I Spent Two Weeks With The PSVR 2, And I’ve Come To Really Love It

I Spent Two Weeks With The PSVR 2, And I’ve Come To Really Love It

I’ve now spent a couple of weeks with the PlayStation VR 2, Sony’s latest foray into the virtual reality space. It’s a device that, upon its initial announcement, seemed like it might be a case of The Wrong Tech arriving at The Wrong Time. Its primary VR competitor exerts a market stranglehold with a cheaper, self-contained unit. Its direct console competitor has no interest in the VR space at all. VR die-hards are only interested in more powerful PCVR headsets and the flexibility the platform provides. Consumer interest in VR overall was flagging as cost-of-living spiked, and recession tremors rumbled.

And the PSVR 2 would arrive amidst this downturn, at a high Australian price point, attached to an equally expensive console that only recently became broadly available.

The odds were well and truly against it. They remain so now. Despite it all, the PSVR 2 makes a strong argument for itself as a piece of hardware. Whether that argument makes sense to you will be very much in the eye of the beholder, but in the two weeks I have had to get to know the device, I have found it to be a headset with manners to match its potential. What the hardware lacks in raw power compared to something like an HTC Vive XR Elite, it makes up for with the kind of design confidence only Sony can muster. Understanding that it’s performing for a tough crowd, PSVR 2 puts on a brave face and goes on stage anyway.

The Hardware

The PSVR 2 shares quite a bit of DNA with its predecessor. With its visor and round headbands that let it sit like a crown, the two units have very similar silhouettes. Unlike the previous model, the PSVR 2 does not require the external PlayStation Camera and ditches the coloured lights on the HMD that were used to track its movement. Rather, it uses an array of built-in cameras to track movement. There is no over-arching headband like the Quest 2 — rather, the head ring acts as a kind of ballast, tightened with a dial and pulled down low at the back of the head to secure the viewfinder at eye level.

This is a surprisingly lightweight headset. One of the primary critiques of competitors like the Meta Quest 2 is that they are front-heavy, the weight of the viewfinder causing it to sag over time. This is only exacerbated by plugging in a USB cable, which mounts to the side of the Quest’s viewfinder, creating another lateral weight. I have not run into any such problems with the PSVR 2 — because the head ring is made of plastic and leatherised padding, it doesn’t sag like a velcro strap. Further, Sony has wisely run the cable and headphone jacks around the back, making them part of the ballast. Even the device’s haptic feedback, which causes it to rumble gently against the head in reaction to in-game stimulus, is carefully weighted. The balance is one of the device’s more impressive components, allowing you to wear it for longer periods without it becoming uncomfortable on the skull.

The left-hand rear side of the head ring holds the unit’s 3.5mm headphone jack, and in the same spot on the right side is a small hole for a rubber bung. This is where you can insert the PSVR2’s supplied earbud headphones. These headphones are arranged in a small, half-circular plastic splint that, when attached to the headset, wraps around the back of your head and keeps the headphones out of your way. It’s perhaps the neatest design choice the entire headset makes — the economy of it is to be admired.

Inside the viewfinder is where some of the PSVR 2’s real magic happens. Its twin lenses are a stark leap in resolution over the original model, jumping from 960 x 1080 to 2000 x 2040 4K per eye. The effect is pronounced. Using the PSVR 1 immediately after the PSVR 2 felt like trying to stare through builder’s plastic. The PSVR 2 is extremely clear, by comparison, allowing moments like Horizon: Call of the Mountain‘s theme park ride intro to immerse the player.

I have run into a couple of drawbacks with the lenses. I will preface this by saying that these may well be specific David Problems that don’t affect you at all, but I feel they’re worth noting anyway. First things first — the PSVR 2 viewfinder uses a soft, thin, black rubber seal to better block light out of the headset. There are still gaps in the side of the headset, and, if a major source of light is positioned behind you, it is possible to get some pretty gnarly reflections on the lenses while in use. The rubber used for the seals also gets a bit warm and may leave you a bit sweaty in the face by the time you take it off, particularly if the game you’re playing is quite physical. Additionally, you should make sure you don’t have any meetings or public engagements booked for right after a session in the PSVR 2 because it leaves quite an impression — on the skin of your face. I wore its marks around for about an hour after using it.

