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NCAA March Madness Live VR Review

NCAA March Madness Live VR Review

NCAA March Madness Title

7-0 Stars

Gear VR Icon

So far, all of the live sports I have seen in Virtual Reality have been through NextVR’s app. However, a newcomer is streaming the NCAA Final Four games. Voke is a Virtual Reality company who streams live events, and they have partnered with Capital One and the NCAA March Madness tournament to provide the Final Four games. I watched the first game between the Villanova Wildcats and the Oklahoma Sooners. Long-running live events can be difficult for Gear VR because the phone will heat up and need a break after a while, which interrupts your experience. There were definitely some adjustments that could have made the experience better, but all-in-all, it was entertaining and a step in the right direction for live sports VR.

NCAA March Madness Screenshot01

When the app loads up you have the options of clicking on the Bracket, Watch Live, or Replays. Replays is supposed to show you replays of the three VR games they broadcasted live. I had just watched the first game so there were no replays available yet. If you click on the Bracket, it displays the March Madness bracket with scores of each game. You can then click on each game to watch that game’s highlights in 2D on something that looks like a large movie screen. The real reason people download the app, though, is for the live games in VR.

After clicking on Watch Live, you get a 180-degree view of the game from courtside at half-court. You do have a 3-dimensional VR view. The 3-D aspect is much more pronounced with objects close to the camera but the 3-D does not seem to “pop” as much as broadcasts I have seen before with NextVR. I did however enjoy that I was not transported against my will to other camera angles, and I was able to enjoy the game with my own personally-directed gaze and continuously. Additionally, there was a scoreboard in the upper-right hand part of the screen with minimal stats including the score, quarter, fouls, and amount of time-outs left.

NCAA March Madness Screenshot02

I definitely recommend the experience but there are also several aspects where it can improve. To start, the camera positioning needs to be better. It felt a little further back than it should have been but, to be fair, that is something they may not have much control over. However, the height definitely needs to be changed. You felt like you were watching the game from the floor. Twitter member @SweetJohn said he felt like he was watching the game from under a table. Additionally, there was another floor-level camera on a slider track that passed back and forth in front of you throughout the game. The camera should have been higher just from a general perspective level, but also so it would have been higher than the moving camera in front of it. One other note on the camera, is that it would sometimes bounce a little when the arena got loud. It did not happen too often, but some stabilization to prevent this will help from causing nausea.

Another criticism is the amount of dead space in the app. As mentioned, the view is 180-degrees. But also, you are placed back a little from the view, which increases the amount of dead space you see. It leaves plenty of room to put up other stats or highlights you can glance over to. Another option is to expand the view so you can look over at other fans to feel more immersed, like you are actually in the arena. The scoreboard could also use a renovation, as it was pretty simple and missed some key game stats like the amount of time left in the half. You also had to turn pretty far to one side to see it, so the placement could have been better as well.

Despite the criticisms, I definitely give Kudos to the NCAA, March Madness Tournament, Capital One, and Voke for putting this together. We are still very early in the adoption phase of VR, and companies willing to invest and take risks on products like this is what will make it better. It will be hard to compete with the well-established products already created for the big business that is live sports. But if companies keep investing in VR events then Virtual Reality has the opportunity to become a major media form with how we all watch our sports in the future.

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Street View VR Review

Street View VR Review

Street View VR Title

9-5 Stars

Gear VR IconCardboard Icon

This app is much more awesome than I expected! At its heart, it is still the Google Street View you can view through a browser on your computer. However, the VR app does a very good job of making you feel like you are actually there. The 3D and 360-degree viewing are done very well with no fishbowl effect, and the resolution is very high. As far as I can tell, this app will take you anywhere the regular browser-version of Street View can take you.

 

StreetViewVRScreenshot01

 

The app loads with a particular street view around you right away and also displays a tutorial. The tutorial guides you through a very robust set of controls for the app. After the tutorial, there is a menu system hovering in front of you with an aerial view of a map. With this menu system, you can type in addresses to go to, see specific landmarks or points of interest, and change the app settings. Options in the settings menu include Wikipedia integration, a compass, and a quality setting for the resolution. Another option will jettison you to a specific point of interest such as the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, or St. Stephens Basilica.

 

 StreetViewVRScreenshot02

 

The main purpose of the menu is to enter in certain destinations or specific addresses just like you would in the browser-version of Street View. By clicking on the search bar, a keyboard will appear. You use your gaze and tap the headset control or controller button to type in an address using the keyboard. Once you hit the enter button, your surroundings change to the new location almost immediately. I was very impressed with how fast the new locations render. As soon as the location renders, you are able to view your entire surroundings in 360-degrees. You can also use the controls to move a blue circle in front of you and transport to that new spot, which effectively allows you to explore and travel the area.

