I was simply not impressed by the Oculus Rift at first sight.
Yeah, I’m actually in the minority when saying I wasn’t blown away after experiencing it for the first time almost a year ago. Despite all the unanimous praise from the “forward-thinking” folks at Vox Media (and even my ow colleagues) to gamers enamored by the futurism, the enthusiasm seemed a little too rabid, a little too ‘perfect’. This culminated when I got a Development Kit 2 (DK2) in possession, my expectations were hopeful but things quickly went sour. I found the head-mounted display heavy and vein-throbbing with the straps, nausea-inducing after just an hour of play, and interface performance often feeling like an afterthought completely.
This was my takeaway after a few weeks and an aborted hands-on article with an preliminary headset. For me, the tech was too early for primetime to actually spend your hard-earned money on. Oh sure, you could argue you got what you paid for as a developer’s device, but then again it helps to have an almost irrational amount of enthusiasm to unconditionally defend something without reasonable criticism.
My opinion changed somewhat when I wore the Crescent Bay prototype back in January during CES, and for the better. And so here we are with the Appropriately named Rift, this is basically the culmination of VR that Oculus has toiled on throughout its much publicized development. For hardware you get two OLED screens inside which provides a very clean image, low persistence flickering, and wide field of view. These are features that debuted in Crescent Bay and the carryover features are continue with integrated headphones that utilize HRTF (head-related transfer functionality) for immersive audio, and further refined head tracking latency through a included IR LED sensor stand.
The first thing about the Rift is how much lighter it is, the Crescent Bay was surprisingly comfortable to wear and this redesign improves upon it, Oculus has also made liberal use of softer fabrics and the fit adjustment is now controlled by a dial which can move the distance between your eyes and screen, it’s also worth noting that people with prescription glasses can now switch out faceplates to make room for the lenses. And yes, you do indeed get an Xbox One controller, which is thoughtful addition but more of a telling sign that Microsoft is prepping their Xbox and Windows platforms for seamless VR.
But I did have to wait in line to find of all this out for myself (because the ‘ingenious’ Oculus Live Android/iOS app, which I feel no obligation hide its existence from you, had all editorial demo openings instantly filled), after the 45 minute wait for the scheduled appointments, and getting myself fitted like a pilot, I was eventually able to experience just one game for roughly 6-7 minutes with a Xbox One controller (not the ringlike Touch Controllers everybody is fawning over).
For this I chose the highly anticipated title Edge of Nowhere from Insomniac Games, an VR-exclusive action-platform game that becomes a survival thriller almost immediately. Our protagonist Vincent, is a player looking for his estranged lover who warns him through cryptic voiceovers not to follow her, it’s full of mystery and quite unsettling the further you brave the treacherous summit and harsh blizzard white – within minutes you know that something isn’t right and actually made me a little nervous as I ventured deeper into the unknown.
The gameplay is admittedly direct where I was able to move forward as the ice broke behind me, with jumping and climbing action thrown in. The camera was always fixed behind me and only moved when I turned my head in whatever direction I was physically looking, for the most part it was effective in showcasing how the Rift could be utilized in a third-person view and augmented the cinematic tension when rope climbing down to the unknown abyss. I won’t ruin anything else but I’ll just say that the element of immersion will evoke awe, fear, and suspense.
But after all of this do my criticisms fade after getting the full pre-production experience from the Rift? Well, not quite entirely – I mean it really is proof-of-concept hardware that delivers on the promise of virtual reality; however, these emotions could be fleeting like the appeal of stereoscopic 3D was for mainstream entertainment. It’s initially impressive in the same way but I’m probably one of the few who has real questions about immersive technology being relegated to niche status in terms of convenience, availability, and viability when the initial excitement does wear off.
Regardless, Oculus has ultimately become a game-changer on a greater scale and will finally ship the consumer Rift out early next year (Q1 2016) – for a currently undisclosed but undoubtedly expensive MSRP.