There is something particularly difficult about reviewing a piece of hardware like the Meta Quest 3.
The problem comes from how difficult it is to describe playing a game in VR. You can watch videos or read about what it feels like to enter a VR space, but the experience is hard to put into words. Putting things into words is my job, though, so I’m contractually obligated to try. What I will say is that it is often eerie. There are ways your body reacts to what’s happening that feels real, that rubs against the knowledge that what you’re seeing isn’t real at all. This leads to an incredible sense of immersion with just a sprinkle of cognitive dissonance.
Nowhere was that more evident than in my first experience with VR, which was the Oculus Quest 2020. An early adopter friend invited me over to his house with the express goal of getting me to try VR. I stood in the middle of his otherwise barren living room, the two-toned linoleum cold under my feet, and strapped on the headset. The first thing he made me do was play a game where I was on the edge of a mountain trying to walk off a cliff.
Even though I knew what I was trying to do wasn’t real, and I could feel a floor that was too cold and flat to ever be a rocky surface, there was a strange dissonance that crawled through me when I used the Oculus. I knew I was standing in a friend’s living room, but I still hesitated to step forward and step off the cliff. When I finally did, for just a moment, that sinking feeling that makes roller coasters both pleasurable and unsettling fluttered through me.
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When I took the headset off, I was hooked idea of VR as an immersive experience. It was impossible to count how cool it felt to be in the game. However, the technology still felt relatively young. The graphics weren’t particularly great, the headset was a little awkward, and the motion tracking wasn’t always perfect. I tried Quest 2 when it came out, and while it felt like an improvement, it still wasn’t quite what I wanted. It was good, but there was still a lack of refinement that kept me from really sinking in.
I dove straight into Quest 3.
Quest 3 just feels good. At first I was quite skeptical about the head strap. It was the kind of thick velcro that I remember wearing on my hockey gear growing up. But I found that once I got a feel for how to adjust the headset, it became pretty easy to get the fit right and to manipulate the lenses until everything was pretty clear.
Setting limits, which was a huge pain for previous versions of Quest, is also much easier now. All you have to do is look around the room and it will automatically sort things out. I’ve never had a problem with the automatic settings picking an appropriate limit, which is very nice. The impact is also much improved, and while still quite grainy, it’s a huge step up over Quest 2’s weird TV fuzz world.
To test Quest 3, I played a variety of games, from puzzles to action games. I want to start with the former. The main game I played was Cubismeven if I dive into I expect you to die 3. Cubism is a minimalist puzzle game where you rotate blocks to fill up a shape. The controls for Cubism known so Good. Being able to pick up blocks in my hand and spin them around to achieve my goal felt incredibly rewarding and relaxing. I felt like I could just sit back on the couch and play the game all day, either with the music on as a meditative experience or while listening to a podcast.
I expect you to die 3 added some excitement to the experience, but I still found myself really immersed in the world and the game. Even when I failed the puzzles, the act of moving around the world and manipulating objects felt neat to me. Both games felt immersive and I had a sense of how far I needed to go to get something. There was still some cognitive dissonance that pulled me out, but it was absurdly small.
As for action games, I tested Assassin’s Creed Nexus, which Jason Cole’s review made me want to play. There was a level of immersion in the game that was just incredible. Moving through the levels felt great, and the motion tracking during combat sections felt perfect. I felt really involved in the action, and I had genuine physical reactions that reminded me of the first time I played VR while moving around the world. I moved my whole body while climbing walls completely on instinct, because having to reach up and stretch felt completely natural.
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That seems like a good place to stop a review. I mean, I’ve talked about the technique and why I liked it. But I want to talk a little about the circumstances under which I played Quest 3. I played mainly over the Thanksgiving weekend in the US, during which time we hosted a bunch of my partner’s cousins. I decided to let the group try Quest 3 with me. The people there had quite varied experiences with VR and gaming in general. We cast the games to the TV so everyone could watch.
Getting the actual setup on people’s heads wasn’t terribly difficult, and people picked up the controls pretty quickly. We went through a nice little selection of games, although most of them were things I thought would be neat to see on TV. I decided to download The climb 2because there is nothing like falling off the side of a mountain to give people the feeling of falling.
Every single person who took a turn at The climb 2 talked about that feeling, which was the same I had when I first played VR. There was something special about being able to share that with people for the first time and introduce them to that kind of immersion.
One of the comments that stuck out to me from the group was that Meta Quest 3 felt like the Wii to them.
That’s not to say that Quest 3 is just an extension of the Wii, but that it represents a leap in technology. The jump from standard analog controls to motion controls felt monumental in 2006, and when my first friend got a Wii, we all hung out and played with it. The technique was, as with Quest 1, a bit awkward, and there were problems getting the tracking to read correctly. Still, it was exciting and new.
Meta Quest 3 isn’t exactly the Wii in this regard, but it all speaks to the fact that if big money, like what Meta has, continues to get behind the technology, it’s likely to start pulling people in. There’s a lot to experience when it comes to VR, and I kind of feel like we’re approaching an era where it’s going to be more than just a gimmick. Meta Quest 3 has made me believe that VR is not only worthwhile, but something with incredible potential because of all the possibilities it brings.
In closing, I want to talk a little about the problems I found with Quest 3, because while I enjoyed it, I do have my criticisms. Many of the games I tried and played were originally for Quest 2, so while I enjoyed the experience of playing them, I’m not sure I really got to push Quest 3 to its limits. I think the biggest problem I’m running into at this point is that there isn’t as much to gain from Quest 3 as there could be. I hope in a year I’ll have a great back catalog of titles to go through. But as so many consoles have proven in the past, sometimes it just doesn’t happen.
There is also still a lot to be desired in terms of the actual user interface. It took me a little longer than I would have expected to adjust to where to find different apps and how to get certain things to work correctly. One way that turned out was trying to figure out exactly how to re-center the menu and bring it up during gameplay, as the button that had done it in one case didn’t always do it in another.
Eventually I settled into a rhythm with it, and after some time playing, VR felt like second nature. But that lack of hand holding initially made using the console odd and a bit confusing. Without the few tutorials I received, I might have been completely lost.
Overall, I love Meta Quest 3, and I can definitely say that it has made me a believer in VR. I’m excited to play with it for a long time to come.
A Meta Quest 3 unit was provided for review along with codes for Vacation Simulator, Job Simulator, Cosmonious High and I Expect You to Die 3. Pricing for Meta Quest 3 starts at $499.99 USD.
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