After a week with the Oculus Quest 2, I feel like I’ve seen the light. Before playing with this headset, I was convinced that, for all its benefits, wireless VR would have too many caveats to make it the most enjoyable way to experience virtual reality. Simply put, I was extremely sceptical of how something so small and self-contained could deliver the fidelity or the refresh rate necessary to take on the PC-bound head-mounted devices (HMD) that dominate the market.
But then I played Tetris Effect in my back garden. With the wind rushing around me accenting the synaesthesia, I was quickly sold on the potential of the Quest 2 and, by proxy, the benefits of wireless VR. This device is an absolute revelation, and now that I’ve had my fun with it, I’m confident that this constitutes another important step forward for the entire medium, following the launch of VR’s killer app Half-Life: Alyx earlier this year.
After using a Valve Index for so long, it really is mind blowing to be able to walk around my house with a headset on. Instead of taking it off, I’ll often just tap the side of the HMD with my palm to enable the passthrough camera, so I can see the world around me in greyscale. I’m pretty sure I shocked the people I live with multiple times by addressing them from the virtual realm, picking up water bottles and operating as normal, even though I’ve got a headset strapped to my face.
What’s more liberating is that the Quest 2 supports hand tracking, which means you can just use your fingers to navigate menus and play games instead of wielding wands. Not a lot of games support this feature yet, but I was impressed enough by it that I hope it becomes the standard in the future. The tracking on my fingers was superb as I used my index and thumb to pinch and scroll my way through an hour of YouTube videos while lazing in bed, before typing messages and solving puzzles with just my fingers later in the day. It’s startling how natural it feels. The only thing missing here are the all-important haptics.
Valve’s knuckle controllers are the closest thing to a happy medium so far, but I’m excited for a future where we wear inconspicuous haptic gloves instead of wielding peripherals. No disrespect to the Quest 2’s wonderful wands, but the hand tracking – much like the rest of the device – feels like it’s teasing the true future of interactivity.
I feel like I had more time for most of the games I had skipped on previous VR platforms with the Quest 2, and maybe that’s something to do with the accessibility of it. There’s no PC to set up or room to clear, you just strap on the cowl and go. Games like Pistol Whip, Audica and Robo Recall were truly thrilling to play without wires. It sounds like a novelty, but losing the cable that I often find myself stepping over and noticing really changes the ball game in terms of immersion.
You really notice it in games like Richie’s Plank Experience, where you get vertigo creeping out onto a flimsy piece of wood at the edge of a skyscraper. I originally played a version of this game at the Shinjuku VR Zone in Tokyo, and even though it was so immersive that I yelped like a dog in front of a crowd of people then, playing it in my back garden on a windy day provided another level of spine-tingling immersion.
I even fell in love with the aloof Trover Saves The Universe on the Quest 2, a hilarious romp that well and truly takes the piss out of the busywork that plagues most VR games, which feels generally less egregious when you don’t have to go to so much effort to actually start playing.
But the real ace up the Quest 2’s sleeve has to be the fact that, with some tinkering, it can easily stream previously exclusive PCVR games from a gaming desktop that is on the other side of the house. You can connect via the Oculus Link cable, but I played games like STRIDE and Half-Life: Alyx by streaming them to the Quest 2 on what I thought was a pretty average WiFi connection in 90Hz through Virtual Desktop. Lo and behold, the experience was free of any latency or input lag issues. No compromise whatsoever.
For a machine that costs only £299, I truly think it’s a no-brainer if you have the means to enter the VR ecosystem. It’s especially brilliant if you’ve got a capable gaming PC on the side too. If your internet is good enough and you’re not bothered about better input peripherals, you can negate the need for one of the more expensive PCVR sets and pick up the Quest 2 for less than half the price. I feel like it has summoned yet another existential crisis for the static console market, as we shift to subscriptions, cloud streaming and more contained models of gaming, even beyond virtual reality.
Yet despite the fact that the Quest 2 doesn’t have any technological caveats, like many people, my lone concern is the device’s close ties to my relatively dormant Facebook account. I was forced to use it to set up the device, which doesn’t feel great given Facebook’s history of data scandals. It makes me fear for my own biometrics sometimes when I’m floating in the digital aether.
I hope Oculus will reconsider forcing Facebook onto its users, as that would really make the Quest 2 an instant recommendation to anyone, regardless of how nihilistic they feel about their ever-growing online data profile. Personally, I’m at the point where my ad algorithm feels like an imaginary friend that I’ve known all my life, but If I spontaneously start grandstanding for the shapeshifting lizards hiding in the sub transmission zone below the third dimension as part of next week’s column entry, you’ll know what’s going on.