After spending six hours "inside" 12 Oculus Rift games earlier this week, we have a few observations on what we saw, what you can expect from the consumer Rift and how we recommend making a decision between it and the HTC Vive.
It's all in the game(s)
We already devoted an entire article to this, but Oculus' launch lineup looks outstanding (though it's really more like "launch window," because that also includes Oculus Touch games that won't ship until the second half of 2016). If we had to guess, we'd say the Rift hardware could have shipped a year ago, if not for Oculus wanting to give developers time to hit the right notes in terms of quality and depth.
The lineup offers everything from the kinds of first-person VR experiences we always visualized to third-person action games and platformers, and even old (seemingly dead) genres like tower defense and top-down hack-and-slash. In VR, it all becomes fresh and exciting.
This is the content lineup VR needed to make the right first impression.
Room-scale with the Rift
There's been a lot of speculation about how the Rift will handle room-scale VR compared to the HTC Vive, which is going all-in on that aspect from Day One. If smallish (roughly 7 x 5 ft.) rooms are any indication, the answer is that it should handle it very well.
I did two demos in this size of a space, and there were zero tracking errors. I pushed the boundaries as much as possible in terms of both speed and space (even bumping into a couple of walls) and my movement was synced perfectly in the virtual world – not the slightest glitch, misplacement or judder. I even overheard a game developer complimenting an Oculus employee on how well the headset and Touch controllers scale to larger spaces.
Oculus is guiding developers to set up their tracking for 180 degrees, not 360 degrees like the Vive, so you'll find Oculus Touch games tend to nudge you to face in one direction more so than Vive games. The Rift is capable of 360-degree tracking, but that would (eventually) require long cables stretching from the PC to opposite corners of the room. So 180 it is.
With that said, I turned in all directions while playing Fantastic Contraption and hand and head syncing were still perfect during the entire half-hour demo.
The one big thing the Rift is missing is the Vive's Chaperone system, which pops up a grid to let you know if you're about to smack into a wall or step on Rover's tail. That and the Vive's front-facing camera, which can give you a quick real-time view of your surroundings. The Rift has neither of these, so once Oculus Touch launches, small room-scale games will require you to keep more awareness of your playing space.
No barf bag required
For at least the last year, Oculus execs have been treating VR's motion sickness "problem" as a software issue. It looks like developers took note and did what they needed to do, because I didn't feel remotely nauseous in any of the 12 games.
The one I would have expected it from the most was Ubisoft's Eagle Flight, where you're soaring through the air and swooping down through alleyways on all sorts of high-speed, airborne pursuits. In lower-end Oculus Rift DK2 flying demos, these same things have forced me to yank my headset off and take some deep breaths.
But I didn't feel the slightest hint of motion sickness in Eagle Flight, The Climb (where you're scaling a mountain in first-person perspective) or any other Rift game. Whatever developers are doing to make this happen (likely a long list of do's and don't's), it's working.
Glasses wearers: Keep it loose
I wore glasses during my 12 Oculus Rift demos, and while my specs had no problem fitting inside, glasses wearers are going to want to avoid pulling the headset's straps too tight.
Oculus reps adjusted mine as I was putting it on, but during the sessions when I let them pull it as tight as they normally would for someone who wasn't wearing glasses, the glasses' nose pads dug painfully into my nose. During the sessions where I asked them to keep it unusually loose, it was fine. Even if it lets a smidge of light inside, this looser fit will be worth it (and once you start focusing on the game you won't notice any light bleeding in anyway).
The impossibility (and silliness) of Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive
If Oculus Touch were launching alongside the Rift on March 28, we'd probably say something like "go get this now, this is the VR headset we recommend for most people." Oculus Touch being delayed until later this year, though, along with a couple other factors, makes the Vive look a lot more tempting.
For the first (roughly) six months of its life, the Oculus Rift is going to be devoted exclusively to seated, gamepad-based VR titles. There are some excellent-looking games in this bunch, including Lucky's Tale, Edge of Nowhere, Eve: Valkyrie, Chronos and the aforementioned Eagle Flight. With two multiplayer games just in those few we mentioned, that's plenty of content to keep you occupied until Touch ships.
Still, many of our favorite games use Oculus Touch. This won't feel like a 100 percent complete VR experience until you add the hands (motion controllers), standing and walking. Those first-person simulations are where it becomes a virtual reality (in the most literal sense) rather than a game that happens to be in VR.
It's too early to make a hard-and-fast recommendation in the Rift vs. Vive dilemma (we'll be reviewing them before long), but it's going to be an extremely tough call. The Vive gives you motion controllers and room-scale from Day One, along with the Chaperone system and front-facing camera, which the 1st-gen Rift won't have at all. The Vive also has at least one killer game in Hover Junkers and two more favorites in the hilarious Job Simulator and creative Fantastic Contraption.
On the other hand, the Rift has this awesome launch lineup, which is going to get even better after Touch launches. If you put a gun to my head right now and made me pick one, I'd probably go with the Rift, but it wouldn't be an easy call. And we also don't meet with Valve until later today, so there's still room for that opinion to change.
While we do partake in the comparison silliness to try to help VR early adopters make a decision, just remember not to get caught up in seeing this as a winner-takes-all game. It's only a tough decision because both headsets are outstanding. Oculus was the innovative force that sparked this flame, but Valve and HTC played the fast-follower role to perfection, matching the Rift in most ways and adding a few distinct and innovative features of its own. Bravo to both; if this decision is the hardest thing in your life right now, you have it pretty good.
For more, you can read our impressions of the 12 launch window titles we played.