Hands-on: Oculus Rift virtual reality headset with Alien Isolation, Crysis 3

Goa. The land of sand, surf, verdant greenery and, in my case, getting french-kissed by a hideous Xenomorph from the Aliens series. Before you ask, no I was not drunk.

We were at AMD’s Technology Showcase and they had two PCs hooked up to Oculus Rift devkits (the latest DK2 variants with 1080p display). Needless to say, the opportunity to check out what could possibly be the future of gaming as we know it was too tempting. Like Gollum in the presence of the One Ring, I made my way to the demo units. This is what happened next.

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First up was Crysis 3. Sadly it wasn’t a demo that involved shooting hordes of soldiers and aliens as was the case with Crytek’s last shooter. Far from it. Instead I was treated to a relaxing stroll in a jungle filled to the brim with flora and fauna – seemingly endless patches of grass, trees that kissed the sky, and squirrels prancing about. The sun’s rays danced along the leaves and everything felt good with the world. I decided to climb up a tree and found myself at an outpost of sorts. The sense of verticality and depth was almost lifelike, looking down from the highest of heights made my stomach churn a bit as it does in reality thanks to the device’s ability to let me actually look down to see how high up I had climbed.

Next up was Alien: Isolation. Taking place on a spaceship inhabited by a not so pleasant alien, it was a stealthy affair. The sterile looking interiors were marred with blood and bodies, indicative of what took place before I showed up. Hues of orange lighting showed a path. Steam brushed against my face as I crouched behind open valves. With Oculus Rift, I didn’t have to use an analog stick to look around. I just had to turn my head. It felt natural and worked well.

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The tap of a button brought up a motion tracker that told me where the dreaded beast was. It turns out that I was so taken in by the sheer level of detail that I bumped into it. Much like a character in many a slasher flick bumping into his killer. Except this time around, the death had a humungous alien shouting in my face and impaling me. Seeing my feet lift up ever so slightly whilst being impaled was…visceral. Gruesome would be an understatement.

Oculus Rift managed to make a straightforward horror game a lot more immersive. It amplified the game’s intended effect tenfold. In terms of usage, the headset fit comfortably and worked with no eyestrain or nausea, at least in my case. However the most telling is that these demo units were running at 1080p on PCs powered by AMD Radeon R9 285 video cards that sport a mere 2 GB of RAM. From a feasibility standpoint, it means that the potential of a VR-driven future is closer than we imagined since it works with what most PC enthusiasts perceive as middling hardware.

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While these demos were brief, they’re indicative of things to come. We’re reaching a point where photorealistic graphics alone won’t push the envelope of technology in gaming. With Oculus Rift, it would be a lot more than just pretty graphics. The sense of what is perceived by our brains as “real experiences” would make gaming a lot more interesting and I, for one, cannot wait.

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