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VR at E3 2016: Virtual reality still has a long way to go

Virtual-reality games came thick and fast at E3 2016, but not all VR experiences are created equal.

Claudia Cruz/CNET

It may have been 2015 when we first saw the promise of virtual reality, but this year at E3 2016 we got to see what the all game developers had been working on. There was a mixed bag on offer, with some average VR games, some truly magnificent ones and some, well, less than perfect games.

It could be argued that Sony's press conference on Monday stole the show when it came to VR, with a release date for the PlayStation VR and the promise of 50 games for the platform by the end of 2016. But in many ways it was Bethesda and the promise of Doom and Fallout on VR that fired up fans.

What worked?

There were some great experiences this week at the E3 show in Los Angeles, but Ubisoft's Star Trek Bridge Crew was the real stand out. Using the Oculus headset and the still-not-available touch controllers, it neatly solves one of VR's biggest problems: movement.

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At the moment, first person VR games feel weird. The games are supposed to be immersive, with the goal of putting you truly in the moment. Both Oculus and Vive have worked on controllers that replicate hand movement to further that feeling. But moving around a VR world still feels strange and often requires a more traditional gaming controller.

Lots of VR games are finding various ways to work around the problem. Back in May, I tried a game called Front Defense, made by an in-house team from HTC, which had you fighting off the Axis in WWII from behind sandbags. Bridge Crew has a similarly elegant solution: You are sitting on the deck of a starship and manning one of four different stations, from engineering to helm. It was probably the most sophisticated VR game on show at E3.

What needs work?

Farpoint, a sci-fi shooter on the PlayStation VR, looks good, but it wants you to move around the game world as if you were walking. To that end the team created a brand new controller called the PlayStation VR Aim. It's impressive, even if it looks like something made from cheap PVC piping. But moving around using a thumbstick made me feel wildly ill, something I hadn't experienced before using VR. I felt sick for at least 45 minutes after playing a 15-minute demo and actually felt dizzy while playing. Sean Hollister felt something similar with the Resident Evil VII, as did more than a few other attendees.

Over with Bethesda, both the Doom and Fallout VR games solved this using a teleport system, letting you select a point in the game world and jump directly there. Final Fantasy XV was similar, but with limited specific teleport zones. It's certainly one way of solving the problem, but it kills the immersion immediately.

The same goes for using a gamepad style controller. It's going to be a big issue for VR as the platform progresses, and it's something that needs to be fixed.

Is VR mainstream now?

If this year's E3 showed us anything, it's that VR is still searching for its "killer app."

Virtual-reality gaming is definitely fun, but there wasn't a single title I played that would make me run out to buy a headset. Star Trek was close, but even Ubisoft acknowledged that it needs some work. The PlayStation VR, launching in October, will do a lot to get VR into the family home, but it's a little VR-lite based on what we saw at the show. PC-based VR is still wildly expensive. In the end, we're not seeing anything like Birdly, for example, in the home for a long time.

Despite all of this, the VR on show was still something to get excited about. It feels like we've been waiting forever for the promise of virtual reality to be realized. It may not be 2016, but the future is definitely coming.

For more E3 things check out the rest of CNET's coverage and then head on over to Gamespot to see what they thought were the best games of E3.


This article also appears in Spanish. Read: VR en E3 2016: la realidad virtual tiene un largo camino por recorrer.