While the rest of gaming world seemingly hopped on the VR bus as soon as Oculus Rift was announced, I've been skeptical. Every time a friend or developer started to extol the virtues of strapping on a Weapon X mask to play Mirror's Edge, I'd ask the same question: How long did you play while wearing it? Half an hour tops? No way anyone's going to want to sit around marathoning Skyrim with shoebox-sized goggles on their dome.
That may still be true, but my doubts were unfounded. I finally put the big gaming VR helmets on my face at E3 2014 and took them for a quick spin. I have no idea if I'll ever want to sit in my living room playing four hours of Yakuza 8 wearing an Oculus or Morpheus, but I do think VR technology adds a remarkable bodily element to video games that's unlike anything else. My experiences with Oculus and Morpheus were also dramatically different.
Gallery | 10 Photos
Alien: Isolation (E3 2014)
Turning my head as though it were actually me hurtling down some Colorado mountain road felt cool, but not wholly dissimilar to just holding a controller. At least, that is, until I accidentally ran head-on into a speeding truck. The reflex, this insane automatic physical sensation was profound. The game kept going, though, like any racer and I tried to pick up speed to recover time. A speedy marriage of new sensations and traditional, quick hit gaming sold me on the experience.
The Alien: Isolation demo cooked up for the new model of Oculus Rift had none of that speed. As detailed by Jess Conditt, this is just a slice of Creative Assembly's horror game adapted for VR. The creeping pace of Isolation couldn't have been more different than Sony's luge, but it was even more affecting. Pairing the familiar dual analog stick movement of modern first-person games with subtle, natural head motions to look around a room felt odd only for a second before I acclimated. Peering around corners like a veritable Ellen Ripley was just plain right.
Here was the game I could imagine playing for hours in a helmet. Or not, because the moment I turned and actually got the Big Chap himself out of the corner of my eye, I literally screamed. Right in the middle of Oculus' booth. I couldn't help myself. It happened again when the thing chased me down and skewered me on its jagged prehensile tail. Another remarkably evocative bodily moment drawn out by this new technology.
Which piece of hardware won the day? Neither really. I found both devices comfortable in different ways and their resolutions to be only nominally different. Project Morpheus was lighter, but felt tighter on my head despite its store-ready build quality. Oculus had heft but it didn't make me feel trapped in something quite like Morpheus did. There's no clear winner at this development stage, but who cares? The tech behind both is exciting enough on its own. My eyes are open.