Growing up as a kid in the 1990s, we were told virtual reality was the future of video games.
Movies like “Lawnmower Man” and “Virtuosity” acted as if we could transport ourselves to another world, to walk in someone else’s shoes and fight bad guys in hand-to-hand or laser-to-laser combat.
Imagine our generation’s disappointment when VR meant staring at jagged polygon-ridden landscapes that looked like they were made of paper, or worse, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, where you stared at regular Nintendo games, except everything was red.
This is the kind of baggage I had when I first tried out the Oculus Quest 2 ($299, oculus.com), the latest VR headset from Oculus, which is run by Facebook. I hadn’t played other VR experiences, like the Oculus Rift or Playstation VR because they were either prohibitively expensive or required extra gear that I didn’t have.
This being my first VR experience since the ‘90s, I’ll say I’m absolutely blown away.
First off, the Quest 2 doesn’t require any computer or gaming device to run. All you need is its headset and two Touch controllers that act as your hands in whatever gaming experience you’re looking to have. It immediately has you set a boundary so you don’t run into furniture or your walls (You also have the option of playing while sitting down) and you’re good to go. For people new to VR gaming, it provides one of the most user-friendly experiences, even if you’re jumping in cold.
The experience of playing VR on the Quest 2 is immersive, enough that if you’re playing a game like “Star Wars: Tales From The Galaxy’s Edge,” you almost expect to feel the tactile elements on planets like Batuu. It was almost exactly the experience we were told we would have playing VR 20 years ago.
The headset will get you acclimated to the environment by placing you on a 3D grid where you can throw paper airplanes, shoot off rockets and clear a desk with one swipe. It also allows you to play shooting and dancing games, both of which set a nice baseline for what to expect in VR.
The sound comes from the sides of the headset, providing a lush, surround-like landscape. While it will bleed over to anyone else sitting in the room, it’s targeted enough to you to not be overwhelming to anyone within earshot.
The headset itself is fairly comfortable, as long as you adjust it correctly. If you play the maximum two to three hours of the Quest’s battery life, both you and the outer rim of the Oculus will likely be covered in sweat, especially with a rhythm game like “Beat Saber.” It’s hard to dock it points for that because that comes with the territory of wearing a big, plastic helmet while moving around.
Besides the seemingly short battery life for the headset, when not attached to the power cord, the biggest setback I had with the Oculus was the occasional glitches. Sometimes the hands of your VR characters will flail wildly around for no reason. In some games, like “Galaxy’s Edge,” the headset will lose its direction and lead you down a path that goes nowhere. Those who avoid social likely will find the requirement of a Facebook account a bit of a problem too.
These small conflicts aside, my experience playing the Oculus (about 40 hours) was smooth, engrossing and heart-pounding. Finally, a VR headset has lived up to the hype.