When the original PlayStation VR launched in 2016, it already felt a bit dated, with its stationary setup and PlayStation Move controllers outclassed by the room-scale VR offered by its PC competitors. PlayStation VR2, thankfully, brings things up to parity. Room-scale VR is on offer here thanks to inside-out headset-based tracking, and the controllers feel on-par with Meta’s latest.
PSVR2 also brings some new features to the table. Its eye-tracking is a first for a VR headset, as is haptic feedback built into the headset itself. The controllers also leverage the same haptic feedback and adaptive triggers found in the PS5’s excellent DualSense controller, which if implemented well will be all the more effective paired with the immersion of VR.
It’s also, however, still rooted – or should I say – tethered to the past. Like other PC-based VR headsets, the PSVR2 still requires a wired connection to your PS5. It’s a single thin cable that’s relatively uninhibiting, especially compared to the multi-cable clutter of its predecessor, but it could feel limiting for people who have gotten used to the tether-free experience of the Meta Quest 2.
Last week I went to PlayStation’s USA headquarters for the first hands-on with PSVR2. I played four games: Resident Evil Village VR, Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge Enhanced Edition, The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners Chapter 2, and Horizon Call of the Mountain. Let me tell you about all of it.
Let’s start with the hardware itself. PlayStation VR2 has a similar headset design to its predecessor, with a band that rests on the crown of your head and hugs the nape of your neck. This gives a nice weight distribution that doesn’t feel front-heavy like some VR headsets can. On the back of the band is a button that slides it out when pressed, as well as a dial that lets you tighten the band further if necessary. There’s also a button on the face mask that lets you slide it in or out, making the headset easy to put on and then adjust to a comfortable position. While I didn’t test it this way, a Sony rep did demonstrate that there’s ample room inside the headset to accommodate glasses. Once the headset is on, there’s a dial on the top left of the face unit that adjusts the lenses in order to make sure everything’s in focus.
The OLED panels inside offer a 2000×2040 per-eye resolution at up to 120hz. This is the highest resolution available among the mainstream VR headsets, and provided an outstanding level of visual fidelity. I didn’t notice the dreaded “screen door” effect at all during my time with the system. This is further aided by something called foveated rendering, which essentially means that the system uses its built-in eye-tracking to increase the resolution of whatever you’re looking at.
PSVR2 uses four cameras built into the headset for inside-out tracking of the controllers and your surroundings. When you first set up your play space, the system will prompt you to slowly look around as it scans the area – including the floor and ceiling – and it designates a safe area for you to play within. From there you can draw lines on the ground to manually add or subtract from the area, exactly the same as how it’s done on Meta’s headsets. There’s also a button on the bottom right of the headset that activates a pass-through camera, allowing you to see your surroundings and pick up your controllers.
Speaking of controllers, their design is relatively similar to those of PC VR systems. Each has a thumbstick, two primary input buttons (Triangle and Square on the left, Circle and Cross on the right), as well as a PS and options button apiece. For triggers, there’s an L2/R2, which are activated by your index fingers and serve as the primary trigger for guns and other handheld devices. R1/L1 meanwhile rest underneath your middle/ring fingers, and are used to articulate gripping items.
The controllers also have capacitive capabilities, letting them sense whether or not you’re touching the controller even if you’re not pressing a button. This is relatively similar to the Valve Index’s “Knuckles” controllers, though I found the finger tracking to be not quite as accurate as Valve’s implementation. Valve’s controllers also have a strap across the back of your hand that holds the controllers in place if you completely open your palm, whereas the PSVR2 controllers require you to at least grip them slightly at all times. This was most noticeable while playing The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners, where simply closing my hand wasn’t enough to grip a weapon, and instead I had to hold down the L1/R1 bumper with my middle and ring fingers. The button isn’t particularly hard to press, but having to keep pressure on it for an extended period of time – like when you’re holding a gun or knife – started to cause my hand to tire and cramp after playing for more than 20 minutes or so.
The controllers also feature the same haptic feedback and adaptive triggers as the PS5’s DualSense controller. Unfortunately, neither really stood out to me during the game demos I played. All the developers I talked to mentioned plans for implementing both features in their games, but aside from Horizon Call of the Mountain, they weren’t yet present in the demo builds that I played. In Horizon, I also didn’t particularly notice the triggers doing anything special, but the section I played only used a bow and arrow, so I didn’t have any other weapons to compare the sensation with. The developers told me that other weapons later in the game would further leverage the triggers, such as a large mounted ballista that would feel heavy to pull.
