Like it or not, we're officially in the age of virtual reality—for the record, that last one in the mid-'90s was kind of a false start.
With their first-to-market console VR device, Sony certainly has a healthy amount of games available for their admittedly impressive (though not inexpensive) new device. But in my time with PSVR—and believe me, I've spent a lot of time with it—I've yet to encounter what anyone could consider a "killer app." Though I've had a lot of fun, most of my PlayStation VR experiences have amounted to shaky half-steps into a brave new world. Either developers didn't have the lead time they needed to create the must-play PSVR experience, or weren't quite sure how far they could push new players. (I'm guessing it's a little of both.)
Like much of the PSVR launch lineup, PlayStation VR Worlds doesn't feel like a fully fleshed-out experience; and that's likely because it's a collection of wholly unrelated tech demos. I'm not trying to be snarky or anything—I actually played a few of these VR experiences back when Sony first started trotting out the technology at trade shows. There's some fun to be had here, sure, but this collection of short-form games feels like it would make a much better pack-in than a $39.99 retail product. Even if a few of Worlds' segments made for some of my more enjoyable experiences with PSVR, I cann't shake the feeling they would be much better as their own, fully developed games, rather than just proofs of concept.
PlayStation VR Worlds contains five different VR experiences, each with their own different modes. I'll break them all down below.
Taking cues from the school of Guy Ritchie London gangster movies, London Heist feels like it could be the most likely VR Worlds candidate to become a full game. While a good portion of it takes the "sit around and look at stuff" approach while a buff thug in a tank top menaces you, London Heist works best when it flashes back to the more interactive segments during the titular heist. All told, this portion of Worlds contains two action segments: one that has you taking cover behind a desk as a shootout erupts immediately after you steal a precious jewel, and another on the open road as men on motorcycles and in black vans open fire on your speeding car. With the Move controllers, shooting feels great—though not as precise as your standard reticle aiming—and the former segment almost feels like an evolution of the arcade shooter Time Crisis with how it tasks you with peeking out from behind cover to shoot enemies in the heads. The highway battle is more of your standard point-and-shoot affair, but it conveys the feeling of momentum incredibly well, to the point where it still felt just as thrilling the third time through.
As with most of my PSVR experiences, the most convincingly cool moments of London Heist didn't come from Michael Bay-style action, but rather, from my minute interactions with the world around me. A section of London Heist has you sitting down to talk with one of your fellow conspirators about the upcoming crime, and the developers give you plenty of things to fiddle with on the table in front of you—including a cigar you can bring to your lips, light, and smoke. The highway chase even has its share of tiny interactions: You can play with the radio, adjust the AC vents, and even open the door slightly (and throw trash onto the asphalt blasting by below). Sure, it's all pretty frivolous, but a lot of these moments definitely made me smile. London Heist also includes four different shooting galleries if you're looking to fire away at targets with no story attached; again, while the shooting feels good, it's really too basic to grab you for long.
Though it involves a simulated shark attack, Ocean Descent stands as the snoozer of VR Worlds' collection. This interaction-free experience tasks you with looking around as a slight narrative plays out during a cage-bound underwater dive: You're on your way to investigate a mysterious shipwreck, but, oh no, a shark! Admittedly, it's fun to sit through once, but the passivity of the experience speaks to just how old of a VR demo this is—it was one of the first I played years before PSVR's release. And the other modes aren't much better, since they simply reuse admittedly pretty assets without the story or shark attack attached.
This extremely straightforward racing game has you laying flat on your back, and speeding through heavy traffic down improvised street courses. To its credit, the sense of speed is great without being nauseating, and controlling your luge just by tilting your head feels extremely natural. But Street Luge doesn't aspire to be more than a racer that simply works, so the novelty wears away pretty quickly. With no other racers, power-ups, or anything too outlandish—like ramps, loop-the-loops, and speed boosts—Street Luge doesn't stay fresh for very long.
It's VR pong! (Because, of course that's the first thing you recreate when given access to space-age technology.) Instead of an providing an overhead view, Smash Ball puts you on one side of the court and tasks you with knocking away the incoming ball using a panel controlled by your head movements. It's one of the most basic video game ideas, and frankly, it works very well in VR: The enemy panel at the other end of the court even changes in size, shape, and useable abilities as the matches roll on.
The main problem, though, is that a game controlled completely by head movements doesn't take like to grow tiresome—especially when you so often have to twist your head to give the ball some "English." I feel like Sony totally missed an opportunity to make Smash Ball much better by not opting to give it controller support; it's so fun to use a controller to whack around the ever-changing ball on PlayStation Worlds' main menu, it's strange that they don't let you do the same in Smash Ball. I'm guessing the amount of Wiimote-cracked TV screens a decade ago made Sony wary of a VR game where you swing around an untethered controller, but they could have at least given it Move controller support.
The last game in VR Worlds' collection makes for one of the most ambitious experiences on the disc, if only because you can move around of your own free will. (Other Worlds segments that involve movement usually have you inside or on top of a thing that's moving independently.) Above all, Scavenger's Odyssey feels like Metroid meets Mass Effect, even if the experience is rather slight. It amounts to an entirely linear exploration-based FPS that tells a fairly generic narrative about the artifacts left behind by a lost civilization.
Out of the all VR Worlds, Scavenger's Odyssey asks the most of the player, but still comes off as fairly monotonous. The shooting segments have you killing three types of space bugs, who appear in waves and are targeted by a reticle aimed by your head. SO definitely carries some of the more effective VR Worlds moments, especially when you're tasked with bounding from chunk to chunk of space debris, or effectively changing your sense of gravity by leaping and sticking to the walls and ceilings. These jumps are mostly fool-proof, though, which makes me think Sony really missed out by not including a VR version of the PlayStation classic Jumping Flash! somewhere on the disc. (Though that may make things a little too pukey.)
A VR Pu Pu Platter
PlayStation VR Worlds definitely has its moments, but unfortunately, none of these VR experiences strive to be more than simple novelties you'll show some visiting friends when you're done with the 5-6 hours' worth of content. Sure, some of the Worlds do a fine job of showing off the PSVR tech, but I'd rather Sony double-down on their best idea than deliver a collection of undeveloped games with a half-hearted shrug. As a pack-in, Worlds could have been excusable, but as a boxed, retail product, it'll definitely leave you disappointed.
PlayStation VR Worlds does a great job of showing off Sony's tech, but the experiences contained in this collection are far too slight to be anything more than sideshow attractions. If you're looking to make the most of PSVR, you're better off buying full games than a modest collection of tech demos.