My first voyage into the world of the Oculus Rift was a clumsy one. After many frustrating attempts at optimising sensor placement in my tiny office, and a brief but incredibly joyful interaction with a robot that definitely isn’t Disney’s Wall-E in First Contact, I sped through a bunch of different experiences getting to grips with the headset. Here are some of my early takeaways from my first day in virtual reality – with more on the way as I continue to submit to our new robot overlords. (The experiences below omit too many details about Wild Rollercoaster, which made me stumble onto a precious box of Jaffa Cakes and almost dash my brand new toy against the cold laminate floor).
This game could have been about Bruce Wayne taking a luxurious dump whilst reading a newspaper and I still would have played it. Though it’s a short experience, it’s well-crafted, focusing in on the detective element of the Arkham games and bringing you quite literally face to face with a select few members of Batman’s one-of-a-kind rogue’s gallery. If you don’t get distracted by throwing Batarangs at literally everything and soaking in the Gotham atmosphere you’ll easily clear Batman VR in under 45 minutes. If you love the Dark Knight and have fond memories of Rocksteady’s games this is a trip down memory lane, with a few neat puzzles and spooks along the way. It’d be amazing to see this developed into a full game rather than the delicious tasting platter it is.
Playtime: 58 minutes (Including 13 minutes of flexing Bat-hands and chucking the utility belt at scenery/Alfred)
Holy crap. Robo Recall has been lavished with praise and rightfully so. It’s the most fleshed out experience I’ve had in VR so far, essentially an on-rails shooter with Portal’s sense of humour. Annihilating hordes of killer robots with a gun you’ve pulled from your actual waist with one hand, catching bullets and flinging them back with the other. When the homicidal bots get up close, you can seize one of their convenient handles and rip off a limb to beat them into de-activation. I’ll never forget the first time a robot got in my face and I yanked his head off and threw it at one of his mates. It’s fast, frantic, and heavily based around arcade score chasing, with a campaign that supposedly takes about four hours to clear. It was slightly awkward to play it in a cramped office, but luckily my exposed knuckles took more of a beating than the touch controllers.
Playtime: 2 hours (Well over half an hour of clobbering robots with their own limbs. Handy)
Valve’s living, breathing tech demo is both a great collection of mini-games and VR experiences and a welcome return to Aperture. You can defend a toy castle against barbarian hordes with a bow, slingshot AI cores into stacks of warehouse debris (with an appearance from Justin Roiland), and attempt to repair a testing robot with disastrous results. Highlights include Glad0s herself descending from the ceiling at one point to passive aggressively taunt you as only she can, before dropping you into a Portal test chamber only to rip that glorious hope from you as soon as its taken root. The Lab is a fantastic toybox that showcases the potential of the technology, and throughout today I’ve returned to the Longbow game several times. I still suck at it, but it’s a very satisfying, tactile experience with all the Valve flavour we’re missing these days.
Playtime: 1 hour 30 minutes (Portal VR please)
I played VRchat for an excess of four hours today and I have enough material on this wonderful, terrible mess for an article of its own (which it will definitely get at some point in the near future). It’s flavour of the month at the moment with YouTubers and streamers, because it has infinite comedic potential, and can be used in some very clever ways to play games within the framework. I saw none of those in my time hopping from world to world as the most generic male human avatar I could find. For two hours I waded through ten year old Ugandan Knuckles shouting “DO U KNO DE WAE LOL” and more little anime girls than Wagamama’s after a convention closes down for the day. Spurred on by OneyPlays’ adventures as Beef Boy I headed to The Great Pug – one of the more popular areas, a very well made bar stocked with food and drink, and attempted to strike up a conversation with some of the locals. A Russian Vegeta called me a homo but said that was okay because I wasn’t Russian, and Pikachu threw a drink in my face. Oh, and a giant cow got VR drunk with me, mooing sadly to himself as he drowned his sorrows.
For the most part, VRchat was a glitchy, overwhelming experience (though I learned as I passed a couple of regulars that it was down to server issues today) full of noise and people trying to be as outrageous as possible in this brave new world (shoutout to the guy who shouted “I’M GAY!” before folding in on himself like an old lawn chair, making a series of horrendous slurping noises, and finally ascending to the heavens to the tune of Jesus Take the Wheel, never to be seen again). But it has so much potential. I don’t exaggerate when I say that VRchat could very well be VR’s killer app if it keeps building on what it has and develops the right structure. As it stands, it’s the skeleton of something great – a new frontier for socialising and self expression, for absurdity and connectivity. But at this precise moment it’s dominated by sloppy technical problems and guys sucking their own dicks.
And hundreds of fucking Ugandan Knuckles shouting dead memes over a pile of scantily clad anime girls.
Playtime: 4 confusing hours.
NEXT TIME ON THE VR DIARIES: Google Earth VR, Face Your Fears, Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality, and more! I would like to say there’ll be less self-fellating strangers, but apparently we just live in that kind of world now.