Feature Article

VR Gaming 2018 Report Card: Here's A Review Of How The Year Went

It's what you do with it that counts.

Virtual reality gaming has been a tough field to navigate since its public debut in 2016, mostly because it was a brand-new technology that had immense hype leading up to the launch of three major platforms. Over time, we got to see VR experiences evolve from its early stages in terms of scale and ingenuity as developers built upon previous work and implemented new lessons learned. In 2018, there were a few flashes of brilliance that proved VR gaming doesn't need to chase realistic visuals or total physical immersion for a transformative experience, but rather fine executions of creative ideas using the tech that's already in place.

Despite a refined version of the HTC Vive and an entry-level standalone Oculus headset in the Oculus Go, PlayStation VR stole the show late in 2018. It might be bit surprising to think that as time marches on, the more primitive technology was home to the year's best VR games; PSVR still runs on PlayStation 4 hardware (Pro or otherwise), tracks players through the PlayStation Camera, and uses the unsophisticated Move controllers. But it's a testament to Sony's ability to secure exclusivity, establish a wider platform, and have developers deliver unique, compelling experiences. And if it wasn't for a handful of great games, 2018 would've been wholly underwhelming for VR.

Astro Bot: Rescue Mission was a definite highlight of VR gaming in 2018, exclusive to PSVR.
Astro Bot: Rescue Mission was a definite highlight of VR gaming in 2018, exclusive to PSVR.

PlayStation VR Comes Out On Top With Games

Japan Studio created something truly special for PSVR with Astro Bot: Rescue Mission. Its initial pitch may not sound like much: a seated 3D platformer where you control an "AR Bot" that was once a mascot for PSVR's Playroom mini-game suite. However, it turned out to be much more than that with one clever idea after another executed to near-perfection. You control the bot itself as you handle the DualShock motion controls to use gadgets and interact with the environment. These two elements effortlessly work in tandem to solve puzzles, navigate challenging platform sequences, and take down bosses. And it all came together thanks to color and charm instilled in the game's world and characters.

In 2018, there were a few flashes of brilliance that proved VR gaming doesn't need to chase realistic visuals or total physical immersion for a transformative experience, but rather fine executions of creative ideas using the tech that's already in place.

Leading up to the release of Tetris Effect, you may have been wondering, "What could Tetris do in 2018?" Well, producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi put that doubt to rest. By merging captivating Rez-like visuals, a momentous soundtrack, and an increasing challenge, the traditional Tetris gameplay was elevated to something greater than piecing a series of blocks together to clear lines, especially when played in VR. Each of its stages presented new visual themes and music genres that brought both an overwhelming intensity at times and a calming pace at others.

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Although we've seen tactical multiplayer FPS on PC VR platforms, Firewall Zero Hour showed that this style of game can work on PSVR, despite its relative technical limitations. Zero Hour is a slower-paced, multiplayer-only shooter that pits two teams of four against each other to complete objectives. It may have shortcomings in terms of map design, progression, downtime between matches, but it's a unique PSVR experience that also put the Aim controller to good use.

In August, Sony revealed that the PSVR had sold three million units, which is more than its direct competitors Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. It's not much of a surprise given the lower barrier to entry, and this install base means that VR games could thrive on Sony's console.

Multiplatform Games Made Special On PSVR

Moss first released on PSVR in February before arriving on Vive and Rift in June. The third-person 3D action platformer used a whimsical art style to get you invested in the fate of its cute little mouse protagonist named Moss. Developer Polyarc combined simple, yet clever combat mechanics and challenging puzzles which was a delight. But it used VR to great effect by presenting a grand sense of environmental scale and seamlessly integrating traditional DualShock controls and motion sensor capabilities.

Evasion came out on all three major platforms, but it's one of the few games that put the PlayStation Aim controller to use with its new cooperative FPS experience.

There are few rhythm games like Beat Saber, available on PSVR, Vive, and Rift.
There are few rhythm games like Beat Saber, available on PSVR, Vive, and Rift.

Lastly, you can't bring up VR games without mentioning Beat Saber, an exhilarating rhythm game that has you slicing blocks to the beat of a song. Each block requires you to chop it in a certain direction using the left and right VR controllers, inducing a dance-like flow that feels gratifying regardless of difficulty. Beat Saber had an official release on PS4, but it's in early access for Vive and Rift. Unique to the PC versions however, is the ability to import your own songs for custom tracks in game, though that feature is still in development.

