reality experiences and great gameplay in its own right. Recently, developers have taken to remixing existing games and retrofitting them to VR, like DOOM VR and Skyrim VR — both were successful in their own right, but both also paled in comparison to their traditional counterparts.

Dreams, the mysterious game about making games from LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule, might be that next big title for PSVR – thing is, just like Resident Evil 7, it’s not a standalone PSVR game. It simply has VR elements and we’re still not entirely sure how VR will work with the game. Heck, we’re still not certain how the game itself works, but it would be silly to count Media Molecule out this early. And though integrating VR into Dreams surely isn’t a cheap prospect, it’s one that might pay off dividends for Media Molecule and Sony. It’s a tactic that Gran Turismo Sport employed as well – though the entire game wasn’t available in VR, a good chunk of it was, and it was an interesting (albeit vomit-inducing) experience.

It’s hard to tell exactly where PSVR will go from here, and though there aren’t a huge amount of major titles announced for the future, there are a decent few of games on the horizon. Moss, Bravo Team, Ace Combat 7, Blood and Truth and more are on their way, but it’s still uncertain if any of them will make a major splash in the industry. Some of those games are total VR experiences, some of them are traditional games with PSVR support and it looks like it’s that mix that will carry PSVR into the future. Whether it’s complete games that are simply playable in VR, or if they’re conceived, delivered and raised as VR games, Sony needs those full-length, meaty experiences for their little VR unit that could. VR will likely take gaming into the future, but it’s complete games like Resident Evil 7 and RIGS that have given it real weight so far – hopefully Sony and third-party developers will continue to invest in these big games. Ideally, Sony’s major developers like Naughty Dog or Sucker Punch would go all-in on PSVR and make games for it from the ground up. Of course, because of PSVR’s relatively small install base (again, it’s 1/35 the size of the PS4’s), these big names would be remiss to dedicate all their time, energy and resources on something that won’t sell as well as a traditional game. One day soon, a PSVR title may very well be the next big thing: not just for Virtual Reality, but for games as a whole. We hope that day is soon.