Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Everything you need to know about PlayStation Virtual Reality

Karl Puschmann goes inside Playstation's virtual reality revolution.
The PSVR headset in action. Photo supplied by Sony.
The PSVR headset in action. Photo supplied by Sony.

Virtual Reality has finally arrived. It is every bit as un-freaking-believable as you hoped.

Today, Sony launches PlayStation VR (PSVR). It's not the first consumer VR system, but it is the most affordable, the most accessible and the most widely available. You don't need a costly high-spec PC to run it either. It simply plugs into a PlayStation 4 console.

Sony is touting PSVR as a revolution. For once these are not the hyperbolic words of an excitable marketing department.

To put is as simply as I can PSVR is truly mind-blowing. Even now, having lived with the system for a week, it continues to astound every time I strap its comfy, pleasingly futuristic headset on and enter its virtual worlds.

What PSVR can do, where it can take you and the complete immersion it delivers is nothing - and I cannot stress this enough - nothing less than mind-blowing.

PSVR puts you in the game. It brings games to life. It can be jaw-dropping. It can be awe-inspiring. It can be completely terrifying.

That's the good news. The bad news... well, we'll get to that.

But we can confidently state that none of this is hype. PSVR is the real deal. Today, gaming's revolution begins.

First impressions

To understand just how mind-blowing PSVR is you really need to experience it yourself.

I can tell you how freaking scary it is when a salivating great white shark rams the underwater cage I am standing in, but you won't truly comprehend just how freaking scary it is until a salivating great white shark is ramming the underwater cage you're standing in.

Ocean Descent, part of PlayStation Worlds, a PSVR mini-game collection
Ocean Descent, part of PlayStation Worlds, a PSVR mini-game collection

PSVR makes this possible. Strap on the headset and this world disappears, completely replaced by another.

Your brain knows you are safe in your lounge. But your eyes are screaming at you that an angry shark has you on the menu. Your heart starts racing. The great white passes above, circles around and disappears below. Your head instinctively turns, desperately following it, straining not to lose sight of it. It's tense and it's awful. And when the gnarly brute suddenly reappears, accelerating straight for you, it is pant-wettingly real...

Virtual gameplay

Before spending a real fortune on virtual reality you really need to know what to expect. Firstly, forget about marathon sessions of Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty.

PSVR is built around experience. This means shorter, bite-sized games as opposed to gaming epics. Some games - like the shark encounter - you don't do anything.

This may not appeal. Normally I'd agree. But put this stuff in VR and it's a whole new game.

In Headmaster you simply head a soccer ball into a goal. In Tumble VR you stack blocks. In Job Simulator you make coffee. In Ocean Descent you just stand there.

Sound awful? It's not. These are all wonderful and unique gameplay experiences. They're fun. They're small puzzle or mini-games, yes, but they're priced accordingly.

Dangerball, part of the PlayStation Worlds mini-game collection. Supplied by PlayStation for TimeOut.
Dangerball, part of the PlayStation Worlds mini-game collection. Supplied by PlayStation for TimeOut.

VR is a head-trip so it makes sense to focus on the wow factor. Besides, virtual reality is not something you can stay in for that long. At least not yet...

As long as you adjust your expectations, understand that PSVR does not replace "normal" gaming, and accept what you're getting for your money, then you shouldn't be disappointed.

One of the unexpected bonuses of the PSVR headset is "cinematic mode". This turns the headset into, essentially, an IMAX-sized screen on which you can play your non-VR games. It also frees up the telly.

Launch pick

Our pick of the launch game line-up is Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. This on-rails shooter is a horror-themed roller-coaster ride that will scare the bejesus out of you. It's a double whammy of roller-coaster thrills and Halloween scares. It's the game to strap your mates into to show off PSVR's capabilities. At just $34.99, it's essential.

PSVR's horror roller-coaster shooter, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. Supplied by PlayStation for TimeOut.
PSVR's horror roller-coaster shooter, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. Supplied by PlayStation for TimeOut.

The full-priced Driveclub VR, RIGS: Mechanized Combat League, Battlezone and EVE: Valkyrie (all $109.99) offer traditional, longer gameplay. But I would recommend trying these out first, to ensure you have the stomach for them. Demos are included on a disc bundled with every PSVR.

Virtual insanity

Unfortunately it's not all fun and frights with PSVR. Some faster-paced games left me feeling nauseous. This occurs when too much is moving all at once.

Because VR is so believable your eyes tell your brain one thing, but the balance centre in your inner ear isn't fooled and tells it another. This produces a woozy effect similar to motion sickness. It doesn't affect everyone and VR advocates claim it's merely a case of adapting to this completely new way of play.

Nevertheless, it's best to be aware of it. We recommend demoing PSVR with a game like Driveclub VR before buying into the system.

Virtual newbie

Perhaps the greatest power of PSVR is its ability to convert non-gamers. My partner has little interest in gaming but she loves playing in PSVR.

It was hard to get the headset off her once she started popping caps in The London Heist, a Guy Ritchie-style, on-rails shooter that's included in the PlayStation Worlds mini-game collection ($69.99), and she nearly jumped out of her skin when I malevolently "forgot" to tell her that chainsaw-welding clowns were waiting for her on the roller coaster.

London Heist, a fast-paced shooter that is included in PlayStation Worlds.
London Heist, a fast-paced shooter that is included in PlayStation Worlds.

Hardcore games still hold no appeal but the snackable-style VR games with their focus on experience are total winners.

Lowdown

What: PlayStation Virtual Reality (PSVR) launches today.
How: You need the PSVR headset ($629.95) and a PS camera ($109.95). For an optimal experience, two PS Move controllers (twin pack $129.95) are recommended.
Verdict: PSVR lives up to the hype. It's truly mind-blowing. Occasionally stomach-churning.

Win!

Thanks to Sony PlayStation we have one PSVR headset and a PlayStation camera to give away! Enter online here.

- NZ Herald

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