By | December 22, 2023
Picking up a little model fisherman on a model boat in Another Fisherman's Tale

Like a strong circus pole, 2023’s year in VR has been heavily weighted towards both ends. The last twelve months ended with the release of two excellent VR headsets (although only one is really relevant to us PC gamers) and a whole bunch of great VR titles. However, the summer was the quietest I’ve known in a long time, to the point where I ended up playing two VR mini golf games for lack of anything better to do. Fortunately, the past few months have made up for that, providing enough great VR games to feed us well into next year. So it’s an unevenly weighted set of barbells, the kind that would give our mustachioed muscle man a barbell.

It has also been a year of interesting changes. What was heralded as the inevitable future of VR eighteen months ago – the Metaverse – is now dead in the water. Or at least, it crawls feebly towards the sea while our hero follows a little behind, almost feeling sorry for the poor wretch, but still intent on drowning the malignant charlatan in the shallows. Meanwhile, the headsets that have dominated this year point to the growing platform-based nature of VR. Where a few years ago you only needed a headset and a PC to access the full suite of VR games, now you need the right headset (and a PC). It’s a trend that could have significant implications for PCVR in the future, even if we’re not quite there yet.

This was practically demonstrated at the 2023 start line by the launch of the PSVR2, Sony’s follow-up to its previous headset designed to take advantage of the power of the PS5. While the original PSVR was a bit too weedy to draw PCVR gamers away from the Rifts and the Vives (which sound like a rock ‘n’ roll band from the 1950s), the PSVR2 is a groundbreaking headset and brought with it some tasty exclusives . Most notable were Horizon: Call of the Mountain and an exclusive VR version of Resident Evil: Village. Although the one that really sticks out is the recently released VR version of Resident Evil 4 Remake. There are now two VR versions of Resident Evil 4, and you can’t play either of them on PC. Rotters.

Choosing ability cards in VR roguelike The Light Brigade - the player has a card called Potent Sun which adds +25% headshot damage

L: Another Fisherman’s Tale; R: The Light Brigade | Image credit: Vertigo game

Meanwhile, Meta has spent the last few years buying up VR developers and signing either outright or timed exclusive Quest headsets, meaning PCVR gamers have had to wait for some of its biggest hitters to land. And even then, some of them landed belly first, like The Walking Dead: Saints And Sinners Chapter 2, a disappointing sequel to one of the best VR games out there. There were some fun highlights from smaller developers in the spring, like the VR villainous The Light Brigade, and the charming perspective-based adventure Another Fisherman’s Tale, but by late summer, PCVR’s cupboards were starting to look pretty bare.

It was rumored that the reason for Meta’s purchase round was so that these developers could make content for their Metaverse platform Horizon Worlds. Metaverse dominated the headlines last year and was destined to be the future of VR, if Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt to mimic the human emotion “enthusiasm” was to be believed. But the prospects for Horizon seemed dim from the start, and while Horizon Worlds is still theoretically in development, with Meta still pouring billions of dollars into it, the Metaverse has had its lunch thoroughly eaten by this year’s tech fad, AI. As noted by the Verge, at this year’s Meta Connect, Horizon Worlds received significantly less attention than Meta’s AI initiatives, such as a virtual assistant that can be integrated into chats across the company’s messaging platforms. Well, at least everyone in Horizon Worlds has legs now.

But while Meta’s vision for the Metaverse remains waterier than American tea, the company remains at the forefront of VR headset design. In October, Meta launched Meta Quest 3, which offers a significant hardware upgrade from Quest, along with improved passthrough and mixed reality features. The higher price and lack of decent launch titles puts me on the fence about whether it was worth the upgrade, but now that it has a host of games like Assassin’s Creed Nexus, Samba Di Amigo: Party Central, Lego Bricktales and Asgard’s Wrath 2, it’s a much more viable suggestions.

In fact, VR gaming has been saving all good things for the past three months. Alongside Quest 3’s slightly delayed titles, we’ve seen PCVR releases for Arizona Sunshine 2, Five Nights at Freddy’s: Help Wanted 2 (which, like it or not, is a massive VR game), and the wonderful the remake of ye-olde ghostly puzzle the 7th guest. If you own a Quest 2 or 3, you’ll have access to almost all of this thanks to Quest Link, making for one hell of a Christmas list for VR fans.

In short, 2023 has gone from being a fairly dry affair in VR land, to a bit of a bumper year right at the death. But the quality of your harvest depends a lot on the headset you have, and the big question going forward is how much further the existing VR platforms are likely to drift apart. Right now, if you own a Quest headset, you can access both Quest’s exclusive library and all of PCVR via Quest Link and Air Link. But will it stay that way? Meta has been pushing to make Quest its own platform for years now. At what point does Quest completely disconnect from the computer?

I think this may well happen eventually, but it is unlikely in the short term. Alongside its baseline audience, Quest also has a huge user base on Steam. According to Steam’s own hardware survey, it’s actually the most popular PCVR headset by far, accounting for 40% of VR users between June and November 2023 (Valve Index by comparison is the second most popular at 19%). Quest access Steam gives the headset significantly more functionality, and there’s no logical reason why Meta would want to stop it provided it can still sell exclusives in its own store.

VR versions of Greg Davis and Little Alex Horne on the set of Taskmaster VR

Image credit: Draw & Code

And while Valve has its own headset it wants to sell, it also seems to understand the importance of Meta’s continued presence in the PCVR scene. Earlier this month, Valve partnered with Meta to update its Steam Link application to stream to Quest 2 and 3, sort of a reverse system to Quest Link and Air Link. In addition to providing additional PCVR functionality for the Quest, it points to continued overlap between Meta headsets and PCVR.

As for what else the future holds, the short answer is: more headsets and more games. It is likely that we will see Apple’s Vision Pro next year, possibly as early as January. Apple’s headset probably won’t have much relevance in these parts, but it will be interesting to see the response to it anyway. More significant is Valve’s mysterious “Deckard” project, allegedly some sort of follow-up to the Valve Index. There are no firm details on Deckard, although some cryptic word spoken to James by Valve designer Lawrence Yang hinted that it may draw inspiration from Valve’s work on the Steam Deck. “Just as Steam Deck learns a lot from controllers and VR, future products will continue to learn from everything we’ve done with Steam Deck.” My money’s on a Valve equivalent of the Quest, a standalone, inside-out tracking headset that can connect wirelessly to your PC (which, by the way, Steam Link would be ideal for).

But let’s wrap up 2023 with a quick look at what we’ll be playing next year. Titles on the cards for 2024 include Bulletstorm VR, cyberpunk detective sim Low-Fi and the giant adventure Behemoth, from the creators of Saints And Sinners. But by far the most exciting VR prospect for next year is Taskmaster VR. Getting chewed out by a virtual Greg Davies for playing VR Jenga badly? That alone is worth spending £500+ on some nice goggles for your face.

#Reality #Bytes #good #year

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