Review: Oculus Rift – the virtual reality experience we’ve been waiting for

This is culture-shaping tech: it lets you leave your body and surroundings behind and become completely immersed in a game or film; the goggles are light, and set-up and calibration easy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 April, 2016, 12:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 April, 2016, 12:01am

Most people have heard about the Oculus Rift and the hype surrounding the rise of virtual reality by now, but few people have experienced the magic of high-end VR yet. Now the highly anticipated Oculus Rift headset has launched, and with it, the next chapter of entertainment and art.

After using the Rift on and off for the past week, it’s clear that this is the virtual reality experience we’ve been waiting for. Armed with Facebook’s war chest of funding and the smartest minds in the VR industry, the Oculus team has crafted the best tool for escapism since the television and internet.

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It’s a powerful thing, the ability to seemingly leave your body behind and climb into a game world or film where you find yourself experiencing a new form of storytelling, one where your room melts away and is replaced with something so seemingly tangible that it tricks your brain into believing it’s close enough to reach out and touch.

The ability to teleport into the creative works of game developers, filmmakers and artists is nothing to take lightly – this is culture-shaping technology with huge implications for the future.

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After getting a taste of what the launch catalogue of experiences offer, all I can say is that we’re off to a fantastic start.

Unlike many latecomers to virtual reality, the Oculus team has had years to fine-tune the design and ergonomics of the headset, and it shows in the overall hardware design and experience of using it. The Rift goggles feel lightweight and polished, a huge improvement on the developer kits that it evolved from.

The box itself acts as a nice carrying case. For US$600 you get the Rift headset, an infrared camera, wireless remote, wireless Xbox One controller, and Lucky’s Tale, a made-for-VR game that’s like a mixture of Super Mario Galaxy and Crash Bandicoot.

While you can use your own headphones if you want, you probably won’t, as the attached headphones don’t add much to the overall weight while upping the immersion levels with their support of three-dimensional sound design within games and movies.

Set-up and calibration are a breeze, and the step-by-step instructions are easy to follow and only require you to plug in four cables.

You’ll need a beefy computer to power the Rift, and that means an all-in cost of somewhere between US$1,400 and US$1,500.

That price tag is preventing many people from trying it out, but like the first colour televisions or computers, the costs will drop over time.

It’s easy to become jaded with modern-day video games and films. Most of the time we already know what to expect, but that goes out the window with virtual reality.

The stakes are immediately raised when you move from observing the action through the border of the TV screen and into the action itself. You’re no longer able to look away from the screen when things get tense as you can in a cinema; you’re literally surrounded on all sides.

There’s a heightened connection to characters, both in games and short films, and the action carries weight.

One of the best demonstrations of presence and what compelling VR is really like is found in the space dogfighting game Eve: Valkyrie, which puts you in the cockpit of a spaceship as you shoot through a launch tunnel into a space battle.

There’s a somewhat shallow multiplayer campaign, but it’s the online multiplayer dogfights that most people will spend their time playing, and the fact that you play the entire game from the cockpit of a space fighter anchors the experience and helps you avoid any motion sickness.

Turning around in your seat and watching an enemy fighter scream overhead immediately causes you to tense up, and flying through the wreckage of a mid-air collision feels exhilarating, like something out of Star Wars.

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