When the original PlayStation VR device launched in 2016, it already seemed a bit dated, with its stationary setup and PlayStation Move controllers outclassed by the VR offered by its PC competitors. PlayStation VR2, luckily, puts things on the same level. Room-scale VR is on offer here thanks to inside-out device-based tracking, and the controls feel on par with the latest from Meta.
PSVR2 also brings some new features. Eye tracking is the first time it has been incorporated into a VR device, as is haptic feedback built into the headset itself. The controllers also take advantage of the same haptic feedback and adaptive triggers found in PS5’s excellent DualSense controller, which if implemented well will be even more effective when combined with VR immersion.
However, it is also still rooted or, should I say, tied to the past. Like other PC-based VR devices, PSVR2 still requires a wired connection to PS5. It’s a single, slim cable that’s relatively simple, especially when compared to its predecessor’s clutter of cables, but might be limiting for those who have gotten used to the cable-free experience of Meta Quest 2, for example.
Last week I went to the PlayStation headquarters in the United States to try psvr2 for the first time. Jugué a cuatro juegos: Resident Evil Village VR, Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge Enhanced Edition, The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners Chapter 2 y Horizon Call of the Mountain. Deja que te cuente todo.
Let’s start with the hardware itself. PlayStation VR2 has a similar design to its predecessor, with a band that rests on the crown of the head and hugs the nape of the neck. This way the weight is properly distributed and it doesn’t feel front-heavy like it does with some VR headsets. On the back of the band is a button that slides out when pressed, as well as a dial that allows you to tighten the band further if needed. There is also a button on the facemask that allows you to slide it in or out, making the helmet easy to put on and adjust to a comfortable position. Although I didn’t test it this way, a Sony representative demonstrated that there is ample space inside the device to accommodate glasses. Once attached, there’s a dial on the top left of the face unit that adjusts the lenses to make sure everything is in focus.
I haven’t noticed the dreaded “screen door” effect at all.
The OLED panels inside offer a resolution of 2000×2040 per eye and up to 120hz. This is the highest resolution available among conventional VR devices, and provides an extraordinary level of visual fidelity. During my time with the system I did not notice the dreaded “screen door” effect. This is helped by so-called “foveated rendering”, which basically means that the system uses its built-in eye tracking system to increase the resolution of what you’re looking at.
PSVR2 uses four cameras built into the device for monitoring the controls and the environment. When you first set up your play space, the system will ask you to slowly look around while it scans the area, including the floor and ceiling, and designates a safe area for you to play within. From there, you can draw lines on the ground to manually add or subtract to the zone, just like you do on Meta devices. There’s also a button on the bottom right that activates a walk-through camera, allowing you to see your surroundings and grab the controls.
Speaking of controls, its design is relatively similar to that of PC VR systems. Each of them has a thumb stick, two primary input buttons (Triangle and Square on the left, Circle and X on the right), as well as a PS button and an options button. As for the triggers, there is an L2/R2, which is activated with the index fingers and serves as the main trigger for weapons and other handheld devices. The R1/L1, on the other hand, rest under your middle/ring fingers and are used to articulate the grip elements.
The controls also have capacitive capabilities, allowing them to detect if you are touching the controller even if you are not pressing a button. This is relatively similar to Valve Index’s “Knuckles” controllers, although I found the finger tracking to be not as accurate as Valve’s. Valve controllers also have a strap on the back of the hand that keeps the controllers in place if you open your palm wide, while PSVR2 controllers require a light grip at all times. This was most noticeable when playing The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners, where simply closing your hand wasn’t enough to grab a weapon, and instead you had to hold L1/R1 with your middle and ring fingers. The button isn’t particularly difficult to press, but having to hold it down for a long period of time (like when holding a gun or knife) started to make my hand feel tired and crampy after playing for more than approximately 20 minutes.
