At this point you might be sick of visiting Gizmag only to see pictures of writers (well, one in particular) wearing virtual reality headsets all over the front page. But during this VR-centric week at GDC 2016 we couldn't live with ourselves if we left out the HTC Vive, which may be the most mesmerizing of the bunch. We met with Valve today and were once again – this is starting to sound repetitive – blown away by the Vive.
The Oculus Rift looks like an awesome VR headset, but you could say the exact same thing about the Vive. We can't think of another time when two first-generation tech products that are this good launched at the same time. It's like if The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had released their first singles during the same week, or if Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep had made their acting debuts in the same movie.
The Vive's experience has only gotten better since our first trip into its magical worlds last year. Today we tried Valve's new demo The Lab, which will be available for free on launch day: it's a collection of brief games or experiences that show off the Vive better than anything outside of a full game like Hover Junkers.
The showcase transports you to a scenic mountaintop, where you can play fetch with a cute little robot dog, a medieval castle where you hoist a bow-and-arrow to pick off attackers, a (sort of) third-person arcade game where you grab a tiny ship out of the air and wave it around to destroy (also tiny) attackers, and a finale where you chuck slingshots into a warehouse full of stacked boxes and bombs.
... and we can't forget today's encore (though it's a separate game), where I got to live out my five-year-old self's fantasy of becoming a Jedi in the Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine demo. The officially licensed short VR game lets you deflect laser blasts from storm troopers with your light saber, swinging the quintessential Jedi weapon just right to volley those blasts back. It was perfectly fluid and natural-feeling, thanks to those great Vive controllers.
As is usually the case with VR, those kinds of descriptions don't do much justice to what it was really like. Just know that all the demos used the system's excellent motion controllers and room-scale tracking to make you feel like you're really in those places – physical freedom and all. Right now you can get your body into Vive content more than any other VR system. Of the two big PC-based headsets, the Vive is the one (at least at launch) that feels less like a video game machine and more like a magical teleporting machine.
The bottom line is the Vive is ... something you have to experience. The Rift's gamepad-based launch lineup will force you to question those VR fantasies we all had, where first person simulators were the long and short of it, but then the Vive leads you right back to those original presumptions. Whether you're caught up in this whole virtual reality fever or not, and whether you've liked other headsets you've tried or not, the Vive is something we recommend trying at least once. Right now its room-scale focus is one-of-a-kind.
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