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I'm a Badass Eagle and a Lousy Godzilla: More VR Demos From E3

"Did I ever tell you what the definition of insanity is?" Is it doing 20-plus VR demos in three days?

Earlier this week, I recounted my first day at the gaming trade show E3, where I somehow squeezed in 10 VR game demos (work, work, work!). In the two days since, I found time for 11 more.

Here’s a hands-on (eyes-on? whatever) look at what I tried this time around:

Halo HoloLens Experience

What: Don’t get too worked up, Halo fans: This is not a full Halo game in Microsoft’s “mixed reality” smart glasses, HoloLens. Instead, it was an elaborate warm-up, reminiscent of the pre-show before a ride at Disneyland, to a demo of the new Halo 5: Guardians, in which the players learned about their mission via holographic instructions.

Who: Microsoft Studios.

Hardware: Microsoft HoloLens, in a very expensive-looking E3 booth.

Pros: “This is the coolest thing ever!” one of my fellow HoloLens wearers remarked as we stood around a briefing table, seeing a 3-D map of our battlefield and pictures of our enemies. I wouldn’t go that far, but the sheer amusement park-style novelty of it was, if nothing else, cool. One of the best parts: Looking at an ordinary wall and seeing it “open” to reveal a massive hangar of spaceships, which behaved like a real portal into another room; I could move my head to see more of the virtual space “behind” the wall.

Cons: As with other HoloLens demos, the field of view was constrained to a rectangle in the center of my vision. But the military motif of the Halo games fit nicely with the idea that this was practical technology and didn’t have to be perfect.

Here’s a concept video of the experience:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7X3VPS7rWQ

The Playroom VR

What: Made for two to five players, this game gave one player the Morpheus VR headset and had them pretend to be a cartoony Godzilla-like monster, attacking a town by head-butting its buildings to the ground. The other player(s) run from the falling debris, and then team up to throw things at the monster’s head.

Who: Sony Magic Lab.

Hardware: Project Morpheus (player one), PlayStation 4 controller (player two).

Pros: Every part of this was fun, even during the turn where I wasn’t wearing the Morpheus. Monster-me was pretty terrible at dodging the items that other players threw at me, but getting hit was fun in its own right.

Cons: Although I had fun, I’m not sure I could see myself playing through this level more than once or twice more — it was more of a novelty than a full game, and head-butting would have gotten old if I had had to do it for much longer. Also, I really desperately wanted to use my hands to wreak additional havoc, but the Morpheus does not currently track its users’ hands.

Adrift

What: Adrift is a game planned for non-VR release later this year in which you inhabit an amnesiac astronaut in the aftermath of some mysterious incident in space. The demo I got let me move around a spaceship for a time, pick up objects here and there, and finally exit to space.

Who: Three One Zero.

Hardware: Oculus Rift developer kit, Xbox 360 controller.

Pros: There was only one part of this demo that mattered to me: Ascending out of the space station, sliding through the scaffolding and seeing the Earth and space all around me. If I hadn’t had another meeting to rush off to, I could have spent much longer flying around.

Cons: Moving myself and manipulating objects in space was difficult, perhaps intentionally so.

Trackmania Turbo

What: A new entry to the formerly PC-only car racing series, in which players travel at high speeds, around turns and through crazy loops. In other words, like a roller coaster where you’re the only rider and decide how fast you go at any time.

Who: Ubisoft Paris.

Hardware: Project Morpheus, PlayStation 4 controller.

Pros: The game was smooth enough that it didn’t make me sick, and I always had the option to switch to a behind-the-car view to ease myself around an obstacle.

Cons: Although traveling fast felt good and thrilling, it was also noticeably artificial since I was very much not moving at all from my seat in the Los Angeles Convention Center. I’ve been told that I have higher than average tolerance for VR-induced motion sickness, so I’ll be curious to see if others encounter adverse effects with this one.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3piye62BYf4

Eagle Flight

What: Two games in one, both of which put you in the first-person perspective of an eagle: First up was Eagle Flight Solo, in which I learned how to leisurely soar around a digital reconstruction of Paris. More compelling was Eagle Flight Combat, in which two teams of two human-eagle players competed in an aerial game of capture the flag.

Who: Ubisoft Montreal.

 This is not from the game. I just like the picture.
This is not from the game. I just like the picture.
Shutterstock / davemhuntphotography

Hardware: Oculus Rift developer kit, PlayStation controller.

Pros: I wish VR would bring back arcades, just so I could go to one and play Eagle Flight Combat some more. Shooting other eagles out of the sky (we were apparently magical eagles that could fire projectiles with our screams. Video games!), grabbing the flag and then diving to near-street level to avoid my enemies’ attacks was a great VR experience.

