Virtual Reality

Trio of Oculus Touch titles reveals a Rift on the rise

Trio of Oculus Touch titles reveals a Rift on the rise
Our mini-reviews of three Oculus Rift/Touch launch titles (clockwise from upper-right): VR Sports Challenge, Oculus Medium and The Unspoken
Our mini-reviews of three Oculus Rift/Touch launch titles (clockwise from upper-right): VR Sports Challenge, Oculus Medium and The Unspoken
View 6 Images
Our mini-reviews of three Oculus Rift/Touch launch titles (clockwise from upper-right): VR Sports Challenge, Oculus Medium and The Unspoken
Our mini-reviews of three Oculus Rift/Touch launch titles (clockwise from upper-right): VR Sports Challenge, Oculus Medium and The Unspoken
View gallery - 6 images

For would-be virtual reality customers torn between the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, things aren't getting any simpler. The Vive's main advantages on paper – motion controls, 360-degree tracking and room-scale boundaries – will soon be negated after the upcoming launch of Oculus Touch (Facebook's ergonomic tracked controllers), optional 360 tracking of its own and virtual bounds that mimic one of the Vive's keystone features.

With the two systems having more in common than ever, the X-factor most likely to push our recommendation one way or the other is now content. And right now the hand Oculus is holding looks very promising, with years of Facebook-funded development materializing in highly-polished games and tools designed to lure early adopters into the magical worlds of VR.

We recently got the chance to have extended play with three upcoming Oculus Touch titles: VR Sports Challenge, The Unspoken and Oculus Medium.

VR Sports Challenge

Sports games are going to be a tough nut for VR developers to crack. Even in room-scale VR – where the player has freedom to walk in all directions and is only limited by the size of the space – you can typically only move 5 to 10 ft. in any direction before stopping. Unless developers limit you to stationary contests like golf, shot put or free-throw shootouts, there will need to be some kind of game-assisted movement to enable mobility.

VR Sports Challenge developer Sanzaru Games works around this by automatically teleporting you from player-to-player in football, basketball, baseball and hockey games: Throw the pass to a teammate, and while the ball is in mid-air you jump into the shoes of that teammate to catch the slow-mo heave.

Far from a true-to-life simulation, the Oculus Touch title embraces over-the-top arcade silliness – with shades of 1990s quarter-sucking classic NBA Jam.

For example, in the basketball mode (as an NBA legend-in-my-own-mind, I spent most of my time there) you can't drive the lane, move without the ball or even go more than a few steps in any direction. Your job consists of shooting jumpers, finding open teammates and trying to convert a crowd-pleasing alley-oop (where the game slowly floats you towards the basket). The defensive side of the court is limited to the occasional shot-blocking mini-game: no man-to-man coverage, banging in the paint or full-court press.

They're all stationary actions, strung together to create an illusion of a wider playing field.

It isn't perfect. Different gestures sometimes have too much overlap, with an attempt to dribble too often turning into an errant pass. Some of the challenges – required to unlock mini-games and advance to the next game mode – seem unnecessarily difficult. Computer-controlled teammates don't run plays with much variety: It often feels like slightly different versions of the same offensive possession, over and over.

Still, despite the game's foibles and larger-than-life style, the "feeling like you're someplace else" element of VR makes it worth going back to. The joy is in using your own hands to grab rebounds, throw a touchdown pass or perform a three-times-behind-the-back, twice-through-the-legs, 720° tomahawk jam (I told you it was over-the-top). It's half video game, half athletic fantasy play-acting.

The game was originally designed for gamepad use, but the developer's wise decision to shift to Oculus Touch input paid off: The tracked controllers take what would have likely been a yawn-inducing title and turn it into a highly physical – often highly enjoyable – experience.

The Unspoken

The Unspoken is a spell-casting game that's only as rewarding as the time you put into its tutorials. In our first event hands-on, we weren't particularly impressed: Due to time constraints in the demo session, a too-quick crash course in the art of conjuring left us confused and frustrated as we prematurely stepped into clumsy duels with rival sorcerers.

But after getting extended time with the full game, with a 20-30 minute intro that gently guides you through the gestures and controls, I was surprised how fun The Unspoken ended up being. The joy comes from the feeling of power you get after learning the difference between bringing your hands together to summon a flaming skull, and spreading your hands to fire exploding rockets at your nemesis.

