Virtually Superior: A Playstation VR 2 review

The Playstation VR 2 is here. It’s their latest foray into VR gaming, and it boasts quite a few improvements. Before we get into those, though, I want to add my typical opening disclaimer. I was provided a Playstation VR 2 for review by Playstation. Playstation and several 3rd party studios also provided their games for review purposes. Thanks to all of them for that.
Now, let’s talk about the PSVR2’s hardware. Gone are the days of all those cables and that weird box in the middle. The headset connects via a single USB-C cable directly to the front of your console. As far as wires go, that’s it. The cable is long, allowing you to easily move around your VR play space even while connected. Also, the controllers are now proper VR hand controllers, rather than the old Playstation Move controllers you used with the original PSVR. These controllers support the same haptic technology as the PS5’s DualSense controllers, adding an additional benefit. But that, my friends, is not all.
There are also haptics in the headset itself. This can create a surreal experience where haptics can be felt separately over multiple portions of your body, bringing a new type of immersive experience. And of course, I have to mention the upscaled resolution and graphical improvements, though these things are of little concern to me personally. But let’s talk about the things that are of concern to me, and my particular band of constant readers. Let’s talk about total blind accessibility. Was I able to recreate the experience I had with the original Playstation VR? Just how accessible could this VR device be? We’re about to get into it right now.

Let’s talk setup first. There are some positives, and some negatives here. Firstly, the entire setup is narrated if you have TTS enabled. This is a huge positive, especially considering just how much setup there is. You have to pair the controllers, potentially update their software, learn how to put on the headset and adjust it properly, go through the configuration of that headset, and then get an explanation of how to hold the hand controllers complete with a button guide. Yeah, all that is narrated. Even the bit about eye tracking is narrated, and you are given an immediate opportunity to turn it off. Pretty great, right? Well, let’s talk about the negatives.
Unfortunately, there are certain aspects of Playstation VR 2 setup that narration can’t touch. For these, you may need some sighted assistance if you intend to use PSVR2. For instance, you have to configure your play space. The first part of this is physically clearing some space in the room you intend to play in, then doing a room scan, which actually is fully accessible. It involves you looking around the room with the headset on while the camera scans your surroundings to configure your space, accompanied by helpful scanning audio. Again, we’re doing great so far. The problem, though, comes after that portion, when you are asked to look at the version of your space presented on screen, and help the VR configure where the floor is. If the floor looks like it’s floating, you have to look down at your floor with the VR headset on, then move the hand controllers down to your actual floor and tap it with their grips to reconfigure where the VR’s understanding of your floor is. Needless to say this bit is not accessible at all. There’s no helpful audio here, not even a confirmation that the configuration for your floor has changed. It admittedly would be difficult to make this bit accessible, though I could think of some fun ideas I would try were I working on this screen. Anyway, I did need to get sighted assistance for this part, but then I was able to move on.
Another smaller negative occurs while configuring the VR headset. With the exception of the button to adjust the headband, the narration on the setup screens doesn’t tell you where to find the other buttons, or what each button is. This struck me as weird, because the controller tutorial is really, really descriptive and helpful. For what it’s worth, the function button is nearer the bottom when wearing the headset, and the scope and power buttons are near the top. The lack of this information felt like an oversight to me. I imagine there were helpful on-screen pictures, but I cannot confirm this. Anyway, setup complete, controllers in hand, let’s talk about the games.

I’ll say right off the bat that, unfortunately, I was not able to recreate the wonderful, incredible experience I had with the original Playstation VR. However, I don’t exactly see that as a bad thing. Certainly there are things that are missing and, hopefully, will be corrected someday, (the lack of narration in any VR game so far being the biggest one), but I’m not especially surprised that I haven’t found that same experience just yet. The potential for blind-accessible VR games is still there, and I really want to see it come to fruition. There are a couple specific experiences I want to highlight here, though, so let’s do that now.

