Even though I write a lot about video games, I never had an opportunity to try virtual reality, for gaming or otherwise, beyond playing around with Google Cardboard for a bit. Walking by the PlayStation booth during New York Comic Con 2019, I spotted the perfect introduction to the technology: a demo for Iron Man VR. So many children (and adults!) dream of becoming a superhero. Based on the NYCC 2019 demo, the game the closest anyone can come into making that dream feel like a reality.
I strapped on my headset, trying to make sense of a whole new technology and form of gaming. Once the demo loaded and I was inside the Iron Man suit, I couldn’t figure out how to fly. No one told me what button to push, and I couldn’t see the Move controllers I was holding inside the VR game anyway. I struggled to figure out how to control the Iron Man suit until a PlayStation employee told me to position my repulsers like Iron Man. I felt dumb for not making that connection, but it makes sense why I failed to. For decades video games conditioned me to try to map a character’s movement to a controller. But with VR the player is the controller, which actually simulates the experience instead of offering a rough imitation.
Marvel Entertainment posted a video of someone playing the demo, showing him in the VR headset and what’s happening on screen. You can watch the demo in its entirety below, but know that a video alone can’t capture a player’s actual experience playing a game in virtual reality.
It’s important to note that a video alone can’t capture a player’s actual experience playing a game in virtual reality. Watching a player’s perspective isn’t the same as embodying the character through the headset and controllers.
Sony also shared a story trailer. The plotline seemed pretty generic, but the story is clearly just a vehicle for exciting flight and combat.
Flying around Tony Stark’s mansion and shooting targets was simple but visceral. It felt like the future of arcade shooters with its easy-to-grasp gameplay that’s so entertaining players will want to play through it again and again. I actually tried to book another session so I could play the demo for a second time. Iron Man VR felt like the equivalent of picking up an arcade light gun for the first time, physically connecting you to the gameplay.
PlayStation VR uses Move Controllers, accessories originally designed for Wii-like motion control games made for the PlayStation 3. Somehow, though, 10-year-old controllers not designed with VR in mind were perfect for managing Iron Man’s repulsor blasts. I aimed them down to fly forward and directly at my targets and they vibrated as I shot repulsor blasts. It felt surprisingly intuitive for a form of flying invented by 1960’s comic book creators on a tight deadline.
Iron Man VR’s biggest flaw is the fault of its publisher rather than its developer. Because Sony Interactive Entertainment is publishing the title, it’s limited to the PlayStation VR, a console that requires a cord to connect the headset to the PlayStation. For that reason, it’s ill-advised to turn your head 360 degrees while playing a game.
Instead, players need to press a button on their Move Controllers to shift the view to the left or right. Pressing the button essentially teleports the player to a new perspective, around 30 degrees to the left or right. It does so quickly, but the act still rips you out of the experience. You seamlessly fly, aim, and shoot as Iron Man until you need to face a different direction. Then you’re starkly reminded that you’re playing a video game. That’s an issue since a core tenant of VR is the feeling of immersion.
The next PlayStation VR is sure to include a wireless headset, making it better suited to a game like Iron Man VR. I’m waiting for that because I know how significant an improvement full 360-degree turning is over a wired connection. However, since PlayStation 5 releases in 2020, it’s unlikely we’ll see PlayStation VR 2.0 until 2021 at the earliest. In the meantime, Iron Man VR players will be constantly reminded that a better version of the experience awaits them.
There’s so much about Iron Man VR to be amazed by. Anyone who comes across an opportunity to play the demo I experienced at NYCC 2019 should take advantage of it. I’m interested to learn more once the game releases in February, and outright excited for the opportunity to play it with a wireless connection, whenever that point comes!