Cons: Despite a pretty Eiffel Tower, the virtual Paris was only minimally detailed, likely because simpler graphics kept the game’s performance up. As a non-native Parisian, though, this didn’t bother me — all that mattered was the excitement of flying through narrow gaps in buildings en route to my goal.

Vaas VR

What: A recreation of a cutscene from the Ubisoft game Far Cry 3, in which the main villain Vaas lectures the player on the “definition of insanity.” The twist is that in this demo, Vaas really gets in your face.

Who: Ubisoft Montreal.

Hardware: Oculus Rift developer kit.

Pros: Having a virtual character invade your personal space is always an interesting experience — though I think past demos by Sony (The London Heist) and Felix & Paul Studios (Jurassic World) pulled the same feat off better.

Cons: Unlike Eagle Flight, the low resolution of the graphics here — which definitely seemed to be a step below those of the real Far Cry 3 — were both noticeable and distracting. Like many video game characters, Vaas’ eyes fell into “uncanny valley” territory, which would probably matter less in a traditional game.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKMMCPeiQoc

Edge of Nowhere

What: A creepy Tomb Raider-esque title featuring an explorer in a desolate arctic wilderness … or is he? Unlike many VR games, this one positions you (the user) behind the character you’re controlling.

Who: Insomniac Games.

Hardware: Oculus Rift, Xbox One controller.

Pros: In a surprising departure in tone from Insomniac’s last game, Sunset Overdrive, the Edge of Nowhere demo effectively teased a mysterious world of monsters and other supernatural oddities while also featuring some solid interactivity as my character jumped from platform to platform and ran away from enemies.

Cons: The controls were a bit finicky at times, particularly when I was trying to cross a narrow bridge.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHJDWLH6fQM

AirMech VR

What: A simulated tabletop strategy game, in which you control a robot that can also turn into a helicopter (video games!). Waves of enemy robots close in on your base, and you have to both shoot them off and use the helicopter to move allied troops into place.

Who: Carbon Games.

Hardware: Oculus Rift, Xbox One controller.

Pros: Flying troops around the 3-D landscape was fun, and — one very nice touch — as the enemies began to damage my base on the “table” in front of me, the “room” around me began to fall apart as well.

Cons: I felt like I was sitting a bit too far from the action several times, and leaning in closer to the table only helped so much. It also would have been helpful to have a radar or some other form of visual or audio cues to know where enemies were coming from.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REL8wbtVONM

Lucky’s Tale

What: A colorful platformer game, not unlike Super Mario 64 or Crash Bandicoot.

Who: Playful.

Hardware: Oculus Rift, Xbox One controller.

Pros: The bright, Nintendo-esque visual style of Lucky’s Tale is perfect for VR, and as a fan of platformer games I appreciated this demo’s smart and diverse level design.

Cons: I encountered a few small bugs, most notably when I misjudged a jump and fell to my death; the camera attempted to zoom in on where I fell, but clipped through the ground, which momentarily threw my brain for a loop.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqyKOhfCMm0

Esper

What: A puzzle game that turns the user into a telepath. Look at an object, hold a button, and you’re able to move it through the air, Jedi mind-trick style.

Who: Coatsink.

Hardware: Oculus Rift, Xbox One controller.

Pros: The game had a great sense of humor about itself and the artificiality of its puzzles. Moving an object through a mixture of head motions and controller input worked better than I expected it would.

Cons: Gameplay was a bit repetitive. And although the controller worked well, I was itching to go full Jedi and have my hand out while levitating objects.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-ZKrB7SyBI

The Toybox

What: Not to be confused with Sony’s Playroom, a mistake I made when I started writing this description. A very advanced tech demo demonstrating both the new Oculus motion controllers, called Oculus Touch, and how it feels to interact with another person in VR when that person is not in the same room as you.

Who: Oculus.

Hardware: Oculus Rift, Oculus Touch controllers.

Pros: Disclaimer: My demo was given by Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey, who clearly knew all of the Toybox’s secrets. But even without a savvy navigator, the Toybox would have been delightful. The toys included firecrackers, a ceramic shooting gallery, remote-controlled tanks and a laser gun that shrank people to a tenth of their normal size. And for the most part, using these toys felt natural and playful.

Cons: Oculus Touch is not quite as intuitive as I thought it would be — to make a fist, for example, you have to hold down a button with your middle finger — but once you learn it, it works. The one other thing missing from the new hardware is haptic feedback: That is, a rumble or similar sensation to give toys like the slingshot or laser gun some more distinct character.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.