 

StreetViewVRScreenshot03

 

If you have not checked out Street View VR yet, I highly recommend doing so. It may feel like you have already seen this because of your familiarity with the browser-version but I promise…you have not seen it like this. In fact, I typed in the address of the home I grew up in from Philly. I then spent hours travelling through my old neighborhood and on to downtown Philly. The novelty and nostalgia this app can recreate for you is unparalleled.

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Land’s End Review

Land’s End Review

Lands End Title

8-5 Stars

Gear VR Icon

Land’s End is a great game for introduction into Virtual Reality. It is game that allows you to explore a world made up of cartoon-style graphics. The object is to explore each level by completing fairly simple puzzles to progress and ultimately find your way out of the constructed world for that level. It also utilizes a pretty fun gimmick to simulate moving objects with your mind.

 

LandsEndScreenshot01

 

The worlds in Land’s End are made up of islands surrounded by vast bodies of water and by caves. The graphics are fairly simplistic but seem designed to really emphasize the 3-D viewing VR offers. The game utilizes waypoint navigation by having the user focus on the next closest waypoint until it moves you in a straight line from your current position to the waypoint. As a result, this game will not have a negative effect on your stomach. You can travel back and forth in each level but, for the most part, there is one direction of travel to continue through the game.

 

LandsEndScreenshot02

 

There are puzzles along the way that must be solved to progress through the level. The puzzles consist of points on rocks within your view that you must connect with a line. To create the line, you stare at the first point and then connect to the next point with your gaze. This is repeated with all of the points until the final connection is made. Most of these puzzles are fairly straightforward and creating the connection between each point is simple. As the levels progress, these connections can get tricky enough where you have to stop and think about the most efficient way to create the connections. The more entertaining gimmick comes when you have to move large rocks that contain points in a way so you can make the required line connections. There are specific rocks you can move by focusing on a certain area of the rock to pick it up. Then, by moving your head around you will also be moving the rock around in midair, which gives you the impression of being able to move things with your mind. In my opinion, this is the best part of the game.

 

LandsEndScreenshot03

 

Currently, the game has five levels. The first two levels are very easy and you get the impression this game is best suited as an easy demo for VR. The third level finally provides some challenge where you have to spend a little more time figuring out the puzzles. The difficulty increases a little more with the fourth and fifth level. While you may feel disappointed with purchasing the game in the first two levels, the remaining levels make the purchase worth it. The game could become a must-buy if there was a future update with more increasingly difficult levels. However, Land’s End is definitely fun in its current state based on the scenic worlds it takes you to and the mind control-movement aspect of the game.

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Escape Room VR Review

Escape Room VR Review

Escape Room VR Screenshot01-5

5-5 Stars

Gear VR Icon

Escape Room VR has the promise to be pretty good but it is currently limited with only one level. Right now, the game shows two other levels that appear to be in development, and it has said more levels may come. However, the game is worth a download to get a taste for the room escape style games and what they could become.

 

Escape Room VR Screenshot02

 

With Escape Room VR, you begin inside a room with a locked door. The voice in your head narrates that you do not know how you got here. The phone in the room rings and the voice on the other end advises you need to find a way to escape the room.

 

Escape Room VR Screenshot03

 

Navigation is completed by focusing on an object in the room and the tapping the headset to “teleport” to that location. Movement in this way means there is no getting sick or dizzy while playing the game. There are a few codes you need to find to open locked areas. You have 10 minutes to find all of the codes and get out. With this first level, the puzzles are very simple and you are likely to escape the room on your first or second try.

 

Escape Room VR Screenshot04

 

Although the game is easy, it shows promise and provides an example of what a room escape in VR feels like. The game is fine for a first level. We can only hope additional levels are added with increasing difficulty that could eventually make this game a must have.

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Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes Review

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes Review

Keep Talking Title

10new Stars

Gear VR IconOcuclus Icon

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes might just be the best overall VR game to date! This game breaks the typical one-player-at-a-time VR mold by requiring at least two players at the same time. One person has the VR headset on and is required to describe an about-to-detonate bomb while another person outside VR reviews a bomb diffusing manual and has to explain how to disarm it. This game requires problem solving skills, good communication, patience, and a steady mind.

 

Keep Talking 02

 

Inside VR, this game starts at a desk with a briefcase lying on it. The briefcase is a bomb that you must pick up and spin 360-degrees in front of you while describing out loud everything you see. The briefcase contains several different “modules” such as a set of wires, an electronic password system, a Simon Says imitation, and others. There is also a timer counting down on the briefcase. Outside VR, there is at least one other person holding a 23-page manual containing the methods to diffuse the various modules (the manual can be downloaded on the Interweb.)

