E3 2015 Project Morpheus Preview – Face on, Face off

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Virtual Reality was, rather surprisingly, little more than a footnote during both Microsoft’s and Sony’s press conference’s this year. You could argue that the former had big news last week, partnering up with Oculus to bring streaming to the frontrunner in VR headwear. The latter, however, as far more of a stake in the emerging hardware market. Sony’s Morpheus might have been missing from the grand global stage, but it made a resounding statement with a few, really excellent demos.

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Getting a lot of time with the headset at E3, there were two things that were immediately apparent. Firstly, Morpheus (and good VR in general) was able to immerse me in the games I was playing like not other software or hardware has been able to before. Putting on the headset and a pair of headphones (try stick to noise cancelling ones where possible) immediately made me forget about the bustling expo around me – with only faint murmurings from Zoe nearby able to break the illusion. It’s an incredible feeling that has to be experienced first-hand, and one that VR has the potential to just grow on year after year.

Secondly, Morpheus still has a way to get until being a final, retail product. Having tried the retail Oculus Rift moments before, Sony’s offering was lacking some of the intricate details that made the former so much better. The Morpheus is a bit heavy and unbalanced at times, although the smart head strap does manage to balance the weight across the surface of your head and neck as best it can. The Oculus actually adjust based on the movement of your head – and right now that, with the much lighter frame, makes for an unequivocal advantage in terms of comfort for the Rift.

The Morpheus also has an odd tendency to shift out of focus should your eyes not properly align with the two lenses. You could think of it as the first iteration of the 3DS – where the 3D effect was only possible at a certain angle. The Morpheus is nowhere near as demanding, but having view suddenly drop out of focus while moving your head around is jarring, never mind that your brain will naturally evoke a sense of panic when this happens, and you could end up feeling violently ill.

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They’re minor though, and I had no such sickness occur during various demos with the headset. Blasting ships in space with EVE: Valkyrie still remains one of the best VR games around, with a combination of beautiful trail renders and flashy combat making full use of the hardware. On the other hand, and almost entirely passive demo called The Kitchen delivered an unparalleled horror experience in the space of a few minutes. Trapped in a chair, you’re forced to watch a gruesome decapitation take place in front of you, followed by an uneasy few moments punctuated by eerie sounds and an eventual, horrifying jump scare. It’s a surprise that will ship with Morpheus, and gives a good look at how the horror genre will probably benefit from this tech the most.

But by far the most interesting use of both Morpheus and Move controllers was the London Heist. Split into two separate demos and being developed as a Morpheus experience, the London Heist transcended from being simply a VR supported game into one that simply wouldn’t exist without it.

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The first one I played had me sitting in a car. The two Move controllers act as hands, with the triggers allowing me to pick up, drop, grab and let go of various things in the level. I could open a cubby hole to reveal ammunition magazines, which came in handy for the vehicular ambush that soon followed. Soon after, I was firing away at enemies as if the Mac 11 in-game was in my actual hand – using my other one to grab magazines and shove them into the bottom of the weapon to reload. It was natural, real and incredibly powerful, with the near-perfect Move controller pairing making the truly hands-on experience a surreal one.

The second was far more interactive. After a gorgeous interrogation scene – which involved surveying the surrounding dark, damp stone room and picking up a cell phone to my ear – I entered a flashback sequence that ties in with the narrative of the experience. Opening drawers on a desk with the Move controllers again, I found a key for a nearby safe – which of course triggered an alarm and sent a couple of British goons my way. With a gun hidden in a drawer and some ammo, I was soon physically ducking, peering out of cover and returning fire in a way that I assume I would in real life. If ammo was too far away, I’d have to stretch and lean to grab it, exposing myself to incoming fire in the process. It was extremely mobile, but all the more engrossing and immersive.

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London Heist and The Kitchen are just slice – little experiences – but they both show more than anything else how Sony is approaching their VR space. There are still games like Valkyrie, where looking around a virtual cockpit and encompassing celestial battlefield are part of the experience. But there’s also a lot of potential for different types of games. I’m incredibly interested to see how the horror scene especially evolves with this tech – allowing it to use more advanced techniques than just jump scares to evoke screams of adrenaline and raw fear from players. London Heist shows how traditional controllers aren’t a requirement to the games that we play wither – and it’s the first that actually mimic natural, real behaviour in ways that simply can’t be labelled as a gimmick.

Sony’s Morpheus isn’t ready for shelves yet, but their direction with the product is pretty much on point at the moment. That’s most of the battle won in my view.

Last Updated: June 18, 2015

Alessandro Barbosa

You can all call me Sandy until I figure out how to edit this thing, which is probably never. Sandy not good enough? Call me xXx_J0k3R_360degreeN0Sc0pe_xXx. Also, Geoff's a bastard.

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