With the competition between consoles beginning to really heat up, it's easy to forget about other noteworthy happenings around the gaming industry; one of the most important being the future of virtual reality technology. From Oculus Rift to Project Morpheus, gamers are already beginning to see the options that will dominate the market. But will they manage to be more than just a gimmick? We got our hands on Oculus Rift at E3 2014 and took EVE Valkyrie and War Thunder for a test-fly and if our experiences are any indication, the future of VR is looking bright.
The first thing that those who have yet to wear a modern VR headset will have trouble imagining is the raw immersion of the technology. Strapping yourself into something like the Rift and putting on a set of headphones essentially cuts off two of your most dominant senses - for all intents and purposes, you are more a part of the given game then ever before possible.
This must be understood before beginning to examine the differences between these two titles. Both provide different experiences, but both lock you into the fixed perspective of their individual game worlds.
In this way, EVE Valkyrie and War Thunder are very much the same. Both games allow the player to look around themselves in a full 360 field of view, with everything from the confined space of your plane's cockpit in War Thunder to the vastness of space visible below you throughout the glass window of your ship in EVE Valkyrie feeling fully fleshed out. It adds an invaluable sense of immersion as you look around, even if it’s only viewed through your peripheral vision.
One of the few senses left to a player while engaged in a VR experience is touch. This is generally stimulated through the input available to the player, whether it be mouse and keyboard or some other controller. In the case of EVE Valkyrie, that input was an Xbox controller, while War Thunder embraced its simulation roots and made use of a flight stick and throttle.
The Xbox controller offers an easier experience to jump into that immediately feels comfortable and familiar despite the sci-fi subject matter. War Thunder’s flight stick, on the other hand, offers up an eerily cohesive experience that stimulates almost every sense. Jumping into this cockpit is much more unforgiving to those who have never touched a flight stick before, but makes up for it with an experience that feels authentic to the WWII subject matter.
While both titles maintain their immersion from beginning of demo to end to varying degrees, a VR experience can live or die by its stability. Upon getting our hands on both titles with the Oculus Rift headset, EVE Valkyrie came away feeling like the more polished product. That's unsurprising, since its development was geared almost exclusively towards an Oculus experience, whereas Oculus support was added to War Thunder post-release.
For EVE Valkyrie, it’s undeniable that the game felt silky-smooth from beginning to end, enjoying the added benefit of Battlestar Galactica alum Katee Sackhoff’s voice guiding the player through the mission’s introduction. Mechanically, it plays like the space dogfighters that came before it with boosting, braking, machine guns and locking missiles. In its current state, however, it’s by no means a fully-realized, complex game.
Rather, it is a simple game of cat and mouse in which two teams of two players compete against each other in a battle for most kills in a short period of time. Outside of tracking down and shooting your opponents, the option of releasing flak to throw off a trailing missile or two presents a modicum of strategy. The real joy comes from the freedom of looking anywhere into the vastness of space. Enemy player flies below your ship? Easy! Look down and follow their trail through the conveniently-glassy cockpit of your vessel.
It may seem like a simple joy, but the freedom to look around and control your ship independently makes for a more fluid gaming experience that - as mentioned before - feels natural. Even the visuals look impressive considering the current limitations of the tech. For those who question the validity and future of virtual reality in the world of gaming, EVE Valkyrie represents an impressive look into the possibilities held by games to come.
This isn't to say that War Thunder poses a sub-par gaming experience, though. Unlike EVE, the experience of its demo was more to showcase the integration of Oculus into the previously-released simulation title. In this way, it’s encouraging to see that the technology can be successfully worked into past games, opening up countless exciting options for the Rift’s future.
Whether intentional or not, where the experience of EVE felt smooth and thrilling from the get-go, War Thunder felt like a dizzying ride in an aircraft that truly felt vulnerable. Spinning the plane into a barrel roll was less a showcase of bravado and more a test of one’s stomach strength. While this may not have been the most instantly-enjoyable experience, it definitely drove home the feeling of being strapped into a tiny, volatile, WWII-era plane.
Given that, it’s difficult to pit the two VR flight titles against one another as they fill two very different niches. Where one strives to draw players in and put them in control of a spacecraft that immediately gives them a sense of empowerment, the other provides a simulation experience that will no doubt appeal to fans of military history.
Both present very viable directions that Oculus development could continue with EVE Valkyrie unsurprisingly rising to the top as one of the main reasons gamers are so excited about the prospect of virtual reality. With Facebook's acquisition of Oculus driving costs down, it's only a matter of time before the gaming public can get their hands on this exciting tech in earnest.
Do you think VR tech like Oculus and Project Morpheus are here to stay or just passing fads? What type of game would you like to see get the VR treatment?
War Thunder is out now for PC, Mac and PS4 while EVE Valkyrie currently has no release date, but is expected to launch alongside the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus on PC and PS4.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @ThatRyanB.