HTC Vive Pro, Wireless VR, And The Price Of Luxury

In May, HTC launched the Vive Pro, which is a higher resolution version of the original hardware with a few welcome ergonomic tweaks. The Vive Pro bumped up the original resolution from 2160x1200 to 2880x1600, which may not sound like much, but this translated to a noticeable improvement in visual clarity. Vive Pro's head strap was a vast improvement over the original design and made it much easier to put on and more comfortable with better weight distribution. And the built-in earphones were a critical addition since it was one less thing to worry about when using the Vive.

The big problem, though: price. The Vive Pro costs $800, and that's just for the headset alone. It really is reserved for the enthusiast that has money to blow since it also requires you to have a Vive setup already, let alone a capable gaming PC. And if you don't, then you'll be shelling out $1400 for the full Vive Pro package. It's an impressive piece of technology, but it wasn't going to transcend what the industry already had, especially for its asking price.

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Perhaps more impactful than a higher-res headset is wireless capability. 2018 saw the launch of the Vive Wireless Adapter, and introduced a high-fidelity untethered experience with minimal input lag. But again like most things HTC Vive, it's expensive: the Wireless Adapter currently goes for $300 alone.

Oculus Aims For Wider Markets With Standalone Headsets

Oculus has expanded beyond the Rift platform by launching the Oculus Go. It's a standalone headset that delivers a lighter VR experience, not intended for traditional gaming. The Go is part of the Oculus ecosystem regardless and has a few standout games like Thumper and Republique, but its controller and specs means it's limited in terms of gaming.

It bears repeating: VR gaming is still in its early stages and is still building for the future.

Oculus Go is also indicative of where the company is going in terms of VR tech. During its Oculus Connect 5 event in September, it announced that Oculus Quest (formerly Project Santa Cruz) would launch in Spring 2019 for $400, which is another standalone headset that'll have full range of motion, fully featured controllers, and more powerful hardware. Powered by a Snapdragon 835 processor, Quest isn't quite as powerful as a minimum spec Rift setup, but the prospect of a completely untethered VR experience that makes few concessions is enticing.

Verdict

At least in 2018, VR gaming was about a couple of great ideas coming to fruition. PSVR separated itself from its PC competitors late in the year by offering a platform that gave rise to a few amazing experiences like Astro Bot and Tetris Effect. It also remains the cheapest VR platform with the slimmest hardware requirements, and in turn, a significantly lower barrier to entry. But VR didn't offer much outside of that. Advances were made technologically with HTC pushing higher fidelity and Oculus introducing a standalone headset, but neither was intended to serve a wider gaming audience, at least for now.

It bears repeating: VR gaming is still in its early stages and is still building for the future. As developers continue to push VR forward and new games come out, we'll get closer to seeing VR's full potential in games. 2018 wasn't the best showcase of that, but developers are still investing the time into VR platforms, and we're hoping that comes to light in 2019.

The GoodThe Bad
+ A few amazing PSVR games that made the most of the hardware capabilities- Overall lack in impactful games, especially for PC VR platforms
+ Astro Bot: Rescue Mission is the big game VR needed- HTC's new hardware, while impressive, is far too expensive
+ Advances in tech this year lay the groundwork for the future- Did we mention an overall lack of games?
Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

highammichael

Michael Higham

Associate Editor at GameSpot. Southeast San Diego to the Bay. Salamat sa iyong suporta!
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couly

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Resident Evil 7 VR is worth it alone

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Ravenlore_basic

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I really like the Fun experiences like playroom vr... those games were great.

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Spartan_418

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Headset makers need to hurry up with releasing improved versions of the main PC ones.

We got the Vive Pro, but it's an exorbitantly priced and very incremental upgrade.

Rift CV2 should have at least been announced by now.

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Heqteur

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Edited By Heqteur

this article is laughable. Plenty of impactful VR games were released on multi VR platform. The only PSVR exclusive is Astrobot rescue mission. The other great games were all available on all platforms. The fact that the writer even had to say twice in the cons the lack of impactful games on other platform just shows how he even insist on remaining oblivious on the subject. Thanks to Greylock3491 for pointing this out too and for his elaborate comment showing why the writer totally doesn't know his subject.

