When Sony threw its name into the VR hat more than six years ago, it was in the infancy of the current technological format. Enthusiasm was high from some areas, scepticism almost equally so from others, so the boundaries were drawn clearly between those who had "seen the light" and those who mostly saw PSVR as a gimmick that took resources away from the flat-screen games they'd rather see Sony spend time developing. It was a time when you could impress people with relatively little because the technology could contribute a completely different physicality and scale than seen before. And because it actually worked, which seemed to surprise more people than you might think.
Here in 2023, the situation is somewhat different, because neither the scepticism nor the enthusiasm is at the same level. VR has become commonplace and few now doubt that it actually works and can provide some different experiences, but conversely many will still say that the technology is still too clunky, and the headsets too expensive. There is a widespread perception of VR as a slightly exotic niche product within gaming that is unlikely to ever become mainstream.
It's not the most grateful market to have to ship a nearly £530 / €600 accessory in - especially given the global economic situation. Rumours of a PS VR2 production adjustment to half of what was originally planned (a rumour Sony denies, however) didn't help, neither did a relatively quiet marketing campaign, and having only a few first-party announced games brings to mind the defunct PS Vita.
But rather than dwell on the market parallels between the two machines, I'd rather remain optimistic and focus on another parallel: namely the superior quality they both possess over their predecessor. PSVR was, in many ways, half the solution. The headset itself was comfortable and well-designed, but the connectivity was a regular mess of wires that could drive even the most patient gamer to the brink of madness. The tracking was flawed, and then there were the hopelessly outdated Move controllers, which did their part to strain both the developers and the gameplay - it's hardly a coincidence that the headset's best games are controlled with the trusty DualShock 4.
The PS VR2, on the other hand, is a somewhat cohesive product. It's comfortable, easy to connect and set up, the new controllers are excellent, the new features like eye tracking and haptic feedback in the headset itself work brilliantly, and then the vastly improved specs make for a nice, clean image.
As I also mentioned in my preview, comfort is a not insignificant factor when it comes to VR headsets. The weight of a Quest 1, for example, is poorly distributed, which can cause neck pain during extended play. The PS VR2 is an immensely comfortable headset. No doubt about it. The weight distribution is reasonable, there are good options for adjusting its placement on the head both front and back - which should also be an advantage for users with glasses - you can adjust the IPD, and then the materials that make contact with the head are soft and comfortable. I was also thrilled with the included in-ear headphones that attach to the headset. Once they're snapped on, they just blend in naturally, and their short cords make sure they don't get in the way when playing. If you're more into using your own, that's also an option, but there are reports that not all headphones fit equally well. However, we also have to approach the elephant in the room: The cord. Is it a big nuisance? No, I don't think so, but I did notice it and had to move it around at times to avoid straining myself. A wireless headset would have been coolest, of course, but if the cord means a nicer picture and lower latency, it's a trade off I'm ultimately okay with.
Another point where the PS VR2 stands strong is in terms of setup. The headset plugs into the front of your PS5 with the aforementioned cord. Then it's just a matter of switching on the console and headset and completing the incredibly easy setup. The PS VR2 has inside out tracking, so to my delight there are no cameras to set up. This part has always been one of high end headsets like the Index's and Vive's big Achilles' heel, as it simply becomes too much of a good thing to have to plaster my living room with cameras. VR is already a form of gaming that demands a lot from the consumer in terms of economy and space, so the console-fication the PS VR2 brings is incredibly welcome. It's also something the Quest can do, but to my knowledge the PS VR2 is the first high-end headset to really make it easy - for example, it scans the room automatically. I'd go so far as to say that the setup is downright fool proof, and I can only applaud that as a welcome development.
Comfort and ease of setup are undoubtedly a good start, but if the actual gaming experience isn't good, it's going to be a wonderful waste of effort. The PS VR2 is equipped with an OLED screen with a resolution of 2000 x 2040 per eye and a field of view of 110 degrees. The latter can't match the Index's 130 degrees, but it's still reasonable, and as a whole the specs, along with the PS5 of course, result in a nice image. There may still be a hint of screen door effect, but it's minimal.
While the picture is great, it's the PS5's haptic feedback and adaptive triggers features that set the gaming experience apart from the competition. In particular, the addition of haptic feedback in the headset itself adds to the immersion as the vibrations from a charging Thunderjaw in Horizon Call of the Mountain move from your hands and up into your head. In time it's likely to become a sensation you get used to, but for now it's an exciting addition. Another exciting addition is eye tracking. I've yet to try a game that makes significant use of it, but I can say that it works impressively well, and I'm looking forward to seeing how a game like The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR makes use of the feature.
We can't talk gaming experience without getting into the new controllers. The Move controller has finally died and been replaced by some ergonomically sound controllers with an intuitive and up-to-date button layout. Of the VR controllers I've used, they're right up there with the best, helped along by the aforementioned features. The tracking on them is also good. A few times I managed to confuse the system a bit - which often happens when crossing hands, for example - but it wasn't often, which is actually impressive considering that a game like Horizon Call of the Mountain's many climbing sequences in particular expose the tracking to just that challenge. Battery life I'd estimate at around five hours, which is acceptable without being flashy. Long play sessions are rare in VR, which is mitigating, but conversely you can't charge your controllers while playing.
As you can probably deduce from the above, I'm heavily excited about Sony's new VR headset. It may not be as solid in design as, say, the Index, just as the field of view could be even wider, but the great comfort, easy setup, good image quality, excellent controllers and exciting new features like eye tracking and haptic feedback in the headset itself help make it a highly successful piece of hardware. The question now is to what extent Sony will support PS VR2 with unique titles, because we haven't heard much yet. This sort of thing obviously requires a large install base to be viable, but in a slightly paradoxical way we know that it's going to take system sellers for an expensive niche product like this to reach all but the most enthusiastic of us.
But I'm rooting for PS VR2, I really am. Because it's an exciting product that has reignited my interest in VR, so I sincerely hope Sony leads the way with games that really show what the headset is capable of. After all, they could start with Astro Bot: Rescue Mission 2. I'm certainly ready for that.