When I first approached the HTC Vive I was rather sceptical about the whole thing, especially the hand controllers. They reminded me too much of the Nintendo Wii and I wasn’t convinced that they were a good idea. Compared to the Oculus Rift CV1 which I was used to, the headset looked uncomfortable and awkward.
However, the second you put the headset on, you are instantly immersed. The freedom to move around given to you by the two area sensors adds a whole new level of realism which is only enhanced by the precision of the head and hand tracking. The controllers alone are well thought out, ergonomic and allow for a number of different actions to match different game situations which I will mention later.
The first thing I tried out on the Vive was the ‘portal-esque’ demo scene, but before I could start I had to complete the setup. Sometimes these setups can be tedious and awkward, requiring several trips to the nearest computer just to google how to do something. Much to my delight, the setup was easy to follow and I rarely needed to even remove the headset. Firstly I cleared a space and followed the guide to easily map this out by tracing the edge of the area. Once the play-area was established, I proceeded with the demo. The demo does a really good job of acquainting you with all the controls, and the in-built sound from the headphones was very immersive and tracked the direction of sounds very well.
After finishing the demo, the first game I tried out was Hotdogs, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, an interesting title which doesn’t quite let on what the game is about. The game itself is comprised of multiple firing range situations. Each of these ranges allows you access to a number of different and interesting weapons which are updated frequently. Without reading too much into the controls, I dived straight in and was surprised by how natural the controls felt. With the small amount of gun knowledge I already possessed I was able to figure out the mechanics of each gun without too much thought. The real fun in this game comes from how realistic the controls are able to be by using the configuration of the hand controls to their full potential. From the way you can change the fire select with your thumb down to the way you insert the magazines, everything feels smooth and well thought out. I especially enjoyed a section of the game called the “GUNnasium”. This involves an assault course with blue cubes scattered along the way to shoot at. To navigate this course you must holster your gun and magazine on the virtual vest slots available and, using the hand controls, drag yourself around the course by grabbing various poles, ladders and handles.
Next on the list of games to try was ‘The Lab’ from Valve, creators of Portal, Half Life and many other big titles. This game was aptly described in a review as “a big playground full of VR toys”. It features many different activities, from repairing robots to defending castles and most things in between! I tried out the ‘Longbow Tower Defence’ which is in essence a wave based castle defence game. Using the hand controls, I picked up a bow and nocked an arrow, the controllers lined up nicely and the motion of drawing back the string felt great with the added vibration from the controllers as the string pulled tight. Firing the arrows took a bit of getting used to but once I had the feel for it I was exploding my paper adversaries left right and centre. After my castle had eventually been sacked, I had to take a break to rest my arms. I would strongly advise warming up beforehand!
The final game I decided to try was called ‘Budget Cuts’. In this game, you take the role of a spy sneaking round an office to get to some papers, the only catch being that the office is full of deadly robots! This game makes great use of the Vive’s play area, allowing you to peer round doorways, duck behind cover and altogether make yourself look like a fool to anyone outside of the game… Within the game your main weapon is your throwing knives, which are great fun to use, although a little tricky to master. Travelling round in this game is made great fun by the various vents which you must duck through. The experience is altogether quite scary, leaving you checking over your shoulder every other second.
Overall I believe that the HTC Vive is a fantastic new platform which opens so many avenues for new and different gameplay styles. I can’t wait to see the games currently being developed for later this year. I think it will be interesting to see how the Oculus Touch compares when it is eventually released, but for now HTC is definitely top of the VR leaderboard in terms of immersion, accurate tracking and ease of use.
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