In addition to the controllers, the headset itself also has haptic feedback built in. Again this was most notable for me playing Horizon VR – either it wasn’t yet implemented in the other games, or wasn’t present enough for me to remember it. Either way, I found the feature to be a nice addition to the haptic landscape, though I mostly just noticed it when taking damage or otherwise being tossed around. It wasn’t distracting or uncomfortable at all, but I also didn’t particularly feel that it added a layer of immersion that I couldn’t live without. I suppose that, like the DualSense’s haptics, its implementation will vary from game to game and all depend on how much effort developers put into utilizing it.
The headset doesn’t have integrated audio, instead leaving you to rely on either TV/speaker sound or a pair of headphones – either wirelessly connected to your PS5, or via a 3.5mm headphone jack on the PSVR2 headset. I found this solution to be a bit of a letdown compared to the Valve Index’s spatial off-ear audio, as it meant requiring a pair of headphones if you wanted spatial audio. Personally, I felt the headset/headphones combo to be a bit bulky and cumbersome, and made it harder to get the VR2 in the perfect position in front of my eyes.
PlayStation VR2’s marquee launch game is Horizon Call of the Mountain, a standalone entry in the Horizon series. Set during the events of Horizon Zero Dawn, you play as Ryas, a disgraced former Carja soldier who, at the beginning of the game, has been taken out of prison for as-yet unknown reasons.
Ryas is an expert climber, and much of Call of the Mountain’s exploration gameplay consists of traversing the peaks of the Carja Sundom. This means physically moving your hands from grip to grip, pulling yourself up and across crags, cracks, and other climbable areas. The climbing paths appear similar to those in something like Uncharted or Tomb Raider, but moving your hands to scale these routes feels tremendously more satisfying than simply holding down a climb button.
The exploration portion I played was relatively linear, but the verticality of the level design, and how the paths sometimes fold over themselves as you reach greater heights, make it feel far from simply moving in a straight line. And while I didn’t experience it during the demo I played, Horizon’s devs told me that levels would have multiple routes to the destination, with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore.
During these exploration sections, you can use your bow and arrows to shoot targets. In the section I played this simply lit some signal fires that seemed to be mostly for getting you accustomed to shooting in VR, but I wouldn’t be surprised if later areas required you to shoot switches or levers in order to solve puzzles or open paths.
The other half of Call of the Mountain’s gameplay is combat with the mechanical beasts of the Carja Sundom. When you enter combat, the game shifts into a circular arena with you locked to a ring-shaped path with your opponent in the middle. You can dodge left and right by holding the a button and swiping your right arm, which is used to both move along your circular path as well as dodge incoming attacks. Attacking uses the same bow-and-arrow pantomime as in the exploration sections – hold down right trigger and reach behind your shoulder to pull out an arrow, nock it to the bow and pull back, aim, and release the trigger to shoot.
I played two combat encounters, the first against a single of the raptor-like Watcher enemies, which attacked with tail swipes and charged slow-moving energy balls. The other was a boss fight against a massive Thunderjaw, which had a much larger circular arena littered with pieces of cover useful for hiding from its barrage of lasers, missiles, and other attacks.
PlayStation VR2 thankfully feels like a modern entry into the VR landscape, with top-notch visual fidelity and comfortable ergonomics. Its haptics and adaptive triggers, if implemented well, will be a welcome addition to the immersive experience. As with all new pieces of hardware, the question now falls to whether there will be enough games to make the investment worth it. First-party games like Horizon Call of the Mountain certainly help assuage those fears, and while nothing has been announced yet, I would be shocked if the outstanding Half-Life: Alyx didn’t make its way to the platform.
The other key question is price. The original PSVR launched at $399, and considering the hardware on offer here, I wouldn’t be surprised to see PSVR2 launch at $499 – especially considering the inflation-related price increases that recently hit both the Meta Quest 2 and the PS5 itself in many territories. Still, for PS5 owners who want an easy (read: non-PC based) way to access a high-end VR experience, PSVR2 is very promising.
For more on PSVR2, check out the trailer for the PSVR2 versions of No Man’s Sky and Resident Evil Village. And for everything else in the world of games and tech, stick with IGN.
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Author: Bo Moore