Going into Eurogamer Expo 2013 I never planned to try out Oculus Rift. I had seen videos of people using it and everyone was universally impressed, from veteran game journalists to people who were unfamiliar to gaming, but I never felt the need to try it. The Oculus section had queues stretching for hours and I wasn’t prepared to wait that long for something that I wasn’t fundamentally interested in. Yet on Friday as I walked around the Expo floor I saw a small queue for the indie game Dream, which to my surprise used the Oculus Rift. This was my chance to test it out and I am very, very pleased that I did.
My first surprise with the Rift headset was at its weight, the system is quite heavy and thus some bulky straps are needed to tightly secure it to your head, this isn’t a problem but it does take a while to adjust to the headset. The screen inside was surprisingly low resolution, I was expecting it to replicate exactly what was being shown on the television screens in front but in fact it was a lot blurrier and zoomed in. This is quite a large negative for the Oculus Rift but fortunately I hear that future versions of the system come with higher resolution screens so this problem will soon be eradicated.
Dream is a game about exploration. There is basically no gameplay, the objective is to explore the three different worlds available in the demo. There is a house to explore, a garden and a desert. The desert represents the horror portion of the game in which there is a monster which can travels around the underground tunnels after you, but I shall get to that later. The Oculus Rift completely places you inside the game, the world inside is all you can see and with the headphones on it is all you can hear, the one-to-one head tracking works perfectly and feels completely natural. You want to look up at the sky? Just look up in real life and it replicates it perfectly in game. It felt real, even with the low resolution screen. Firstly I played the garden section, this was a great opportunity to get accustomed to the controls, walking around the area with serene music playing in my ears was fantastic and I was truly lost in this world. This section would have been incredibly simple and boring without the use of Oculus Rift, it changed the level from being about walking around a garden to being about exploring a new world.
Next I got to play the desert ‘horror’ section of Dream and this is where the Oculus Rift truly convinced me of its potential. This level had you exploring underground tunnels in the desert with a monster on your tail, think of the smoke monster in Lost and you’ve got the right idea. Down in the tunnels there were lots of forked paths and crossroads, using the head tracking of the Rift it was incredibly easy to stand in the middle of the crossroads and actually look down each path to your left and right without moving your character, it made me feel like I was actually down those tunnels looking for the exit or the monster. I think Oculus Rift has amazing potential in the horror genre, having to move your head around to search for the monster in real time made the experience so much more real and effective. I was so astounded by how lost in the game I had become that my demo was over before I knew it. The tap on the shoulder to indicate my time was up brought me back into the real world with a flash but I could have stayed in that garden and that desert for hours.
My short demo with Oculus Rift took me from not being interested in it to being completely convinced by its potential as the future of gaming. People are going to make incredible experiences with the rift that are going to transport people to a whole other planet, the horror games made for it are going to be the scariest ever made and I can’t wait for that time to come. I can definitely see a future where Oculus Rift, or technology similar to it, is the must have gadget that everyone wants and everyone wants to make games for.