The online-multiplayer-only The Unspoken is clearly playing to the gallery in the fantasy-loving geek crowd, but the physical element provided by the Touch controls keeps it from flying so far in that direction to scare away casual players. While too many of the Rift's gamepad-based launch titles felt like regular video games randomly appearing in virtual reality, Oculus Touch games like this one finally marry Facebook's system to the first-person transportive element that VR was made for.

Oculus Medium

Oculus Medium is a VR sculpting app we first played more than a year ago. It's 3D content creation that – appropriately – takes place inside a 3D virtual space, providing you with tools to mold, shape, reshape, color and create to your heart's content. It takes something typically done on 2D screens and makes it a visceral, "real-life" sculpting experience.

Your average Joe or Jane may find Medium to be more novelty/sandbox than anything, but there's enough depth and nuance on offer to make it a legit 3D design tool for pros or semi-pros. Since you can export high-resolution meshes of your creations into more traditional 3D-creating software on 2D screens, we wouldn't be surprised to soon hear about popular animated characters, video game protagonists or other 3D digital media that got their start with an artist tinkering in Medium.

While Medium is a must-have for Rift owners who also do 3D design, what about the rest of us? That's an iffier proposition. How much are you willing to pay to be reminded how limited your artistic/sculpting abilities are, no matter how robust the toolset?

Game on

From where we stand now, Facebook's funding is proving to be a boon for the Rift, with these and other (fully or partially) Oculus-backed games establishing a potentially commanding content lead over the Vive. Stay tuned: Oculus Touch starts shipping on December 6.

View gallery - 6 images
Good article. Just a shame the author seems to have an axe to grind against the VIVE. The article would have been just fine as a review piece on the three software releases without the negative bias. Personally, I'm really excited for the sculpting software!
Hey Will, looks like your not really up on the current events in the VR world. You seem to have overlooked a few glaring things. First off HTC's Vive is still way ahead of the game since most of the VR devs have been continously churning out content daily for the Vive. They have hundreds more games then the Rift currently. Oculus's Rift doesnt have as many devoted devs. And second if you haven't been following any VR news lately you would have missed some very exciting news. HTC is taking preorders (ok right now its not yet available for the US) for a wireless option so you can cut the cord between your headset and computer. It will be available to ship around February. Now the Rift will have something else to play catch up.
MythingLynx - I certainly sense a bias, but not an undeserved one.
An examination of the wireless adapter indicates it would be sufficient for Rift as well. If you wish to claim bias in this article, consider that Vive, as a competitor, is lobbing softballs... things Oculus can and historically has easily turned around. Room scale, motion control. There is no enduring advantage, aside from minor differences in weight, setup ease, cord length, optics. The wise user will see the platforms are logically identical, despite the fanboying that's been going on.
Also, I wouldn't hold up the demos anyone with a Unity engine can churn out as "games". I would however say, objectively speaking, that Oculus' investments have produced more polished games. Games that Vive is increasingly benefiting from. In fact, I'm starting to see more Vive developers hoarding their content away from Rift while Oculus allows exclusivity agreements to expire as planned. It tends to turn the "VR politics" of the market of the last 6 months on it's head once those 6 month agreements end.
Finally, your tone of superiority has all the snoot of a runway fashionista talking about the latest trends and how you're off by a month. That's more than a little bit a turn off to your argument. And it's not just you. It's the majority of the Vive-only supporters. They come across as pedantic and petty while neglecting the contributions of Oculus to the market.
Please reconsider your position.
good comments , I love how it pains some if there Vive isn't put on a pedestal. Vive has hundreds of poorly and half developed demos, it does no have "hundreds" or even fifty full fledged titles.To suggest otherwise is deceptive . Vive is great but is it out of the realm of possibility some might actually like Rift more . I've read tons of articles where the author favors Vive . DOES IT MATTER ? no, and we all know someone is not going to make a purchase desicion based on this 1 article . But even if they is a valid opinion, even though he said it's a tough decision....and did not clearly state oculus is any better . As far as the question of how much will people pay for the games.....they are all free launch titles that come with touch. what a concept, make some content to complement your hardware. Something Vive did not do with their launch. Oculus is a great system and of course , better then the vive in ways just as the vive is better then then the rift in ways. with the launch of touch oculus has a much more refined prodcut in my opinion. Do your research before buying any of these systems and beware of the bias. neither one is a clear winner and they are very similar and it will likely come down to which type of gamer you are that will aid in your purchasing desicion.