I’m just going to call myself out at the top of this review. Yes, I’ve previously written that I was going to purchase an Oculus Rift. But when it came right down to it, my loyalty to id’s John Carmack wasn’t enough to overcome the fact that this was my own, hard-earned money I’d be spending. After all, the Oculus is $599, and the Vive, which doesn’t even give you a break on the shipping ($41.95 HTC, really? really!? You’re lucky I’m dumb) is $799. When I saw Oculus had changed it’s mind on exclusives for the Rift, suggesting foreseen market share problems, as well as Facebook getting it’s “1984” (a great book, be sure to check it out) hands all up in it, I began to have my doubts. Putting the nail in the coffin for me, is the fact I’ve been a dedicated member of the Steam community, for over a decade now. Thus, Steam VR is what in the end, pushed my saddle-sore behind over the fence.
To get set up with your new Vive, you need a minimum of 6ft x 6ft of floor space available. You can choose, however, to change your VR experience to “stand” or “sit only” (“sit only” will limit the titles available to you). The installation tutorial was flawless in that I had no difficulty in getting set up whatsoever. Each step was concise and clear and gave you a sense of comfort as you proceeded- after all, you’re about to embark on a new, very expensive journey. One very apparent advantage the HTC Vive has over the Oculus is that you only need one available USB port, whereas with the Oculus, you need 6 available USB ports. Another relief is that hanging the sensors was a breeze: drill a couple holes, hang it up, and you’re done.
There’s a reason you don’t see many screen shots of what it’s like to use this technology, the actual experience in no way translates to a two dimensional picture. Words even fail to some extent when describing the Vive VR experience, but I’ll give her a whirl.
Once you put on your headset, you’re greeted by a familiar face to fans of Valve’s beloved Portal series: Wheatley! This neurotic little robot companion guides you through getting comfortable with your controllers, which is mind-bending the first time you run through it, to be honest. I watched, mouth agape as I launched balloons with the controllers. They rose to the ceiling, and I then took satisfaction in blasting them with lasers. It was an amazing first impression. Bright blue lines fade in as you edge near the boundaries of your play space, further helping to guide your movements. The closer you get, the more apparent they become, until you’re staring at a bright blue cube wall, very reminiscent of The Matrix. One draw back to the whole physical experience is the fact you have a bundled pony tail of wires running down your back at all times. HTC has shown foresight into this problem, though, by providing enough slack in the lines so you’re less likely to trip over them.
On with the nuts and bolts- let’s talk Steam VR. Steam VR absolutely blows the HTC Vive home screen experience away. Steam VR allows you to chat with friends via a virtual keyboard, which essentially appears at your feet, giving you a full field of view of everything you need access to. There is a microphone option as well, however my friends prefer to use clients such as Skype and Curse. Regardless, when they saw I was in Steam VR, and their chat boxes popped up one by one in my face, I was thrilled. To select anything, you simply point with a laser which emanates from a virtual representation of your controller and pull the trigger. I very much felt like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, pushing and pulling menus with my hands to navigate all the windows. Now if I were only 70 lbs lighter, a solid foot shorter, and about 600 million dollars richer, Tom and myself might actually have something in common. But what really blew my mind, is you still have access to your desktop via Steam VR as well. You can simply click/trigger the “Desktop” button at your feet, and have immediate access to your PC as you would normally access it. When you “trigger” this button, your desktop appears as a giant wall in front of you that you can point and trigger at. Right click and left click mouse functions are preserved via buttons on the controller. However, at the time of this publication, it’s definitely a tedious way to navigate your PC, to say the least. Steam VR addresses some of these concerns, as you can log into your social media via the app. Menu options such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and more are a trigger away. Using this method enriches the ease with which you can navigate and type, via the virtual keyboard and controllers.
Since the Vive comes bundled with three free games: Job Simulator, Fantastic Contraption, and Tilt Brush- which has been heavily demoed- I thought I’d take a whack at the latter. After getting the app running, I instantly felt a calm presence surround me. I felt as if I were in my own back yard, staring up at a clear night’s sky. As I raised my left arm, I was presented with a pallet of choices. With my right, a brush. I first selected what looked like fire, and streaked it across the sky in front of me. A beautiful streak of twinkling blue fire presented itself, and I let go of the trigger button. I then realized I could select a color for the flame, and chose red, obviously. Again I streaked it across the sky, just above the blue. Then, I noticed something that looked like a snow flake. I instinctively looked up at the sky, pointed, and pulled the trigger. Instantly snow began to tumble softly towards my face. I was, officially, in heaven. I was never more relaxed in a video game in my entire life than I had been right then and there. I could see how this simple game could easily be used to assist with meditation and sleep. I was at complete peace with the stillness of the environment I had painted already- just two fiery streaks in the sky, one blue, one red, with snow trickling down all about me. I was confident I had made the right decision in purchasing the HTC Vive.
In the end, the best score I can possibly give the HTC Vive is an 8. There’s just not enough titles currently available to justify giving it a higher rating. But with so many games in the pipeline, and a 3rd party roster of software developers that is growing exponentially, there’s no doubt that a year from now, that 8 will become a solid 10.