I’ve also found the viewfinder somewhat fiddly to bring into focus, though I would strongly argue that the blame for this lies with my own failing eyesight than any visibility issues inherent to the headset. The lenses can be moved horizontally to line up with the user’s eyes and decrease image blurring. My eyes are, by the system’s own metric, quite close together. I also wear glasses, which, though the viewfinder leaves plenty of space for them to fit, only seem to make the problem worse. I always find the sweet spot in the end, but it takes a bit of mucking around.

While I’m on the topic of glasses, the PSVR 2 viewfinder leaves a lot of space for glasses so (unless you wear comically chunky frames) you shouldn’t have to remove yours to wear the headset comfortably. This kind of thoughtful design, the little accommodations the device doesn’t necessarily have to make, are what I’m talking about when I say this is a headset with manners. The quirk of this extra room, for me at least, lies in the specific shape of my glasses. I wear frames shaped somewhere between an oval and a rectangle. This means the top of my frames sits very near the top of my field of vision. Even when pushed all the way up against my nose and brow, inside the PSVR 2 headset, my glasses block the upper part of the image, disrupting immersion.

Your mileage, of course, may vary, but it’s still something to consider if you’re a four-eyes like me. What is interesting is that my own personal vision predicament did not flummox the built-in eye-tracking cameras a jot. It was able to follow my eyes without complaint and remained snappy and precise whether I was wearing glasses or not.

The bottom of the headset features a small array of buttons to allow you to power the unit on or off, and move to the menu and greyscale external views at any time. This is particularly useful for those moments when you have to fumble around and find your Sense controllers in games like Gran Turismo 7, where they don’t display on-screen.

The controllers are a complete 180 on the original PSVR. Gone are the much-maligned, swiftly-repurposed PlayStation Move controllers, replaced with the new Sense controllers. These have more in common with the Meta Quest’s ring controllers, with ergonomic grips and sensors for detecting finger movement. I’ve found them very comfortable to use, though, as mentioned, in games where they’re harder to see they aren’t as easy to “read” blind as Meta’s design. By that I mean, if the controllers are not displayed onscreen through the headset, I have to fumble around with them a bit before I find the right way to hold them. You can just hit the view change button on the headset to see them, though, so it’s far from a big deal, but it may create a bit of stomach lurching false intertia if the game you’re playing is moving at the time.

What I do think is worth noting is the Sense controllers’ relatively short battery life. Top-to-tail, I was able to get about four hours out of each controller before they started to fade on me and would need recharging. Sony also placed the charging port rather strangely — at the absolute bottom of each controller’s rear side — which makes inserting the USB cable a little fiddly. I understand how it wound up there, though — options for port placement on these controllers are fairly restricted, doubly-so for ports that wouldn’t get in the player’s way if they wanted to charge them while playing.

If you’re considering picking up a PSVR 2 kit, I highly recommend spending the extra for one of Sony’s charging stations (or a third-party alternative). Both controllers charge on a USB-C cable, and, should you not have enough ports to charge them together, you’ll need to charge them individually, which will take even more time. Having the charging station on hand cleanly solves the problem. Just pop them on the station when you’re done playing, and you’ll never run out of juice.

It should be noted that for many games, like Moss and Gran Turismo 7, you are free to use the DualSense controller instead of the Sense controls.

The Setup and Interactivity

Setting up the PSVR 2 is an extremely easy process, and is almost a plug-and-play affair. Your PS5 will detect the headset the moment it’s connected and powered on, beginning a short setup process that will walk you through a few need-to-knows and a quick check of the eye tracking. Once completed, you’ll be free to use your PSVR 2 as you like. Pop the headset on, and you’ll see a floating flatscreen view of your PS5 dashboard. Launching any PSVR 2 games from the browser will (for the most part) drop you straight into VR mode. Some, like Gran Turismo 7, leave you in flatscreen mode right up until the moment your race begins, but, for most, it’s an instant switch to an immersive, three-dimensional space.

