Project Morpheus is PlayStation’s prototype virtual reality system for PS4, announced earlier this week at GDC. Despite its pre-release status, Morpheus is a sleek, eye-catching piece of hardware that feels surprisingly comfy once strapped to your cranium.
This is partly due to a clever design that distributes most of the unit’s weight to the top of your head, not the bridge of your nose or other delicate pressure points. Properly seated, the unit sits snugly over your eyes but rests comfortably on your face. You peer through two separate lenses, which resolves into one immersive, high definition image that provides a convincing sense of depth.
I tried out two demos: EVE Valkyrie, a fast-paced arcade-style dogfighting simulation set in outer space, and The Deep, a face-to-face encounter with a prowling great white shark. Each of these demos was radically different, expressing radically different approaches to virtual reality gaming.
Of the two demos, EVE Valkyrie’s sci-fi dogfighting left the biggest impression. The actual gameplay was dead simple thanks to its DualShock 4 controls, with the left analog stick controlling the thrust of my ship, R2 firing lasers and L2 deploying lock-on missiles.
The game was a blast, but the 360 navigational freedom and sense of immersion provided by Morpheus took EVE Valkyrie into a completely different place. Several times, I craned my neck to watch an enemy ship zoom past my shoulder. Other times, I peered up through the top of my cockpit to watch the battle unfold above me.
Then came the real mind-blower: I looked down and saw my own virtual body seated in the cockpit with my hands clutching the flight controls. During moments like this, I briefly felt like I was actually somewhere else — an effect of “presence,” a term that describes successful VR’s ability to trick the mind and fully immerse the player in his or her virtual surroundings.
Then I played The Deep, a visually striking descent into shark-infested waters. Though safely enclosed in a shark cage, it didn’t take long for a giant great white shark to begin circling me menacingly. Armed with a puny flare gun, I tried feebly to fend off its advances while my mission commander shrieked in my ear.
Project Morpheus is also capable of interacting with a variety of peripherals including PlayStation Camera, used to track DualShock 4’s lightbar in The Deep demo for aiming the flare gun. It also supports the PlayStation Move motion controller, which was demonstrated in The Castle demo for manipulating medieval weapons like crossbows and swords.
All told, my first brief experiences with Project Morpheus were promising. Judging by this prototype design, the hardware is finally catching up to the dream of honest-to-God virtual reality. Now it’s up to developers to come up with experiences that will maximize the potential of this fascinating and game-changing technology.