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Rothgarr

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Edited By Rothgarr

@heqteur: AstroBot is the only PSVR exclusive? What about other recent games Tetris Effect, Wipeout Omega, Firewall Zero Hour, The Persistence, etc? And later this week Borderlands comes out.

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Greylock3491

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I'm a VR Enthusiast as well as a long time fan of GameSpot.

But I have to say this article seems to be written from an outside perspective.

Personally, I believe the real VR Stories of 2018 are as follows (not in any particular order)

- Nearly everyone loves Beat Saber!

- Vive Pro $800 HMD only price disappoints

- Ready Player One Movie a huge hit with VR gamers

- Oculus Rift gains and holds small lead in Steam VR Usage reports

- Low WMR prices (often $199 or less) lead to noticeable gains in Steam VR Usage reports

- Oculus Go $200 price point seen as boon to casual / mobile VR market

- The desire for HMDs with wide FOVs leads to PiMax 5K+ becoming the most sought after commercial HMD among VR Enthusiasts

- Oculus fans have mixed feeling about Quest, rumor about Rift 2/S being scaled back hits hard

- MS called it - the future of VR seems to be inside-out tracking

- PSVR maintains good hardware sales and gets solid slate of VR games in mid + late 2018, but most avid PSVR users upgrade to PC for better experience

- Huge Steam (and other) VR Game store sales see PC VR user libraries expand

- Valve Knuckle controllers dev kits sent out

- nVidia RTX line's VR performance seen as "slight improvement" and disappoints VR users

- Pictures leak of new Valve branded VR HMD

- Samsung Odyssey+ WMR HMD with claimed anti-sde tech that makes it better than Vive Pro launches with a limited time sale for just $300 (reg $500)

- Year ends with Oculus Rift as low as $350 plus 10% off with referral code.

- Individual finger tracking is getting real - may be the break out feature of 2019

- Top items on many VR users wish list for 2019: Wider FOV, Higher Resolution, and Wireless connectivity

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Kyle_Key

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@Greylock3491: It's funny to write about someone else coming from an "outside perspective" when that's exactly what you're doing. You're so focused on PC VR that your perspective on PSVR is skewed because the sentence "PSVR maintains good hardware sales and gets solid slate of VR games in mid + late 2018, but most avid PSVR users upgrade to PC for better experience" has no evidence to support it beyond your personal dreams.

You're downplaying:
(1) How much better it sells--if PSVR sales are relatively just "good" then PCVR is "terrible," since PSVR has sold more than Rift and Vive combined.

(2) The quality of the games--you say PSVR games are merely "solid," yet there wasn't a single PCVR exclusive nominated for GotY at the Game Awards; it was three PSVR exclusives, Astro Bot, Tetris Effect, and Firewall, with Beat Saber and Moss (which was a PSVR launch exclusive) rounding it out. Whatever you want to say about IGN, they're the largest gaming site, and again Tetris Effect and Astro Bot are both up for overall GotY. On VRGameCritic, the top five games of the year are Wipeout Omega Collection (PSVR) with a 91 from 13 reviews, Astro Bot (PSVR) with a 90 from 103 reviews, Tetris Effect (PSVR) with an 88 from 102 reviews, Beat Saber (multiplat) with an 88 from 31 reviews, and Hellblade (PCVR) with an 88 from 8 reviews.

(3) How "avid" the community is--just take a quick glance at the respective subreddits, PSVR is a much more upbeat, welcoming and enthusiastic sub than Oculus or Vive. There are a ton of avid PSVR players, and "most" of them are not "upgrading" to PCVR. I'd bet it's the opposite; Vive and Oculus players are more likely to buy a PSVR for the exclusives they're missing out on. I have a GTX 1080 in my gaming PC, and I'm not buying PCVR any time soon, because it's all gen 1 tech and PSVR is the best balance between price, comfort, and must-play games.

When the true next wave stuff comes out that's wireless+wider FOV+4k resolution+easy tracking that doesn't require large play space which most people lack, then we'll see if PCVR can make a dent in PSVR, but that depends on how many of those boxes Sony's next iteration can tick.