If you’re the sort of person that likes to launch their games from the main PS5 menu, I would recommend creating a few game lists just for the VR titles, so you actually know which ones are for PSVR 2 at a glance. Xbox drops a clear X|S icon onto the thumbnail of any games designed for specific play on its current-gen hardware, and it’s something I’d like to see Sony adopt. With games for PlayStations 1 through 5, PSPs and PSVR platforms all running around on the PlayStation Store, it’s starting to feel like this kind of delineation would be useful.

One gripe I’ve had with the headset during play is that, particularly in Gran Turismo 7, the headset requires frequent recentering. This may be a function of not having any external cameras — it could just be that the unit finds it harder to track your default head position and picks what it thinks is the closest to the current centre of view. The trouble is, this is VR. I’m constantly moving my head around. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, PSVR 2, but stop helping!

The other issue I’ve brushed up against may be connected to the lack of satellite cameras as well. The PSVR 2 seems to really struggle when the player bends over or squats down low to the ground to pick something up. I did this a bit in Horizon: Call of the Mountain a few times and found it to be a fiddly, disorienting experience. This was remedied by simply standing up straight as normal and aiming my controller at objects on the ground. They would then leap into my hands without complaint, and without me bending down. This is fine, obviously, but it does ding overall immersion somewhat.

However, as long you’re not doing that, interactivity is of a very high quality overall. The simple test I always run, and I did it even in our preview last month, is to pick something up, throw it in the air and try to catch it. How easy is that to do? How natural does it feel? When I do this, I’m looking for that realistic arc of throwing, say, a tennis ball into the air and catching it. The PSVR 2 Sense controllers passed this test with (mostly) flying colours. Horizon: Call of the Mountain has an interesting relationship to physics, where a flick of the wrist caused numerous ceramic pots to be flung well out of arm’s reach. Other games like Kayak VR better communicated weight and physicality, and the true dexterity of these controllers was allowed to shine.

The Games

The PSVR 2 launched with a total of 37 games (a full list of which you can read through here). As it inched closer to launch, it added another ten titles to that list. Despite that rather beefy launch library, the PSVR 2 can currently only count a handful of titles as exclusives. They are:

  • Horizon: Call of the Mountain, which was made as a bespoke platform exclusive and wow-factor showroom,
  • Gran Turismo 7, which was retrofitted with a VR mode a year after release, but is also a wow-factor showroom
  • The Dark Pictures Switchback VR, which is a bespoke jumpscare horror game based on Supermassive’s series of episodic horror titles

All of the PSVR 2’s remaining titles are cross-platform games already available on other VR platforms. The library is large, certainly, but you can get it all elsewhere. While it’s great to have so many titles available to new PSVR 2 owners on console who may not have played them before, it’s almost certainly going to be a turn-off to those who are better versed in VR headsets — particularly the Quest 2, which requires no external hardware at all for operation. It’s easy to view the library as a path to bringing these games to a new audience as it is to view them as a limiting factor in enticing existing VR owners into making the jump.

Further, the lack of backward compatibility with PSVR 1 games feels like an unnecessary sting for those upgrading from the previous hardware. In fairness to Sony, it hasn’t repackaged those older titles for repurchase on the new platform either, so six of one, half a dozen of the other, I suppose. The usual arguments for better video game preservation echo in the mind. We’ll have to see if Sony has any moves it wants to make there. I, for one, will be a bit dirty if the couple of hundred bucks I paid for VR games on my PS4 gets sent to the phantom zone.

Ok, those are my concerns. Let’s talk about what I loved.

In case you couldn’t tell by the fact that I’ve mentioned it more than any other game in this piece, I loved Gran Turismo 7 in VR. This is perhaps the new gold standard for VR driving sims. I had the same revelatory “holy shit” moment when I dropped into my first VR race in GT7 that I got from Flight Simulator the first time my VR plane broke through the clouds. Even with the slight graphical downgrade the game has had to take to get it running fluidly in VR, it’s still a remarkably beautiful game to look at, to say nothing of how perfectly its driving sim suits VR. Sitting in the driver’s seat of any of the game’s meticulously rendered dream machines is a complete and utter pleasure. It allows GT7‘s worshipful treatment of every car to sing. It all makes sense, in a way that it doesn’t on the flat screen, because you’re given a meaningful, first-hand experience of what it’s like to drive them, hear them, feel them, and even inspect them in the game’s room-scale museum exhibits. Extraordinary stuff. I can’t stop playing it. I’m currently trying to get a sim racing setup so I can be further immersed.