One of the biggest problems with VR when you’re blind is the game-by-game calibration that is almost always necessary. Each game approaches calibration differently, which creates the very difficult problem of us not really being able to muddle through it sometimes. This was the case with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Enhanced Edition, which I could get absolutely nowhere with. I know there was… something on screen that I could turn and “look at,” but I had no idea what to do from that point. Narration and instruction would go a long way toward fixing this, especially if accompanied by helpful audio to ensure you’re doing the right thing, but we’re not there yet. Remember, the entire reason I figured out Until Dawn: Rush of Blood’s calibration was because the excellent audio design clued me into the fact that what I was trying was the right thing to do.

Now I want to bring up what might be Playstation’s flagship title for the VR 2, Horizon: Call of the Mountain. I was able to start this one at least, though it did take some fiddling to do so. I didn’t get very far, but I was very slightly gratified to have figured out, based on context clues, that I was supposed to climb something at one point, and succeeded at doing so. Unfortunately, after having succeeded at that, I had no idea what to do and thus could go no further. Still, this was the best demonstration of the multichannel haptics of this system, and that was super neat.

Next, I want to talk about a little game called Moss. Moss is a fun little adventure game where you’re guiding a little mouse through his world, which is contained within a book. This game is adorable, and I’m sad I wasn’t able to get very far. From the moment where you actually start moving your mousey friend around, it is difficult to know what to do as a blind person. However, I have to give this game a shoutout because it came the closest to demonstrating that VR potential I talked about earlier. What I am about to describe may sound small and meaningless to you, but I will do my best to try and convey what I mean. Bear with me, and try to imagine it.
When Moss opens, it does so as a book does, with some narration and exposition to explain its characters and its world. Occasionally, this narration just breaks off. So what must you do? You must turn the page, of course, and I figured out how that worked in VR. This, to me, felt great, and like a small victory. Using the hand controllers, I gripped the page by squeezing a trigger. There was even a small amount of adaptive resistance when I did this. I heard the small sound paper makes as it slides against the page underneath it. Then, I raised my hand up, moved it to the left in a page turning motion, and released, and it worked. Every part of this action was accompanied by audio, and I had a true sense of what I was doing. It felt good, and it made me hopeful for more, at least for a little while. I understand if you don’t get it. After all, how can turning a page be cool? But it truly was for me. Doing it the way I did it, using actual motion while hearing the audio and feeling the haptics, was a winning combination. It made me excited for VR games that don’t exist yet, where everything is accessible to us and feels like that did.

Lastly, I want to talk about a game called Kayak because, being perfectly honest, I am genuinely uncertain if I “played” it or not. I did start it, I did… something in it, but I’m not sure if I actually got anywhere. Kayak is a very visually-focused game where you can kayak through actual environments in VR. It seems very nice and relaxing. However, that annoying lack of vision I have meant that I had no real idea if I was making any progress. I was doing what I thought might be the right motions, water was certainly moving around me, indicated by the audio and haptics, but I don’t really know if I actually got anywhere. There was a point where my left side must’ve hit something, so I did several motions only with the right controller in an effort to turn, but I have no idea whether I succeeded. This is just an example of the lack of information we can get in a VR game when the primary focus is the visuals, which, at least right now, seems true with most VR games.

In conclusion, the Playstation VR 2 is, without question, a tremendous upgrade from its predecessor. Its single cable, hand controllers, haptics, and even its narrated setup help to propel it forward. Oh, and I’m sure those pesky graphical improvements help too. I still believe in VR, and await the day when, perhaps, I get to work on a VR project so I can help create the kind of experience I dream of. I am not discouraged by my findings here, and did have a couple moments of actual enjoyment along the way. I actually still have a few more games to try as of this writing, and will follow up if I have an experience worth adding to this. Thanks as always for reading. Even if you’re not planning to pick up a Playstation VR, I hope you see the potential there that I do.

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