Here's something we didn't expect at the E3 gaming expo this year: to be playing Fallout 4 in virtual reality. But it wasn't a dream, it actually happened - and it might become a reality for all players in the near future.
Bethesda - the studio behind the Fallout franchise, also well-known for Skyrim and Elder Scrolls - announced its “Bethesda VR” proposition at its media conference on Sunday 12 June. Its virtual reality commitment took guise in show-off VR demos of Fallout 4 and Doom, each using the HTC Vive to bring those worlds alive. And we were one of the first to sample this apparent future vision in person.
Now, virtual reality perceptions differ from person to person, so whether this is exciting news for you or not depends on your point of view. But with one, if not two, of the biggest games of the last 12 months being carrot-dangled as potential VR candidates, and with HTC Vive being the most blow-away tech of the bunch, we're more excited to sample these goodies than we are about, well, almost anything else E3 has thrown at us so far.
Slipping the HTC Vive on over glasses is never fun, but once nestled inside the headset, with separate headphones adorned and separate controllers placed in each hand, we're in the wastelands. Like, actually, in them.
Well, almost. Despite the potential to integrate beautifully with virtual reality, the infinite-feeling world of Fallout 4 can't be mapped to such a degree that the real-world to allow you to walk through its lands. Instead the left-hand Vive controller is used to point-and-click to “walk” - more teleport short distances, really, as you click and re-appear in the new location - from place to place. It adds a disengaging immediacy that changes the flow of the game. It's more point-and-click than adventure that you can look around. The near-static approach does mean other VR units would also be well suited, though. Yep, we're looking at you Oculus.
Conversely the right-hand Vive controller is used as a gun, its trigger button representing the idea of a firearm very well indeed. It's kind of obvious really. Not that we encourage guns - not unless there's a giant deathclaw lurking about in the shadows asking to be taken down. Or, in our case, a two-headed cow in need of being blow-up by a Fatman missile. BBQ's up.
Fun certainly prevailed as we started to get accustomed to our surroundings. However, delving into a game of this type isn't made better by VR, it simply changes the experience. It's incredible to look around the world freely, to pretend to pet your dog (Dogmeat), and do all those silly in-between things you wouldn't contemplate doing with just the single controller and large telly .
Highlights include the Pipboy menu system - the on-the-wrist at-a-glance computer and inventory - which is attached to your left arm. Being able to glance at it like a real thing makes the experience all the more real. It's less practical, but way more impressive.
As games become more immersive, so too will the way we'll be able to play them. Bethesda VR is a very interesting project for virtual reality heads as it shows the big studios are behind the tech of tomorrow. And that can only mean bigger and better titles to play. We're totally for that - even if VR experiences typically need to be tailored to suit the type of play rather than being adaptations of existing games.