Head, hands and eyes on with Sony’s Project Morpheus

We don Sony’s Oculus Rift rival to find out whether the future of gaming really is virtual

We've just spent an hour swimming with sharks, dogfighting with aliens and dancing with dummies - and thanks to Sony’s Project Morpheus, we've never had so much fun. 

The Oculus Rift competitor has been rather shy since it was unveiled at San Francisco’s Games Developer Conference back in March but that's all changing now.

We’ve been lucky enough to spend an hour immersed in Sony’s virtual world of sharks, dragons and intergalactic dogfights, and so far we like what we've seen. A lot.

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DAFT PUNK'S LUNCH BOX

The similarities to the newly Facebook-owned Oculus Rift are impossible to ignore: there are two full HD screens inside the goggles, and they provide your virtual scenery while Morpheus tracks the movement of your head using a combination of onboard sensors and a separate camera pointing towards you, in this case the PlayStation Eye.

Wearing Project Morpheus feels a little like strapping Daft Punk’s lunch box to your face, and while it looks finished in the pictures - all glowing lights and smooth, white plastic- it’s still very much under construction. Connecting wires will surely be tidied up before launch and a more elegant solution should be found for providing the audio other than just plonking a pair of headphones over the top.

That said, the experience is already remarkably polished, particularly when playing Eve: Valkyrie. We’d spent some time with the game before on Oculus Rift and to be honest it’s difficult to tell them apart. Seated in front of a monitor showing the split signal being fed to the headset, we blasted into the middle of battle between multiple spaceships, using our head to aim missiles at bogies and a standard PlayStation 4 pad to control the movement of the ship and fire the weapons.

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SHARK BAIT

The most graphically impressive demo was The Deep – a more experiential showcase for the tech that puts you inside a diving cage just below the surface of the ocean, before plunging you into the depths with a press of the X button. As you sink further and further down, visibility gets worse and the local wildlife gets bigger.

Armed only with a flare gun, which you can wave around using the DualShock 4 in your hand, debris starts to sink past you, presumably from the boat you descended from. As you look around for signs of what caused it, there’s little you can do when suddenly faced with a huge shark. That flare gun might as well fire delicious canapés for all it’s putting Jaws off his dinner.

Like Valkyrie it works because, beyond bending your knees to squat down, your in-game self never moves. In Valkyrie you’re sitting in a cockpit, in The Deep you’re trapped behind the metal bars of the cage, meaning there’s no disconnect between what’s happening to your in-game body and your real-life one (except maybe the fact that you’re not soaking wet).

While The Deep is a solitary experience, one of the developers told us they’d been experimenting with adding other human players. A second person could use a smartphone as a sonar and talk to the diver over a radio in order to warn them where the danger’s coming from.

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More after the break...

NICE MOVES

Back on dry land, Morpheus Castle puts you in a courtyard with a medieval dummy in front of you.

With a PlayStation Move controller in each hand it allows you to interact directly with items in the game world. Squeeze the trigger on the controller and it’ll clench the corresponding fist, allowing you to punch or grasp objects. We landed a couple of haymakers on the poor dummy, before grabbing both hands for a quick dance and finally chopping his head off with a handily placed pair of swords.

What’s incredible about this Move integration is how accurate it is, and how seamlessly it combines the real with the virtual. Aside from decapitating inanimate objects we were able to carefully manoeuvre the dummy around with the tips of the swords, translating minute physical movements into the game environment with incredible accuracy. Hitting the bullseye on a set of in-game archery targets required lining up your vision with the sights on a crossbow by physically adjusting the position of your head and your outstretched arm, just like real life. The possibilities are enormous.

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Sony Project Morpheus - initial verdict

The main issue that needs solving on Project Morpheus (and indeed on Oculus Rift) is how to translate full body movement to virtual reality hardware for the living room.

With first-person shooters accounting for such a large portion of gaming sales these days, it would be a shame for a whole genre to miss out on all the immersive benefits of VR. What’s encouraging is that we’re still in the very early stages of development for this new generation of virtual reality games and hardware – and it’s already brilliant fun.

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