The Oculus Rift is a strange device. It offers a level of immersion that is completely unparalleled in all of gaming, it's that good. It's not perfect of course, with the oft-cited screen door effect, low resolution display, no head or eye tracking and the fact that there really aren't many supporting games out there at the moment.
But it's still awesome.
You've heard that from every corner of the internet already though. The devkit has been out for well over six months at this point, so me buying one a couple of weeks ago in order to tell you about my experiences isn't going to be anything new right?
I thought the same initially, which made me a little dejected as I wanted to talk about the Rift. It's really excited and offers something you just can't get anywhere else at the moment. And that's when I decided what I was going to talk about today: experiences with the Rift that you just don't get on any other device or with any other game.
Beyond the immersion and sense of scale that you get from using the Rift, there's also some really strange sensations that happen once you allow yourself to be immersed, which once you've played with it for a few hours, you do have to do. If you don't, you'll find yourself focusing on your feet resting on the floor, or the headphone cable that keeps brushing your leg. Once you do let yourself go though, you can have some very unique experiences like:
Losing your balance without moving or substances
This is one you tend to contend with a bit when you first get ahold of the rift, but even when you're somewhat experienced, play a game that's disorientating enough and your brain will rebel against you. Try Flying Dreams for example and do a 180 degree flip while flying on your side and your body is guaranteed to get all sorts of weird commands from your scrambling brain.
It really does feel ridiculous when it happens, but you'll be standing there completely absorbed and suddenly your real body will decide it's going sideways and you have to catch yourself. Very jarring, very surprising and a very odd sensation.
My tip? Brace your legs, as if you're riding something, even open your arms like the wingsuit character you're playing as that tends to help a bit too – as well as make you feel like superman.
This one came to me from a very unpolished survival sim, The Deep, which is a game that puts you on a lifeboat and charges you with surviving the elements and the local population of giant sharks. Very little gameplay exists at the moment, but what is there can be totally terrifying.
Beyond avoiding the sharks though, you'll find that one of the hardest parts is getting back to your boat, especially if night falls and the seas get choppy. A couple of times while playing it and trying to rise back to the surface, I finally broke through and felt such relief that I'd made it, only for a wave to crash over my head, forcing me several metres back below the surface and I swear I felt like I couldn't breath for a second.
It was very momentary, but I haven't felt that short of breath since I played Sonic 2 as a kid and had to rush for those air bubbles as the music amped up. I'm a lot less impressionable these days and it takes more to immerse me to that level but fortunately the Rift is more than capable.
Nausea without movement
This is a well documented affect of the Rift and it's very similar to motion sickness that you'd get on a plane, or boat – but in reverse. Whereas on those real world transports, your body is moving but your brain isn't telling it to do so, in the Rift your brain tells you it's moving but your body isn't. In both cases, your brain assumes you're poisoned and decides it better throw up whatever you just ate that's making you go crazy.
Fortunately the brain is an adaptable organ and quickly learns to calm down in such instances but it can occasionally reappear even for experienced Rift users and ironically, it's when no movement happens at all. In-game that is.
It tends to happen with full games, ones that have cut scenes or in the case of the excellently retrofiitted Half Life 2, with its loading screens. See, your brain might have done a great job of accepting virtual reality as at least partially that, but when you then begin moving your head and nothing happens, oh boy get ready to gag.
If you're nervous of trying the rift because of the Nausea, it really isn't that bad for most people during the average game, but when you move your head and nothing happens, I'm not going to lie, it's rough. Avoid it, if you can.
Getting information without a HUD
Considering all the benefits of the Rift, it's hard to explain why this is one of the sensations that I'm most excited about, but when playing First Law, one of the more full experiences out there for the Rift at the moment, you get a lot of information via in-game displays and that's great.
First Law is a first person space combat title, with an arcade feel to it. It's fast, frantic and lets you shoot asteroids, space ships and space stations in a small sandbox. It's great fun and despite being as fast as it is, doesn't really give much in the way of motion sickness. What it does do, really, really well is incorporate information you need to play the game without a heads up display.
Inside your virtual cockpit are monitors, one showing the state of your afterburners, another how many missiles you have left, another what you're currently locked on to and if you turn your head all the way to your left, there's a monitor displaying your current objective. These little bits of information appearing in the game world, rather than on a floating HUD overlayed over the game world is so, so much more immersive. It really does make a massive difference.
I know some games have done things like this already, like adding ammo counts to guns rather than having it hover in the bottom right corner, but I want to see more games do this, not just Rift ones.
So there you have it, my top unique Rift experiences so far. I have some more games loaded up to try this week and an Oculus Rift party with friends and family next weekend, so I'll check in soon and update this with some of my less than usual experiences.
In the mean time, if there's any recommendations or things you'd like me to try, feel free to let me know in the comment section below.