Review Price to be confirmed
E3 2015 Preview – New demos, same headset
Compatible with PS4
Project Morpheus release date: Q1 2016
I've tried out Project Morpheus a few times now – you can skip to the next page if you want to read our very earliest impressions of Sony's virtual reality competitor to the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. This latest occasion, though, gave me a look at two new demos, PlayRoom VR and BattleZone, as well as another section of the London Heist from Sony’s London Studios, and a horror-based demo called The Kitchen.
Although we finally have a (loose) early 2016 release date for Project Morpheus, Sony didn’t have an updated version of the Project Morpheus. That’s probably because this near-final version of the headset had already been shown at GDC 2015 in February, but I was still a little surprised there weren’t any slight cosmetic tweaks.
Building on the London Heist demo I saw back in March, Sony has a new chapter in the story for Project Morpheus. This time as soon I’ve got the Morpheus strapped on my head and a pair of Move controllers in my hands, I find myself sitting in the passenger seat of a Ford Transit van with a familiar bald-headed ruffian by my side.
Without having seen the episodes in between this and the previous London Heist experience, it’s hard to work out how this London geezer has gone from threatening to blow torch my face off, to being my partner in gun crime. Nevertheless, London Heist is definitely one of the first extended demos that we’ve seen, which builds the idea of character in virtual reality games.
In this chapter, though, sitting in the van, I’m given a little time to look around. There’s a large bag filled with gun magazines, a few empty beer cans and even some gloves in the glove compartment. Pretty much everything is interactive, to the point where I can fiddle with the radio tuning and turn up the volume, much to the annoyance of my new best bud.
What’s great is that he's completely reactive to my actions. When I open the glove compartment, he says, “What did you expect? A gun?” Meanwhile, opening the van door on the motorway is very much frowned upon. Attempting to shoot him in the face repeatedly later in the demo is also met with much disgust, and I'm asked whether I’ve been a “see you next Tuesday” my entire life.
See also: HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift
At the start, though, driving along with him drinking a beer, it’s all quite serene. Until the gunfire. Rapidly I’m thrown a gun and I’m hanging out the open door shooting at the motorbikes coming up from behind. That’s not before the ruffian has had the chance to take out the windscreen with his elbow, clearing the way for near 360-degree shooting.
As with the previous London Heist demo, the shootouts feel utterly realistic, with me having to reach for fresh ammo from the bag next to me. Aiming feels very natural too, with me occasionally hitting the petrol tanks of the chasing cars and bikes, causing pretty impressive explosions.
If London Heist doesn’t become a full title for Morpheus one day, I’ll be very surprised. And every time I play this demo I’m equally impressed by the realism and immersiveness of this gangster adventure.
Next comes the Kitchen, the first horror game built specifically for the Project Morpheus. I’ve heard scare stories about this demo from fellow journalists who played it before me. Some had screamed, others had cowered in fear. And now it's my turn.
Now I must admit that I’m not great with scary movies, usually reaching for the nearest cushion whenever I can feel the boo-scares coming. I know that I’ll have to resist closing my eyes to make the bad things go away with The Kitchen.
When I’m all kitted out with the Morpheus and a DualShock 4 controller, I find myself in a kitchen – no surprise there – within what looks to be an abandoned warehouse. My hands are bound in front of me, and the fact that I'm gripping the controller in both hands makes that restriction feel more real. I also realise that I’m tied to a chair and can’t move.
There’s a man lying on the floor beside me, also with his hands bound. Suddenly he’s awake and grabs a knife from the ground and comes at me with it. Thankfully, he’s not a bloodthirsty murderer; he just wants to try and help to cut the ties around my wrists. I instinctively push the DualShock 4 forwards, enabling him to get a better angle on the ties.
But that’s when she appears.
I won’t spoil the demo for you in case you ever get a chance to try it. It's safe to say, though, that Sony has built the tension well, to the point that I was teetering on the edge of my seat by the end, desperate to get back to reality.
Morpheus offers graphics and an experience that is on par with the other headsets. I still feel that Sony needs to overcome the issues with your head getting very hot and sweaty while wearing the headset – and that wasn’t just because I got panicky playing the Kitchen either.
In development at UK-based Rebellion Studios, BattleZone is a new VR title that aims to be out around the same time as Project Morpheus, early next year. It's a new take on the classic 1980s Atari arcade game and I got to try a short demo at a recent PlayStation event.
BattleZone drops you into the driver’s seat of a one-man tank. You’re given a brief rundown of the controls, which are your normal attack buttons – R2 to shoot, right analogue stick to aim the guns, L1 for the speed boost, square to change weapons, and left stick to move around. Your head, of course, controls the camera view.
After this your little tank is lifted up into the arena. It’s here that you realise your purpose is to blow pixellated enemies – other tanks and weaponised guard towers, for instance – to absolute smithereens. There are standard rockets for the tanks and sentries, or you can swap to a burst shot that’s great for the flying swarm of drones you meet later on.
As you’ll see in the trailer above, everything is deliberately blocky as they explode, while the colour palette gives it a rather Tron-esque feel.
I powered through the demo, finding the control system surprisingly intuitive, even if it did feel strange using a DualShock 4 while my head was thinking I was in the cockpit of a tank.
You can monitor the incoming enemies on the circular radar that sits on the dash below. It’s possible to keep track of it without having to tilt your head, which is a nice touch.
Although this is a simple experience, the futuristic tank battle is certainly improved by the immersiveness that the Morpheus brings. The fact that it’s retro-styled rather than realistic doesn’t detract from that experience either.
I hope that this game will evolve and offer a variety of modes by the time launch comes. It could be a great title to dip in and out of – especially if it can offer multiplayer with fellow Morpheus heads.
Straight from Sony’s own Japan Studio comes the virtual reality version of the original augmented PlayRoom that shipped with the PS4. PlayRoom VR will offer a smorgasbord of virtual reality taster experiences just to get you into Project Morpheus.
I only got to try one of these minigames, but it was quite the unique experience for VR headsets – it was multiplayer but with gamers who weren’t wearing a Morpheus. In an attempt to get the whole family or household involved in virtual reality, this minigame enables four players to use DualShock 4 controllers to battle against the Morpheus-wearing monster.
The Morpheus monster isn’t allowed a controller, though. All I had to do is bash down buildings with my head as I automatically chased after the fleeing minions.
As a non-VR minion, your job is to dodge the falling debris and collect any villagers you can along the way.
Once you’ve done that there’s monster-vs-minion battle. The monster has to dodge the debris that’s being thrown at it by the minions, who have to scramble around and work together to take the monster out. The monster’s got four glowing lights on its headset in the game that indicate its health level.
It’s a new way to introduce local multiplayer to the Morpheus experience. I honestly can’t see it working beyond these gimmicky games, but it’s a great way to ease multiple gamers into VR.
Morpheus still impresses and with the roster of games growing every month, we could see the PS4 headset giving the Steam VR-compatible HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift a good run for their money. VR can work on a console after all.