With its new PlayStation VR2 headset, Sony is taking a second swing at bringing virtual reality to the masses.
If your interests include boxing, winding clocks, kayaking, the arctic, kayaking in the arctic, and watching fireworks, then there is good news. Sony’s new PlayStation VR2 will allow you to do all of these without leaving your living room – and without getting the wet, the sweat, or the smell of smoke into your furniture.
The launch lineup of the new virtual-reality unit has been revealed and it includes Creed: Rise to Glory – Championship Edition, The Last Clockwinder, Kayak VR: Mirage, and Fantavision 202X. The latter is a sequel, of sorts, to the PlayStation 2 game Fantavision, which also featured fireworks and which launched with the console – though less with a bang than with a polite and fondly remembered fizz.
All those particles were perfect for celebrating the new system’s graphical flare. The hope, perhaps, is that the new game will do double duty: transporting people back to that time, at the turn of the millennium, when the future came promised in tall dark boxes, while also rooting people in the here and now and igniting their passion for the tall white box of the PlayStation 5. PS VR2 will launch on February 22, and it will bring thirty-seven games with it. Not all of these are new, not all of them exclusive, but there are a handful that you won’t find anywhere else. Of these, Horizon Call of The Mountain is the biggest, and will enhance the artistic vision of that series by supplying you with a cricked neck as you gaze up at those cream-white robotic giraffes.
There are free VR updates to the likes of Resident Evil Village and Gran Turismo 7. Then we have The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR, an on-rails spookfest and a follow-up, of sorts, to Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. (That game came out for the first PlayStation VR, and its title spoke not just to the shot of panic that it nobly aimed to deliver but to the shivery, tingle-headed nausea that it induced.) The running theme of PS VR2, then, is that of revision; the new unit is not backwards-compatible with first-gen PS VR titles, and it seems that its mission, bolstered by even beefier technology, is to start afresh.
However, the biggest challenge facing PS VR2 is that virtual reality isnʼt fresh. Nor does it convince as the primary shape of things to come. If Mark Zuckerberg is to be believed, then we will all soon be plugging out the real world on a daily basis, donning headsets as we once did shoes, and doing all our shopping, showering, and socialising in the metaverse. Fortunately, Mark Zuckerberg is not to be believed. Virtual reality is a pursuit that requires one’s bowels to be as sturdy as one’s bank account – a trend that PS VR2, at £529 (or £569, along with a copy of Horizon Call of The Mountain), shows no interest in bucking. VR is an intriguing extension of video games, a steamy outcrop jutting from the mainland; it isnʼt so much whatʼs next as whatʼs over there, off to one side, and has people waggling their arms and resembling a malfunctioning RoboCop.
On the other hand, the PS VR2, while certainly not cheap – indeed, it is more expensive than the PS5 itself – is still one of the cheapest headsets on the market. The Meta Quest Pro will set you back a cool £1,499; the Vive Cosmos is £699; and the Valve Index costs £919. As a sweetener, the latter comes packaged with Half-Life: Alyx, which was, by general consensus, the closest that VR has to a killer app. The problem is, every time anyone mentions how great and groundbreaking Half-Life: Alyx was, I feel like pointing out that, when it comes to VR, the ground doesnʼt need breaking so much as laying and shoring up. We donʼt need a killer app; we need a healthy swathe of good games, letʼs say thirty-seven to start, some exclusives, a headset on the cheaper side, and a sizeable install base. Five per cent of PlayStation 4 owners bought the first PS VR; the PS5 has an install base of thirty million, and if only five per cent of them shell out for PS VR2, that’s 1.5 million people eager to box, to wind clocks, to kayak, and to watch fireworks.
The question is: can PS VR2 break through into a wider stream of players? Could Sony cram its PlayStation Plus tiers with VR games, instantly boosting the libraries of fresh adopters? Maybe it could try and crowbar a port of Half-Life: Alyx onto the PS5. Whatever happens, we are on the cusp of the second generation of console virtual reality, and Sony is alone in that space.
The company has a keen tradition of wondrous side-hardware – think of the gleaming wing mirrors of the PlayStation Portable and the PlayStation Vita, both of which aimed to pull games from the living room and out into the world. With PS VR2, Sony wants to forget about the past and convince us that the future is virtually here. It wants to pull the world over our eyes.