Oculus Rift Hands-On Preview – Say goodbye to your TV

Even as a resolute console gamer, I couldn’t wait to get my face into an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Even with the recent Project Morpheus announcement for the PS4, I was keen to see how the one that got the ball truly rolling for VR again handled.

Was Oculus Rift set to become the future of gaming? Well to look forwards, I needed to look back. More specifically, I visited the Play Blackpool expo, an event that focuses on retro consoles and arcade cabinets. So rather appropriately, I was able to try out one of the earliest attempts at VR in the Nintendo Virtual Boy and Mario Tennis. Who was I kidding though; the main reason I had for attending was for a little glimpse of the future by being able to get my head into an Oculus Rift.

FortressCraft Evolved

So when FortressCraft Evolved, another take on the often-copied Minecraft formula was one of the two games available at Play Blackpool, I have to admit I was a little deflated while waiting in the queue, and a bit more so when I discovered that the demo was an on-rails flythrough, with just head-tracking allowed.

Then I tried it.

The short version, this is amazing. This on-rails demo acted as flythrough of a pre-made fortress in order to show off how the Oculus Rift would feel with the game when navigating from a first-person viewpoint. First-person games are what have me excited the most for the Oculus Rift as I feel they would be a natural fit for one-to-one head tracking that replicated a character’s in-game movements. And now I’ve seen a first-person Oculus Rift title in action, I can’t wait for the likes of Battlefield and Mirror’s Edge to make that new TV I’ve just bought completely obsolete.

Anyway, enough future-gazing, back to FortressCraft Evolved. Today’s demo took me through a factory-like creation with large halls and many horizontal shafts, where I was free to look anywhere I pleased. The total immersion offered by being able to look upwards as the walls rushed by when I descended one of the many tunnels was one of the most engaging gaming experiences I’ve ever had and gives you an impression of depth and scale that just doesn’t exist in regular gaming.

This sense of depth and immersion was aided by the 3D conversion. There was no denying the 3D made some objects blurry with some rough double-images but I was told that the lenses of the Oculus can be calibrated to smooth out the experience. But seeing as this was a demo at an expo, it couldn’t be set up each time for each player’s eyes, which is fair enough given drawn-out queuing is fun for nobody.

The headset itself was very comfortable to wear and was surprisingly light, as the weight seems to be evenly distributed thanks to the straps around the back of your head. The rubberised goggles do a great job of blocking outside light too, I don’t recall seeing any screen edges either further adding to that all-important sense of immersion.

VR is going to be a great addition for existing fans of FortressCraft who are planning on picking up an Oculus headset. You can give the regular game a go right now via Steam’s Early Access for £4.99.

Minotaur Rescue

This is the game at Play Blackpool that had gamers swaying their heads with massive Stevie Wonder smiles all weekend. This simple retro-style shooter uses only head tracking to steer your vessel, with the guns firing automatically in any direction you face. Check out the video below to see me playing it to get a better idea.

The handling sees the ship float around in almost slippery fashion as if it’s on ice. Tiny head movements allow you to spin on the spot and shoot, while sharper turns move the ship quickly, allowing for a surprisingly high level of responsiveness once you get used to accounting for the extra distance you might slide forward after turning.

The basic graphics were enhanced by some excellent 3D effects, which gave the playing area a spherical feel instead of a squared arena. Most impressive were the bursts of pixels from exploding ships, most notably my own when I’d get a little too carried away and smash into an asteroid.

While I’ll be hoping to use control pads in most VR games, this title showed just how capable the Oculus is as a control method itself. Interestingly, everyone ahead of me in the queue seemed to get to grips with it very quickly and the age-range of people keen to try it was as wide as the queue was long. Now that Oculus has been acquired by Facebook, this really could be a huge leap forwards for gaming.

I’ll be keen to try out Sony’s Project Morpheus headset when they start showing it off at expos, but for now the Oculus Rift is clearly the one to beat. It’s also the biggest reason (as a console gamer) I may consider buying a PC rig.

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