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I Was Eaten by a Dinosaur, Twice: Hands-On With the Latest VR Games at E3

Hands-on (eyes-on? head-on?) with some of the software coming soon to a VR device near you.

There’s a fair bit of virtual reality this year at E3, presaging the first wave of consumer hardware that is headed to consumers in the next 12 months.

I’ve been on the VR demo circuit for years, but now it’s put up or shut up: Is this software really ready for primetime? Here’s a roundup of what I saw on Tuesday at the gaming trade show:

Time Machine VR

What: “Our goal with this is to prove that VR is not a gimmick,” said Minority Media president Vander Caballero. The pre-alpha of this “time travel dinosaur safari” put me at the helm of something resembling a chair with jetpack controls that could also go underwater and freeze time as I scanned and catalogued dinosaurs. Yeah.

Who: Minority Media.

Hardware: Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype, with PlayStation 4 controller.

Pros: The demo lasted about half an hour, and by the end of it I was thoroughly hooked. The highlight: After I was eaten, twice, by a hungry pliosaur, I caught myself retreating to the safety of some boulders in between objectives.

Cons: Caballero had to talk over the game audio to help me understand some of the controls, and the glimpse I got of the story was a bit too self-serious. C’mon, it’s a dinosaur safari!

The Walking Dead

What: Based on the comic books published by Skybound (the original source material for the popular AMC TV show), this demo put me in a wheelchair and gave me a shotgun to shoot walkers as I was pushed around by a computer-controlled character.

Who: Starbreeze Studios.

Hardware: A StarVR headset with a shotgun peripheral.

Courtesy Jessica Ward

Pros: Unlike its more established competitors, the newly announced Star VR angles two screens around the wearer’s head, giving him or her a much wider field of view. The difference to my peripheral vision was noticeable as compared to the single screen in front of my eyes in a standard headset. And watching zombies’ heads explode is kinda fun.

Cons: I couldn’t see shit. I had to take off my glasses to wear the prototype headset, so everything was pretty blurry. And at least for now, it did feel like more of a gimmick demo than an entree to a full game; Starbreeze reps were a bit dodgy on the question of just what they would do next, software-wise.

EVE: Valkyrie

What: This game has become a staple of several VR events, with each software update matching advances in the hardware. The idea is simple: You are in a spaceship, shooting other spaceships. Pew pew pew.

Who: CCP Games.

Hardware: Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype and Xbox 360 controller.

Pros: This is one of the earliest and clearest examples of an “ooh” VR demo: As a dogfighter in space with access to all manner of futuristic weapons, doing future-y things like looking at your targets to lock on missiles at them just feels right. And there’s something really satisfying about finding and eliminating an enemy ship because you saw it just on the periphery.

Cons: Nearly two years since EVE: Valkyrie came to light, it’s still not clear if the game is really going to be replay-ably fun, rather than just a neat VR demo to show your friends. Maybe the latter is enough, since CCP wants to drive people to try its main online multiplayer game EVE: Online.

World War Toons

What: A first-person shooter in VR that looks like a very violent, but also bloodless, Looney Tunes short.

Who?: Reload Studios.

Hardware: Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype, with Xbox 360 controller.

Pros: The visual style of the game was adorable, down to power-ups like an Acme-style rocket you could ride around the stage.

Cons: I think this one would have benefited from being shown off in a networked room with a lot of human players, rather than at a solo computer at the venue of AMD’s press conference; shooting computer players got boring fast. And I have no idea why pressing one button turned me into a tank, but that and the jump button were both a bit disorientating.

Back to Dinosaur Island 2

What: A tech demo from (wait for it … ) the makers of Back to Dinosaur Island, in which you use your hands (at present, controlled by a standard gamepad) to scale a mountain. Oh, and also, there are a bunch of angry pterodactyls that don’t seem totally thrilled with you disturbing their babies.

Who? Crytek.

Hardware: Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype, with Xbox 360 controller.

Pros: The pterodactyls looked great, and the feeling of rising up the mountain was not as stomach-dropping as I thought it would be.

Cons: An Xbox controller is not ideal for a VR game where you can see your hands, but Crytek knows this — a company rep there said it’s also looking to use its new demo to experiment with things like haptic rings and gloves.

(Below is a video of the original Back to Dinosaur Island, not the new one.)


What: A new gaming demo for Microsoft HoloLens in which evil robots break through the walls around you and you have to shoot them with lasers because of course you do.

Who?: Microsoft Studios.

Concept image courtesy Microsoft

Hardware: Microsoft HoloLens, Xbox 360 controller and a room with four walls.

Pros: This one was fun to figure out: Because the HoloLens glasses had already scanned the room I was in, the robots created dents in the walls before they burst through, making the anticipation of their invasion part of the fun. And I immediately took to walking all around the room to line up my angles, something I could do with some confidence because I could see the real world through the glasses.

Cons: The Xbox controller seemed like a make-do approach until a better input solution comes along. But for a first-person shooter demanding quick reflexes, it probably offered quicker and more accurate results than the HoloLens’s built-in voice and gesture controls.

Minecraft HoloLens

What: Minecraft. It’s kind of a big deal. And there are two modes: Playing a simulated console version on the wall, or a “god mode” looking down on the Minecraft world projected onto a surface below you.

Who: Microsoft/Mojang.

Hardware: Microsoft HoloLens, Xbox One controller, wall and a table.

Pros: Disclaimer: I’m a Minecraft fan, so I’m biased here — this was totally neat. Playing on a wall with a console controller felt better than even the far more developed Minecraft Pocket Edition, which runs on phones and tablets. And the god mode, while limited in what it can do right now, delightfully made the game more like its Lego inspiration than ever.

Cons: Like we said, this demo is currently situated in a rectangle in the center of the user’s view, rather than filling it up as the Xbox press conference suggested. Still, it’s easy enough to adapt to that limitation. Also different from what was shown in the press conference: The image broke for me when I leaned in too close to inspect a building.

VR Sports Challenge

What: A hockey game. You play as the goalie, tracking the puck and blocking the opposing team’s shots, and when your team breaks away with the puck you briefly take control and try to score on the other goalie.

Who: Sanzaru Games.

Hardware: Oculus Rift, with Xbox One controller.

Pros: One of the better demos of the day. The game smartly communicated whether I was looking at the puck by highlighting it in green or red, and the experience of having to react quickly and correctly to a slapshot was a lot of fun. I could have played this one for an hour.

Cons: Game was not titled “Hockulus.”


What: A horror/”dungeon-crawler” game with a bunch of spooky corridors and monsters.

Who: White Door Games.

Hardware: Samsung Gear VR and Virtuix Omni treadmill.

Pros: Once I got the hang of it, running on the Omni treadmill — for which I donned special slippery shoes and strapped myself into a belt-and-leg harness — worked pretty well. And for a game running on a mobile phone, Dreadhalls’s graphics were very good.

Cons: This was another victim of the conference environment. I’ve been told that Dreadhalls is suitably creepy/scary when you’re by yourself in a Gear VR, but I was both on a loud expo floor and pressing my body up against the Omni treadmill. That made it hard to get immersed in the virtual world.


What: A shooting gallery made for the Omni treadmill.

Who: Virtuix.

Hardware: Oculus Rift DK2, Virtuix Omni treadmill and Cabela Top Shot Elite gun controller.

Pros: I never knew I wanted a VR version of Police Trainer until this. Although the sheer amount of hardware was way beyond what I would keep in my home, the treadmill worked perfectly for this game — so well that I was comfortably speed-running through the last levels.

Cons: I looked like this while playing.

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