Horizon: Call of the Mountain is an interesting combination of the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios and a solid adventure game. It owes a debt to another VR title called The Climb, and has you playing not as heroine Aloy but as a member of the Shadow Carja just trying to get by. It’s one of the most extraordinarily beautiful VR games I’ve ever played, displaying a level of visual fidelity that even high-end PCVR fiends would find appealing. I wish it was a little deeper, a little more complex, but as it stands, it’s a fine launch title. You can read Alice Clarke’s full review for us right over here.

Star Wars: Tales from Galaxy’s Edge: Enhanced Edition is the same excellent game it was on other VR platforms, given a slightly higher-res coat of paint for its PSVR 2 release. It’s a perfect game for younger players interested in VR and plays like a rollicking YA novel set in the Star Wars universe. There’s a bit of everything — blaster shootouts, physical puzzle solving, spectacular 3D set pieces, quiet character moments and, yes, lightsaber fights. I watch with interest to see if the three-part Vader Immortal games will make their way to the platform.

Kayak VR is an excellent baby’s-first-VR experience that is exactly what it says on the tin. A tranquil, slow-and-steady VR experience for those that might not be as experienced, or get a bit queasy in VR. Though there’s not a huge amount of content, its value lies more in the spectacle and tranquillity of its experience.

Jurassic World Aftermath put me in a room with a raptor about 30 minutes into the game, making a lifelong personal nightmare a reality. I scrambled to hide in a locker so fast that the game didn’t have time to even start the Hiding tutorial. Seems cool, but terrifying. Nightmarish. Will not be playing that one again. Please understand.

Gun-based games like Zombieland VR: Headshot Fever are fun, irreverent shooters with strong mechanics. Zombieland VR turns its levels into speed runs, with headshots slowing time to give you a few precious extra seconds to extend your run. Once again, maybe its my useless eyesight, but I’ve found shooting in the PSVR 2 to be a bit of a challenge. I always seem to be aiming just a few centimetres short of what I want to hit. Not a dealbreaker by any means — with some practice I was able to dial it in — but missing what felt like confirmed hits threw me for a loop.

Final thoughts

The PSVR 2 is a great VR headset for console players that have never owned one before. It’ll impress Quest 2 owners to no end, but may not be as dazzling to the PCVR lifers. It makes a lot of small, wise iterations on the previous hardware and works surprisingly hard to justify its elevated price point. It would have been easy for Sony to phone this one in and try to make a bit of extra bank, but it hasn’t. It’s done the work, which is why the headset is so eager to strut its stuff from the second you turn it on. The setup is a breeze, it’s comfortable to wear, the vision through its lenses is (quite literally) without comparison on a console, and its library is already extensive, even if it’s been largely borrowed from elsewhere.

I didn’t think I was going to be quite this impressed, but it won me over. This might be a bit much for some, but let me close by describing the PSVR 2 this way: every time Nintendo has announced a new console since 2004, I’ve balked at it conceptually. But the moment I had each of those consoles in hand, they instantly clarified themselves, and I understood what Nintendo was trying to do. There’s a bit of that sensation in the PSVR 2. After Sony announced its eye-watering price point, I was resistant to the very idea of it. Everything was going up in price, belts were being tightened around the world, and the barrier for entry — a PS5, the VR unit, and games on top of that — was sky high. But the moment I used it, the PSVR 2 clicked into place for me. I get it now. I see what Sony’s trying to do with it. It doesn’t change any of the aforementioned external, economic factors, but it did reassure me that Sony wasn’t just throwing good money after bad here. Those that can afford to part with the cash required to get it up and running will find themselves the proud owners of a very persuasive piece of consumer tech.

I hope that Sony supports this device with its full chest, and that it can carve out some unique and exciting experiences it can call its own. It converted me, and I’m as surprised by that as anyone else.

Review conducted with a retail unit provided by the publisher.

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