PlayStation VR is getting no small amount of support in the lead-up to the headset’s October launch. Sony confirmed at last night’s press conference that over 50 titles for the device would be available out of the gate, ranging from the strange and unexpectedly wonderful (Statik) to the more expected blockbuster types (Battlefront’s X-Wing mission, which may or may not be standalone).
The range of so-called VR experiences Sony showed during the briefing and their post-presser playable showcase was quite wide. The relative diversity outside of simply just shooting things was refreshing to see, and it bodes well for catching the attention of all kinds of players. But across the spectrum of genres and ideas nearly every title available to test drive – over 20 of various stripes – nearly all were confined to a first-person perspective.
Exhibit A: Resident Evil VII, a direct response to the gaping hole Konami left in the horror space when it cancelled Silent Hills and abruptly wiped the existing PT’s terrifying first-person perspective from PSN last year.
Final Fantasy XV’s VR experience, unfortunately led by Noctis’s most annoying companion, was the same way, using the Behemoth battle from the game’s Episode Duscae demo to demonstrate some dull-looking light gun-style first-person shooting. The aforementioned Battlefront is a first-person X-Wing flight mission. Rocksteady’s Batman spin-off Arkham VR has you controlling the Dark Knight in, you guessed it, first-person.
I get it. First-person is the best way to sell VR as an emphatically immersive experience. Sony has already done a great job of explaining this with in the marketing for PlayStation VR Worlds by showing a headset-wearing player inside of scenarios themselves, flinching when getting screamed at by a London gangster or enduring a shark attack from an underwater cage, both inches from their face.
As the most attention-grabbing way of selling what’s still a relatively unknown concept for many, first-person grabs you and throttles you. Yet it shouldn’t be the sole way that virtual reality should be presented or limited to.
There have been a few notable exceptions, both on PSVR as well as PC-based headsets. PSVR’s Rez Infinite is Rez, only, obviously in VR; you’re not watching from the viewpoint of a wireframe avatar and it’s still arguably what Rez was really always meant to be, even if there’s no way we could have realized it way back in 2002. The synesthesia of having Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s trippy world realized all around you, even when looking at a floating polygonal man, is no less remarkable or engaging.
In fact, in some ways it may be more, because existentially the world has a presence beyond just what you can see – third-person VR has a sense of expanse and impact that’s unique simply because your perspective isn’t the same. You get a similar, if perhaps not quite as intense sensation from “being the camera” in Oculus’ Mario 64-copycat Lucky’s Tale, to use one example.
Sony and its partners – PSVR already has an impressive amount of support both for upcoming standalone games as well as VR-exclusive projects internally and from third-parties – would do well to keep this in mind. It’s one thing to blast players with the thrill and immediacy of in-your-face experiences. It’s quite another to have a new way to present games and limit them to a single perspective. Am I excited the Resident Evil VII is a loving homage to PT? Yes. Still, once launch is out of the way, let’s hope some developers take the risk of thinking outside that default stereoscopic box.