This piece was originally published October 19, 2018 and is part of The A.V. Club’s favorite features of 2018
Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
If you ever wanted a handy portrait of the anxieties that have dominated most of my adult life, the weekend I bought a PlayStation VR would probably illustrate them nicely. Clicking my way through a big-box retailer’s website, I managed to trick my bank into dropping a fraud protection alert on my debit card, first ordering, then canceling, then ordering the damn thing three times in quick succession. I wasn’t just trying to drive my poor credit union nuts, though; I was trapped in a grim cycle of desire and buyer’s remorse, experiencing the push and pull at the core of present-day virtual reality, which constantly asks if the minor (but oh so expensive) delights of the present are enough to keep you betting on the potential of the future.
In the end, I took the plunge (though my jittery hands weren’t helped by the blue-shirted employee who openly questioned why I was dropping my hard-earned money on the thing when I went to the store to pick it up). Taking the device home, I set it up in my living room, dipped into the comforting darkness of the headset, and then… looked around for something to play.
Mind you, this wasn’t back in the earliest days of the accessory’s release, when early adopters could reasonably expect pickings to be light. This was just a few months ago, well into the system’s second year, and the offerings on hand were still surprisingly bleak. When I picked through the PSN store, I found that what was there was either painfully short or so lacking in polish as to feel like a digital first draft. The copy of Skyrim VR that came with my set ensured that I’d have something weighty to dig into in my first weeks with the system, but once I’d made my way through Sony’s admirable but brief VR Worlds disc of interesting tech demos, I was left a little dispirited that I had nothing better to play on my futuristic bauble than a game I’d already gotten sick of back in 2012.
The PSVR turns 2 this month, an anniversary Sony is celebrating with a fairly comprehensive sale in its online shop. I’ve been taking advantage of the discounts to bulk up my library and see if I can gauge the system’s full potential, mostly in an effort to once and for all figure out if this thing was actually a decent purchase, or if I’m just a wasteful idiot who’s destroying his life chasing after fancy, shiny things. Here are some quick thoughts and recommendations on the stuff I’ve encountered in my time with the PSVR, and also notes on how much of a jackass they made me feel like for having bought or acquired them in the first place.
I’d already played a bit of Superhot Team’s VR remake of its time-twisting first-person shooter on a friend’s system, so I knew it was going to be one of my first acquisitions once I had a PSVR of my own. Intuitive, smooth, and endlessly replayable, it’s my favorite piece of software on the system by an easy mile. It’s hard to describe how ridiculously good it feels to control the flow of time in the game’s monochromatic gun fights, dodging around bullets, taking aim with the Move controllers, and pulling a lot of what I can only describe as “total John Wick shit” from start to finish.
Jackass factor: I got this one for free courtesy of work, but I would have gladly paid full price for it. It goes a long way toward selling the system just on its own merits, and it’s the only PSVR game I regularly return to to play through over and over again.
It’s Skyrim, except everything’s a little fuzzy.
Jackass factor: Mild. On the one hand, Skyrim is not a game I was aching to ever play again. On the other hand, 1) it came with the system, which was already on sale, and 2) so many VR games are so scared of making players motion sick (something I’m blessedly immune to) that having one big world to just run around in and zap stuff with lightning in carries a lot of value.
Essentially a glorified demo disc, it’s a great way to give people their first “Oh, wow!” moment when you show them the device.
Jackass factor: Low, though, like the PSVR itself, it does reek of rapidly wasting potential.
As good as everyone’s told you (but still too short to be a true killer app), this one positions you as an omniscient giant navigating a brave little mouse through a storybook world. Whoever did the animation work on Quill, your adorable murine friend, deserves a medal.
Jackass factor: Zilch, at least until you get to the abrupt ending and run smack into a big old ad for Moss 2. Which I’ll play, but still: This system is sorely lacking for stuff that feels like full “games,” even at its best.
This is the first of these games that I picked up during the recent sale. I was hoping for something like the HTC Vive’s Tilt Brush, and ended up with its non-union knockoff equivalent instead. The painting part works well enough, but the controls and presentation are deeply infused with the jankiness that seems inherent to almost every third-party PSVR experience.
Jackass factor: Medium to high: There’s no reason PSVR couldn’t have a really great painting app, except that no one (including Sony) apparently sees much profit in making one.
A borderline perfect flying experience melded with a pretty lousy game, Eagle Flight does everything it can to get in the way of its own brilliance. But the feeling of diving through the abandoned streets of Paris feels too damn good even for depressingly difficult checkpoint races and aerial battles to knock it out of the sky.
Jackass factor: Very low, even if developers are apparently so scared of people puking into their headsets that they don’t even give them the option to turn off some of their anti-motion-sickness measures, which is very frustrating for speed freaks like myself.
Another game I was lucky enough to get for free through work, this one totally surprised me. It’s essentially an idle-style strategy game, as you assign your villagers to collect resources and round up various dinos. The joy comes in how incredibly tactile it all is; you pluck your people up off the ground, hammer buildings to complete them, and generally feel like a (mostly) benevolent god playing in his cartoon toy box.
Jackass factor: This is one of the first PSVR games that suggested I might not be a total asshole for dropping $300 on the damn thing.
I’ve written at length about this one. It’s another one of the rare PSVR games that feels like it’s trying to be something new, rather than just one more poorly implemented collection of jump-scares or defensive shooter missions.
Jackass factor: Zero.
Both of these come from Owlchemy Labs, generally considered one of the best names in the nascent VR business. Both are also essentially “stand in one place and play with toys” simulators, though Rick And Morty lets you move around a bit more, do some light puzzles, and enjoy the pleasure of Justin Roiland burping directly into your ears. Job Simulator is also a remarkably good “throwing paper airplanes” simulator, though it doesn’t lean enough into that angle.
Jackass factor: Medium. On the one hand, these are about as good as present-day VR games get: funny, well-made, and full of loving little details. On the other hand, they really emphasize how limited the medium is as a whole, when the best thing it can simulate is standing in a cubicle, cloning vomit-inducing donuts in a photocopier so you can giggle at a constant spray of wet, green chunks issuing from your virtual mouth.
Obviously, this list—and its cataloging of my own inherent jackassery—isn’t comprehensive. There are plenty of PSVR games, like Batman: Arkham VR or Pixel Ripped (which I’ve bought, but haven’t spent enough time with to talk about), that aren’t covered here, not to mention the dozens of god-awful and cheap-looking titles that dominate the PSN store, and which I’ve been avoiding. There are also a handful of really exciting upcoming titles—Software’s mysterious adventure game Déraciné, long-promised gangster shooter Blood & Truth, and flashy rhythm game Beat Saber—that have me excited. But it does provide a brief survey of the system’s highest highs to date, two years into its life cycle. They’re there, obviously, but they can’t answer the real question: Am I a jackass for thinking they’re not nearly high enough?