 

Manual

 

The goal is to diffuse each module before the countdown gets to zero, and the bomb explodes. To do this, the person inside VR must explain what they are seeing while the people outside VR search the manual for the correct module. Each module often has several layers to it. So the communication must continue back and forth between the person inside VR and the people with the manual to explain how everything changes with each interaction. If you get the modules wrong three times or the countdown expires, the bomb explodes and you all lose.

 

Keep Talking 01

 

Not only is the game fun to play but the puzzles are definitely challenging. The first time you see a new module, it usually takes a few times to figure it out. However, even after you have figured it out, there is usually a learning curve among the players as you look for ways to effectively and efficiently communicate the information, which is where the real fun and tension is! There are also several levels to the game that get increasingly difficult. There is nothing disorienting about this game because you sit a desk the whole time. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is fun and definitely challenging but it especially wins because they have made a VR experience that multiple people can play together with at the same time. This is the first VR game that can legitimately be used as a party game!

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Neverout Review

Neverout Review

NeveroutTitle

7-5 Stars

Gear VR Icon

Neverout is Gear VR’s version of the movie Cube. If you haven’t seen Cube, it’s a movie where people wake up trapped inside of a large cube-shaped room and have to figure out puzzles and traps to escape into the next cube-shaped room, where a new set of puzzles and traps lay. In Neverout, you start inside a cube-shaped room. There is a visible hatch in the room that you must navigate to and then slide down through it into the next cube. With each cube you are in, there is a navigational puzzle you must solve to progress to the next cube-shaped room.

 

Neverout01

 

Overall, the game is fun and I definitely like the idea of the game. I enjoyed the movie and I feel the concept transitions well into a similar VR puzzle game. Each cube-shaped room is made up of square tiles. You move around the room by moving one square at a time. You can walk across the room and onto the walls and ceilings as well. When you walk onto a wall, the room rotates so you keep the same perspective and gravity is always directed toward whatever is down. This comes into play in later levels. The navigational puzzles include box obstructions in your path, electrical currents, fences you climb and drop off of, as well as spiked crates that fall as gravity in the room shifts.

Neverout02

 

Neverout is another game that is easy to just pick up and start playing for a while. There also seems to be a good amount of content compared to other VR games as there appears to be about 100 – 120 rooms to discover and solve. On one hand, the puzzles are pretty easy to solve, at least in the beginning. However, I can see how that is a good thing as being stuck for too long in the same room could quickly turn people off from continuing to play the game. This is also another game that is easy on the stomach due to lateral only movements. There are no curved or rotating movements to make you queasy. Neverout is a good game for people who like to solve quick puzzles and explore new rooms, while also having several hours of content to play with.

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Smash Hit Review

Smash Hit Review

Smash Hit

8-5 Stars

Gear VR Icon

Smash Hit was instantly one of my favorite Gear VR games! It is a cross-over app from a non-VR version of the same name, and the VR version is better. It is a simple gaze shooting game where you throw metal balls at different shaped glass objects that appear in your path. Although the game is simple, it shines in the elegance of the world you become immersed in along with the trance inducing soundtrack.

 

Smash Hit 01

 

The game starts with the user hovering above a myriad of tall thin rectangular structures resembling a city of abstract skyscrapers. You progress over the structures in a straight line at a constant speed while obstacles made of glass appear in your way. You must shoot the them with metal balls to break the glass before crossing through it. You have a limited number of metal balls that can be replenished by hitting triangle or star-shaped glass statues that appear while passing through the level. If you go through any glass object without breaking it first, you will lose some of your metal balls. The goal is to progress past your furthest distance before losing all of your metal balls.

 

ScreenShot03

 

The games transitions well into VR because of the environment it transports you to. You become immersed in a world filled of bright colored glass. Although your speed and direction are constant, you are free to look all around the beautiful world as you travel. The graphics make the glass very realistic. It is realistic enough to add to the stunning visualizations while also causing you duck, blink, or flinch each time your face breaks through glass. The music is nicely done and adds to the world it transports you to. It is slightly energizing while also putting you into a trance. If an action game and a meditative experience had a child, it would be Smash Hit.

 

ScreenShot02

 

The constant speed and direction also make it so this not a jarring experience. There are no twists and turns working against your stomach. There are a few times in later levels where the world spins in front of you, and that can be disorienting. It also only lasts for a short time. Some people will enjoy it and others will not. But, besides that, this is one of the most comfortable experiences I have had while moving in a VR game. I highly recommend trying Smash Hit and it definitely has replay value as a start it and play game.

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