The controls also have the same haptic feedback and adaptive triggers as the PS5 DualSense controller. Unfortunately, neither caught my eye during demos of the games I played. Every developer I spoke to mentioned plans to implement both features in their games, but other than Horizon Call of the Mountain, they weren’t yet present in the demos I played. In Horizon, I also didn’t 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 feel to. The devs told me that other weapons later in the game would take even more advantage of triggers, like a large mounted ballista that would feel heavy to pull.
The controllers feature the same haptic feedback and adaptive triggers as the PS5 DualSense controller.
In addition to the controls the helmet itself also has built-in haptic feedback. Once again, this was the most noticeable thing for me when playing Horizon VR; Either it wasn’t implemented in the other games yet, or it wasn’t present enough for me to notice. In any case, I found the feature to be a nice addition to the haptic landscape, although I noticed it mostly when taking damage or being buffeted. It wasn’t distracting or uncomfortable at all, but it also didn’t feel like it added a layer of immersion that I couldn’t live without. I assume that, like the DualSense haptic, its implementation will vary from game to game and it will all depend on the effort developers put into using it.
The device does not have integrated audio, so you have to rely on the sound from your TV/speaker or a pair of headphones, either connected wirelessly to PS5 or via the PSVR2 headset’s 3.5mm headphone jack. I found this solution a bit disappointing compared to Valve Index’s off-ear spatial audio, as it meant you needed a pair of headphones if you wanted spatial audio. Personally, I found the headphone/headphone combo to be a bit bulky and awkward, and made it difficult to get the VR2 in the perfect position in front of my eyes.
The PlayStation VR2 launch game is Horizon Call of the Mountain, a standalone installment in the Horizon series. Set in the events of Horizon Zero Dawn, the player takes on the role of Ryas, a disgraced former Carja soldier who, at the start of the game, has been released from jail for as-yet-unknown reasons.
Ryas is an expert climber, and much of Horizon Call of the Mountain’s exploration gameplay involves traversing mountain peaks. This means physically moving your hands from one grip to another, climbing and traversing ridges, crevices and other climbable areas. Climbing paths are similar to those in Uncharted or Tomb Raider, but moving your hands to climb these routes is much more satisfying than holding down a climb button.
The exploration part I played was relatively linear, but the verticality of the level design, and the way the paths sometimes fold in on themselves as greater heights are reached, make it feel far from simply moving in a straight line. And while I didn’t experience it during the demo I played, the Horizon developers told me that the levels would have multiple paths to the destination, with lots of nooks and crannies to explore.
During these exploration sections, you can use your bow and arrows to shoot at targets. In the section I played, this just set off some signal fires which seemed to be mostly to get you used to shooting in VR, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in later areas you had to shoot switches or levers to solve puzzles or open paths.
The other half of Call of the Mountain’s gameplay is combat with the mechanical beasts. When you go into combat, the game changes to a circular arena in which you are locked in a ring-shaped path with your opponent in the center. You can dodge left and right by holding down the button and swinging your right arm, which serves both to move along your circular path and to dodge incoming attacks. Attacking uses the same bow and arrow mechanics as in the exploration sections: hold the right trigger and reach behind your shoulder to draw an arrow, attach it to the bow and pull back, aim and release the arrow. trigger to shoot.
I’ve played two matches, the first against one of the raptor-type enemies, which attacks with tail swipes and charges slow-moving energy balls. The other was a fight against a massive Thunderjaw, which had a much larger circular stage filled with useful cover pieces to hide from its barrage of lasers, missiles, and other attacks.
Fortunately, PlayStation VR2 looks like a modern entry into the VR landscape, with first-class visual fidelity and comfortable ergonomics. 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 is whether there will be enough games to make the investment worthwhile. First-party games like Horizon Call of the Mountain certainly help allay those fears, and while nothing has been announced yet, I’d be surprised if the exceptional Half-Life: Alyx didn’t make it to the platform.
The other key issue is the price.. The original PSVR launched at $399, and considering the hardware on offer here, I wouldn’t be surprised if PSVR2 launched at $499, especially given the inflation-related price increases that have hit so much recently. Meta Quest 2 like 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 holds a lot of promise.