Virtual reality is still very much a nascent technology, despite its growth in interest with Oculus, Project Morpheus and HTC Vive all bidding to get your attention for what they offer. Yet, even with a trio of contenders, it often feels as though developers and companies are yet to truly grasp what the best possible use of this raw but fantastical technology is.
Certainly we’ve seen CCP Games dive right in with the likes of Eve: Valkyrie, Project CARS and many other racers who all have support for Oculus already built in – for those who have coughed up for a dev kit – and the manufacturers have created their own internal demos, primarily for use behind closed doors. Yet the major publishers that regularly dominate the release schedule have yet to show their hand, prior to Ubisoft hosting some of their own tech demos at Gamescom.
It’s fascinating to see them grasping at how to make something that’s suitable for VR, rather than simply transposing existing ideas onto the system, as would be all too tempting. So it was that I took to the skies above a textureless Paris – possibly borrowed from AC: Unity – as an eagle, swooping over the rooftops of dark grey buildings, weaving through the legs of the Eiffel Tower and down to the narrow streets between buildings.
What was quite intriguing here was that rather than controlling the bird using an analogue stick on a gamepad, it flew in whatever direction I was looking. You can imagine what one would have looked like to others in the room, but it actually worked really well, albeit with a minor fear that I might fall off my chair. Certainly, there wasn’t even a hint of motion sickness, with a very natural correlation between what was going on in the game and my head’s movements.
This was turned into a simplistic 2v2 multiplayer game of capture the flag, with each player able to send a powerful sound blast at the other team. Perhaps because it was something so basic, it was fun on a number of levels. There was the thrill of the chase, as I grabbed the flag and tried to fly as close to the ground and between buildings as possible – with a tremendous sense of speed as a consequence – so as to avoid being hit by the other team who were hot on my heels.
Much more conventional were the other two demos they had to show, with a recreation of the famous Far Cry 3 Definition of Insanity announcement video, but while I was inhabiting the body of Jason Brody and able to look around the world, there was little in the way of interactivity.
Similarly by the numbers was Trackmania Turbo on PS4 with Project Morpheus mounted on my head. Racing games are a genre that works very well in VR, by being able to bolt you into a cockpit and giving you a natural environment in which you would be sitting, but Trackmania is renowned for its outlandish track design, and this was no different.
With my viewpoint above the car’s bonnet, I hared around a track that quickly broke out into three dimensional nonsense, more akin to a rollercoaster than a real world race track. Of course, that’s a big part of the fun of this game, but with VR, I’d expect those who suffer from vertigo might not have the most enjoyable of times.
However, I am left wondering where they can take these demos in future. Trackmania Turbo’s VR is a natural little aside that could be added to the game for the various VR platform launches – the game itself is out in November – but beyond that, franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Rainbow Six would need to be reworked from the ground up to suit the tech. Like so many companies, Ubisoft are still trying to find out what VR can and can’t do, but it’s still a positive first step to see them experimenting like this and trying to push boundaries and move in new directions.