Minecraft PSVR Review: A Few Blocks Short Of PC VR Release
Minecraft is one of the biggest games of the last 10 years, and it has inevitably made its way to a few VR platforms. Now, Minecraft on PS4 finally has PSVR support. But does Minecraft PSVR leave you with that same sense of awe and wonder that the base game does? Or does it all come crashing down in a pixelated, blocky mess? Here’s our Minecraft PSVR review.
Over a decade ago, Minecraft released as a simple Java app for PC. While basic in concept, it ballooned in popularity and quickly became a mega-hit. In 2014, Microsoft purchased the developers, Mojang, for $2.5 billion and since then, the Minecraft IP has expanded out to new platforms and spin-off games. However, VR versions of the game have been few and far between.
Oculus Rift support was added to the Windows 10 version of the game in 2016, and then updated to include Touch controller support a year later. However, until recently, Minecraft had yet to make an appearance on Oculus Quest or PSVR, two of the biggest headsets on the market. While Quest users are still left wanting, a new update recently added PSVR support for owners of the existing game on PS4.
Back to Basics
Most people are aware of how Minecraft works and whether it’s their type of game, so we won’t focus on the core gameplay too much. But in case you need a refresher…
Minecraft is an open-world sandbox with huge creative potential. In the main Survival mode, you’ll follow a basic structure of events that most new players follow — make a house before nightfall, hide from (or fight against) zombies at night, venture further from your house the next day, and expand your base with new materials when you return. There are many variations to this, but that’s the beauty of the game. It’s a loose structure that toes the line perfectly between subtly guiding the player and giving them a huge amount of control.
That’s why Minecraft captured the imaginations of kids around the world — there’s things to do, but no right or wrong way to do them. It’s completely up to you.
Changes For PSVR
The PSVR version of the game is available as a free update for owners of the base PS4 game. This means that if you don’t already own Minecraft on PS4, you only need to make one purchase and you can switch between with ease. It’s also the Bedrock Edition, so it includes the same content as other platforms, all the main modes and cross-platform play, both in and out of VR.
There’s a whole bunch of new settings added specifically for PSVR, including turning customization, HUD distance and much more. It’s an extensive set of options and the developers should be praised for giving users a lot of tools in order to reduce nausea and find a solution that is comfortable for them. Unfortunately, I personally still found the game to be incredibly nauseating — partially due to the fast artificial movement and large scale of the blocks, but also thanks to some other issues…
Questionable Control Decisions
Ultimately, Minceaft PSVR has the same content and gameplay that you know and love from other platforms. However, the PSVR implementation has a few issues that significantly hold it back compared to other versions of the game.
The main problem on PSVR is the lack of PlayStation Move controller support. The only way to play the game while in VR mode is with a DualShock controller, which quickly becomes a problem.
Minecraft is a crosshair-based game. Everything you do relies on your aligning your crosshair over something — killing enemies, opening a chest, mining some dirt. In most VR games, crosshairs are handled by motion controllers, such as the Oculus Touch or PlayStation Move controllers. These let you position a crosshair independently from your head. Alternatively, some games — such as Dreams or Firewall Zero Hour — get around this by using the DualShock’s gyroscope and light bar as a method of moving the crosshair independently.
In Minecraft PSVR, this is not the case — the crosshair position is locked to your head. The only way to move the crosshair is to physically move your head. Want to mine a block directly beneath you? Well then look straight down at it. Trying to slash your sword at zombies while running backwards? Well, good luck perfectly aligning your crosshair using your head each time you need to land a hit.
This system makes head movement instrumental, and detrimental, to playing the game. Tasks that are supposed to be quick and routine, such as sorting your inventory or placing a line of blocks, become arduous and frustrating. It is an infuriating and downright impractical solution.
Because of PSVR’s limited field of tracking, you’ll also have to use the right stick for snap or smooth turning to make large sweeping movements, which you then fine-tune with your head. It’s such a convoluted system that completely takes your focus away from the game. It feels like a challenge in coordination, almost as if you’re being asked to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time just to play the game. It never works well.
Proof In The PC VR Pudding
Frustratingly, implementing support for the PlayStation Move controllers probably would have solved this problem completely. While the lack of joysticks on the Moves would mean movement have to be re-jigged (which others game have managed successfully), they would offer motion controls for crosshair positioning.
Just look at the Oculus Rift version of Minecraft, available for the Windows 10 version of the game. It supports 6DoF motion controls, where the Touch controllers act as virtual Minecraft hands — items equipped on the right, toolbar pinned to the left. This system is exactly how you expect Mincraft VR to work — you can point your hand at an object, which moves the crosshair independently from your head.
This is way more practical, reduces nausea and opens up the game to resemble something much closer to the version you’ve played before on PC and consoles. But even without implementing Move support, the aforementioned DualShock gyroscope-control solution could have been used instead. There has to be an alternative control scheme for PSVR that would work better — other VR versions of the game have proved that already.
Living Room Mode
Living Room Mode is another way to play Minecraft on PSVR, carried over from the Rift release. If you’ve ever used a Netflix app in a VR headset, this is the Minecraft equivalent — Living Room Mode places you in a small room (made out of Minecraft materials) and places the game on a flat screen in front of you. The controls revert to a standard controller layout, with the crosshair mapped to the right stick.
Ironically, this is a pretty great way to play the game in VR on PlayStation 4. It works well and has none of the control problems of the full immersive mode. According to the developers, Living Room Mode was implemented as a comfort feature — you can easily switch to it at any time by pressing up on the d-pad — so that the nausea-prone can quickly switch out of full immersion when they start to feel queasy.
But while Living Room Mode works well, it’s also somewhat irrelevant as a full-time VR solution for the game. If you only used this mode while playing with a headset on, you’re not really getting anything different to just playing the game on PS4 without a headset.
Minecraft PSVR Review: Final Impressions
It’s a shame I’ve spent so much time in this review talking about what Minecraft PSVR does wrong — that’s certainly not what I wanted to focus on. However, there’s no getting around how unforgivable the current PSVR control scheme is — it makes the game borderline unplayable, nauseating and physically strenuous on your neck. It’s a shame because Minecraft is an amazing game and there’s huge potential for a great VR version on PlayStation 4. As a fan of the franchise, it’s disappointing that the three-year-old Rift release does a better job.
When Minecraft launched, one of the biggest talking points was its scope, and the immersion that came with that. You could create your own entire city, and the blocky, pixel art graphics didn’t matter, because you were so entrenched in this virtual world you had created. If you add multiplayer to the mix, it even starts to share some of the world-building DNA seen in social VR apps like VRChat or Facebook Horizon. Sadly, all of that immersion from the original game is lost on PSVR — you’re so caught up wrangling with the controls that full immersion seems like a pipe dream.
With many solutions seemingly available to fix the problem, there’s really no excuse as to why Minecraft PSVR plays as badly as it does. Minecraft remains a fantastic game, and one of the most popular of all time, but the implementation on PSVR stands in the way of enjoying it. You’re better off playing without the headset — Minecraft on PSVR is a blocky mess, and I’m not talking about the resolution.
Minecraft is available on PS4 now, with PlayStation VR support, for $19.99. For more on how we arrived at this score, check out our review guidelines.
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