One of the best received demonstrations during Microsoft’s E3 press conference involved a device we tried out for the first time at the Build developers conference last month: HoloLens.
The company showed how it could be used to add an all-new element to Minecraft, the ability to see creations in front of you and manipulate them in holograohic form. We were thrilled therefore to learn that we were to have a Halo 5: Guardians “experience” with HoloLens at the show itself, although it didn’t quite turn out to be what we expected.
After agreeing to leave our cameras and phones in our bags - hence no actual photography - we were lead into a holding area designed like the inside of a starship after having our eyes measured for the device we were soon to don, and thematically Microsoft had done a cracking job. Even the HoloLens units were painted a different colour and styled more like Master Chief’s mighty helmet.
We had to then stand on a marker and wait for the unit to kick in. When it did there was a waypoint within our field of vision, seemingly placed 1.5 metres away. We walked towards it and suddenly an arrow pointed us to the left.
Inside the next chamber was a hexagonal briefing table – again sticking with the starship theme – and our briefing begun – in 3D and augmented in front of us much like the Death Star briefing in Star Wars. It was very impressive although the issues we had with HoloLens in San Francisco before were apparent once again.
Unfortunately, because you only see a small window of the hologram – a rectangular view with cut off points left, right, top and bottom – we had to keep looking up and down to get the entire 3D briefing map in view. That said though, the 3D models of foes and ships we would face in the coming game element looked great. And they were clear and well defined.
We also liked the graphical pointer that guided us to a comms chip (USB stick) sticking out of our part of the briefing table.
But that was it. We were told to take off the headset and the HoloLens part of the experience was over. The game itself was to be played on a normal Xbox One with a normal controller, normal screen and normal headphones. It felt like somewhat of a disappointment considering the potential of HoloLens but we couldn’t really complain though as the actual briefing part, including AR waypoints was excellent.
Halo 5: Guardians will probably be too when we really get stuck into it. Sadly our hands-on experience so far was mainly of being shot in the face in a bizarre, more violent and more frustrating play out of Groundhog Day. Eat, sleep, rinse, repeat? Respawn, leave base, die, repeat more like.
We played Halo 5’s multiplayer Warzone mode – with 10 players on each side – and it can safely be said that the other team won. We enjoyed it though, with the added elements of AI enemies to find and kill for points as well as the standard capture points to be secured. Even the Titanfall style AI grunts who looked after the Homebase were a welcome inclusion.
For us though, our Halo 5 experience will be more centred on the campaign and co-op play. At least that way better skilled mates can help us survive a bit longer.
Once the round was over we were chucked out into the real world again and on reflection the whole experience was akin to something you might encounter at Disneyland. And that’s probably an ideal scenario for HoloLens. It enriches an experience rather than replaces one.
And as things currently stand, that’s probably the best use for it. It's not as mature a concept when it comes to gaming as the VR devices like Oculus and Project Morpheus. At least until Minecraft for HoloLens actually turns up.