PS VR2 Review: Sony Bets Large On Virtual Reality

With over 100 games in the pipeline and a $599 price tag, Sony has a lot riding on its new PlayStation 5 headset.

The new PS VR2 headset weighs in at 20 ounces. Sony Interactive Entertainment

My excitement abounded as the date for receiving Sony’s new PS VR2 headset approached, though I wasn’t sure exactly why. Sure, I recalled enjoying the first virtual reality headset for PlayStation 4, released in 2016, especially Moss, a 2018 game about a young female mouse warrior and her puzzle-filled world. But there were too many cables, a separate power plug, and the headset was on the heavy side. So, like other VR headsets under the entertainment center, I played occasionally only.

Yet what I’d seen of PS VR2 for PlayStation 5 in videos gave me hope. The graphics were so detailed, even in 2D YouTube videos. And the machine’s technical specs looked good: a 4K OLED display and cameras inside the headset to follow the eyes you look around a virtual world, especially the lush environments for which the best VR is well known. (I was less sure about the new headset’s haptic effects. Especially after a recent concussion, I wondered if vibrations within could be turned off if they felt too strong.) Sony is pinning a lot of its own hopes on PS VR2, betting large with over 100 games in the pipeline and an expensive $599 purchase price, which includes a game.

When the headset arrived, it was indeed bulky to wear at 20 ounces. They all are. Yet quickly downloading and indulging in Kayak VR: Mirage, the first game I played, was like traveling around the world. I’m probably never going to kayak in Antarctica, but this allowed that voyage, zippy penguins included. With a controller click or three, I could move quickly to warmer climes like a deserted Costa Rican harbor, and see tropical angel fish around me. I want to be clear: the shimmering brightness of everything on the water and under the water was like moving about the ocean on the sunniest of days.

Kayak VR: Mirage lets you explored beaches, ice floes or canyon rivers. Better Than Life B.V./Sony Interactive Entertainment

The light controllers, one for each hand, have the same intricate haptics as the PS5’s larger controller. (The haptics can be turned off, but the shaking when the heat of action rises was not too strong.) Instead of always paddling, I began to just sit in the kayak, bobbing around on the small waves, breathing slowly in accidental meditation. That endeavor was made more relaxing because the soundtrack’s music was chill and lulling. Tropical fish swam nearby, solo, and in schools. Kayak VR: Mirage is a perfect diversion after the sometimes-stressful days I have running a journalism non-profit. And yes, I moved around and explored beaches, ice floes or canyon rivers. I avoided the multiplayer mode that would have me racing against someone else. This one is for peace and quiet.

Even more tantalizing is the essential app for PS VR2, Horizon Call of the Mountain. It’s based in the world of the popular Guerilla Games’ sci-fi series that features a red-haired woman named Aloy as the protagonist. Here, you begin in a canoe as a male prisoner called Ryas who’s sent on a mission to discover why Machines, animal-like robots, are attacking humans. If you can imagine a theme park’s jungle water ride made much more hyper real — and startling — you’ll understand the exhilaration felt within the first few minutes of Call of the Mountain. It’s so deftly done, you’ll think you are about to be killed by five different mechanical animals.

In Horizon Call of the Mountain you battle with Machines, animal-like robots. Sony Interactive Entertainment

After indulging in the opening three times, I realized the game makers relied on the VR trope of going under a thundering monster, in this case a towering mix of wild animal and machine called a Tallneck. But it’s more than that. It’s the panic of the pair of soldiers in the boat as they try to paddle away from the machines. It’s the giant Stormbird menacing from above, or more machines bursting through a dilapidated tunnel overgrown with vines. And it’s the crocodile-like Snapmaw, knocking your boat over, dropping you underwater, as it slithers near. There wasn’t fear to any of this, just three or four wondrous “holy crap” gasps that made me realize Sony had created a super-engaging piece of software that takes up nearly 45 gigabytes of the PS5’s data space.

In Horizon Call of the Mountain sharp-toothed robotic animals get in your face as you shoot at them with arrows. Sony Interactive Entertainment

Since you’re ascending a mountain here, there’s a much virtual climbing up ladders or cliffs using a grip and pull motion with the left and right handheld controllers. You also move to your left and right, giving the feeling of a great outdoor expanse. Like a dinosaur movie in 3D, there are battles with sharp-toothed robotic animals with their maws wide open, nearly in your face as they try to maim and destroy. After shooting them with arrows, there’s more work to ascend the mountain in this six-to-seven hour offering. But it’s never boring since there’s a magnificently lurid waterfall, canyon and river view below.

At a rugged settlement, I discovered some pan pipes. Magically, when I brought them up to my mouth and pushed some air out, I was able to make various notes. I’m not sure how this was accomplished creatively, but it was a marvelous, small detail that I’ll remember.

While the device’s field of view is 110 degrees, you can turn around to see what’s going on behind you. Also, standing while playing isn’t necessary. The mode for sitting on the couch is restful even when the adventure becomes tense.

The setup is quick, and there’s no need for a lot of light as in the early days of Oculus. Still, even though there’s just one cable that needs to be plugged into the console’s USB port, I’d much prefer to be untethered. Even more, the preference would be for a lighter headset, one that lets me play for more than a half hour before fatigue sets in.

A computer within the headset explains the weight. The computing power within PS VR2 combined with astonishing art and design makes for the best VR gaming experience I’ve ever had. All in all, it’s a potent twist on the familiar that works. Beyond the Horizon game that’s part of the system launch, it’s Sony’s own narrative-rich creations like The Last of Us, Uncharted and God of War that could well bring other established fans to this VR system in the future.

PS VR2 Review: Sony Bets Large On Virtual Reality