Oculus Rift – Hands-on

The year is 2016. The scene is set in a well conditioned office cellar. Johnny is sitting in a chair, moving slightly. He is looking left, right, up and down. It may look like paranoia or neck aerobics, but make no mistake, it has a very technological reason: our protagonist is testing the new Oculus Rift.

Oculus Rift - Hand-On

Doom goes Virtual Reality

Already back in 2012 Oculus presented the Rift to the Kickstarter community, but it should take another four years, until consumers could lay their hands on the final release version.

Now, finally, is the time and we are holding the latest Rift in hands…or rather, we wear it on our head.

Oculus Rift – Consumer Version

The Oculus Rift comes with a wireless Xbox One gamepad, a small remote control and a head tracker, which tracks your head movements in a 3D space. Compared to older developer versions, the new Rift also has built-in audio, which makes it easier and more comfortable to handle.

Oculus Rift - Packungsinhalt

To dive into the virtual reality (VR) you also need a potent gaming rig, which can power the 2160×1200 pixels of the headset. Our testing machine therefore consists of an Intel i5-6500, a GeForce GTX 980 Ti and 16 GB of RAM.

Virtual Toystore

Software for the Rift can firstly be obtained via the dedicated “Oculus Store“. Other stores like Valve’s Steam or stand-alone programs can be used as well, of course.

Oculus Store

Most of the applications in the stores are demo programs or interactive movies, but big, well-known developers like Epic Games (Unreal Engine, Unreal Tournament), Crytek (The Climb, Crysis, Far Cry) and Insomniac Games (Edge of Nowhere, Ratchet & Clank, Spyro) are also jumping on the virtual reality bandwagon.

In the middle of the action

Back to our protagonist Johnny. His upper body is swaying slowly, in sync with the virtual rollercoaster on the screen. The headset’s 3D-effect makes the visual impression become reality. Up, down, headfirst. Faster, slower. The ride in the digital amusement park takes its toll on Johnny’s tummy. He can’t say whether the Rift or the rollercoaster is to blame, but it’s likely a combination of both, he thinks. Especially in scenes, where the gamepad is used to simulate leg movement, Johnny’s sense of balance takes a hit. He takes it like a man. What a hero.

In general, the usage of the Xbox controller disrupts the immersive flow, because finger movements just don’t feel like walking, running or jumping. Least of all while sitting. Without the gamepad, you are mostly just watching or using simple gestures via the Oculus remote. Even though this limits the scope of action, it can still be impressive – as demos like Showdown show. Even interactive movies like Henry are nice to watch, despite being targeted towards children.

But Johnny is not a child. He is a gamer, cereal eater, coffee drinker and expert for a variety of things (cigars, SpongeBob…you name it). A jack of all trades. The IT-world’s John McClane. Real games are needed.

Playing with the Rift

We fire up the VR mode of Project CARS. Menus are projected onto a virtual canvas and this brings some attention to the Rift’s weaknesses. Text in the center of the screen is crystal clear, but it gets more blurry on the edges and even features some annoying light rays. Our tester assures us, that he hasn’t had any Gin today, so this shouldn’t be the cause of the problem. Another problem of the headset is the showing of the “pixel grid” in some scenes, depending on the lighting and coloring. Nothing escapes our Johnny.

Back to the game. Our pilot is sitting in a race car and looks around the virtual cockpit – the ideal use case for racing aficionados and their multi-monitor setups. The 3D-effect is clearly adding to the gaming experience, even though the possibilities are endless pretty limited. Turns out having an alter ego who doesn’t walk around but sits in a chair actually benefits the immersion (no contradiction between drastic movement in-game and non-movement on your part). The Oculus Rift works pretty well in this department, but our pilot sucks at racing. We cannot watch anymore and end this tragedy by quitting the game and turning towards Lucky’s Tale (included in the Rift bundle).
In Lucky’s Tale, the player takes the role of an observer (in terms of his point-of-view) while controlling the main character via the gamepad in a Super-Mario-like world. The depth-perception is a nice touch and the previously mentioned problems aren’t as severe, due to the colorful graphics. It definitely is fun and we would love to see a VR-version of Trine or Super Mario itself.

Snap back to reality

“It’s surprisingly comfortable”, our crashtest dummy yells, as he takes off the headset and re-enters the real world. Vain personalities and hair-fetishists should close their eyes at this point: The Rift’s straps definitely affected the bizarre shape, which Johnny calls a “hairstyle” and his face shows clear marks of wearing a 3D-headset. That’s the price we have to pay for entering the realm of reality gone digital. The Oculus Rift isn’t perfect. It isn’t cheap either. But still, Johnny is impressed and excited about the future of Virtual Reality and what it may bring in the next few years. Hopefully hair-friendly headsets and better input systems.