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dacontag

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@Greylock3491: don’t forget that psvr has 4 out of 5 of the best vr games as exclusives nominated at the video game awards, beat saver being a multiplatform game. This and the cheap price have so far made psvr the most preferred platform. That and firewall zero hour alone with an aim controller makes it amazing.

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Heqteur

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Edited By Heqteur

@Greylock3491: Yes. Whoever wrote this mess passing as an article missed the mark by at least a gazillion light years. thanks for elaborating on the subject: you totally knocked it out of the park.

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Firewall has excellent maps. I say this as someone who has been playing MP shooters almost exclusively since the PS2 days. FPS is where VR really shines. The independent head, body, and weapon movement are huge game changers for FPS and even with PSVR’s “subpar” tracking the aiming is dead on with no aim assist, putting to rest the old debate over the best way to shoot in games. If VR dies it’ll probably kill gaming for me all together. Next gen will just be another race to the higher resolutions and frame rates... No thanks.

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deactivated-5c2b926b0d74a

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Dont care what anyone says VR is such a niche market its never going to become mainstream. In its current state its useless with poor visuals motion sickness and boring games in the main with a few exceptions. PSVR has did well to get it to 3 percent of users. Its a niche side market like 3d was. Its a gimmick its cool amd impressive for a few hours then yoyu realise it has no substance and longevity. Im glad I have an oculus but I understand why its totally failed to take off and I dont think it ever will unless the technology somehow changes massively gets rid of motion sickness and makes decent games and not silly tech demos like 90percent of games are. The problem is playing games that you walk around in but stand still you can never overcome this issue as it will forever make the human body sick

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Blueberry_Bandit

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@nerveagentuk: All of that can be fixed, easily. Poor visuals will not be an issue in the next generation and onwards, and in fact, VR games will start to retain the best graphics in gaming in the next couple of headset iterations. There are a lot more good games than you think, I guess you just haven't found them yet.

Motion sickness can be fixed by drowning the vestibular system with white noise. Someone has already invented a safe device that does this and fixes sickness, but it will take some years before it's built into headsets.

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Heqteur

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@nerveagentuk: And reality doesn't care what you think: install base for VR is now over 20M. This is close to Switch's install base. Also, more and more people are jumping aboard the VR train every week. How niche is that?

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deactivated-5c2b926b0d74a

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@heqteur Its niche its not debatable you take the total pc owners and console owners and its miniscule after years of hard hard advertising. Its niche and always will be . A few enthusaits will say its the future blah blah same as 3d and that was another yawn fest. You try to shout me down by saying 20m that just proves my point and by the way your adding several million on. All studies show VR has not taken off at all and especially in america it has failed miserably and that is not expected to change anytime soon and why it will always be niche and why no big studios are jumping in as the market is so tiny you could not make any money. Seriously think before you talk utter rubbish. VR is not going to go big any time soon. I actually worry your unstable to come out with such an utterly stupid statement trying to insinuate its growing wildly hahah headcase off ya pop

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Barighm

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Barighm  Online

@nerveagentuk: "Seriously think before you talk utter rubbish."

You should take your own advice.

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GoingPewPew

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I've got the PSVR but I can't for the life of me play it for more than maybe half an hour. I get motion sick and have to stop playing. This didn't stop me from buying games but I just can't play them. As soon as I put the headset on I smell the rubber near the nose and 10 minutes later I can feel my stomach starting to turn.

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deactivated-5c2b926b0d74a

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@goingpewpew im fine in a car or sitting in an enviroment and even flying but as soon as i start to walk about an enviroment i get the boke in about 2 mins and start sweating real bad. I was playing a horror game i forget the name of it now and it was actually really good and genuinely had me scared but i couldnt play it due to the sickness when i traversed the landscape. Where i enjoyed VR most was golf as i love golf and it was so cool but then came the other downside of vr game communiotys split based on where you bought the game and never anyone online to play with. Its dead before its begun for me

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Archangel2222

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ace combat 7. winner for 2019 so pumped for it

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Yomigaeru

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@Archangel2222: I'm a bit skeptical, as it seems that only a portion of the game will be in VR.