The Oculus Rift Review

03/28/2016 by Ben Kuchera | Source: Polygon
The first Oculus Rift units purchased by players, or given to early adopters as a reward for believing in the Kickstarter, begin arriving today. These aren't development kits, or "Innovator's Editions," or any other qualifying term for hardware that isn't ready for the mainstream. This is the real thing.

Retail virtual reality is here.

There are multiple competing VR platforms on the way, but the very idea was something of a joke in 2012 when John Carmack began using the prototype of something called an Oculus Rift — an invention of a very young technology enthusiast named Palmer Luckey — as a way to drum up publicity for the upcoming re-release of Doom 3.

"He's a young guy, this is his first business, I hope that it works out OK," Carmack told me at the time, describing Luckey, who had recently launched a Kickstarter to fund the creation of thousands of development kits to allow content to be created in virtual reality.

The $2.4 million Kickstarter was a seismic event in the virtual reality community; those early development kits seem painfully antiquated by modern standards, but when they began to ship they offered a user experience that was generations beyond existing technology at a price that was orders of magnitude cheaper. The press began to pay attention. Developers began to work on content, with primitive but effective demos and experiences released days after the development kits were shipped.

Oculus was ultimately acquired by Facebook for over $2 billion in 2014, and John Carmack left id Software to work at the company full-time, a decision that led to litigation. The Facebook acquisition, combined with the feeding frenzy of investment and press interest, led to a boom in the virtual reality business that isn't limited to Oculus and Facebook. Sony is bringing virtual reality to the PlayStation 4. Valve and HTC have their own, arguably more ambitious platform launching in a matter of days.

Players interested in the technology have had to watch this situation from afar, and many are still skeptical that virtual reality is more than a fad. Unless you're a game developer, investor or member of the press, it is nearly impossible to get a demo of the upcoming virtual reality systems. The problem hasn't been that virtual reality is on the way; the problem is that — from the point of view of most players and fans — it has been just around the corner for years.

And today the Rift starts arriving for the Kickstarter backers rewarded with a "free" retail unit and the first pre-order customers. We've been using it for the past week. This is our review.

he Rift headset feels both high-quality and unusually subtle, especially in contrast to almost everything else you'll find connected to a gaming PC, a line of products which share a long tradition of truly gauche aesthetics. The Rift is, in a word, beautiful.

The Rift's head-mounted display features a resolution of 1080 by 1200 per eye, with a 90 Hz refresh rate. That means that, for your experience to be comfortable, your games need to be running at 90 frames per second or higher. The recommended specs for the Rift, as specified by Oculus, are an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290, or equivalent GPU; an Intel Core i5-4590 or equivalent; 8 GB of RAM or more; an HDMI 1.3 video output; and two or more USB 3.0 ports. The Rift also requires Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 or higher.

Oculus seems serious about making sure games run on those specs as well. The company sent Polygon a minimum-spec loaner system to ensure we had a Rift-ready PC on which to test the launch games. That move almost seems to be making a point: Oculus games won't just run on a minimum-spec system; they'll run well, and Oculus is fine with the experience being reviewed in that environment.

The Rift's matte black head-mounted display is almost aggressively, Gibsonianly nonbranded. The front edges of the hardware — the parts you're supposed to touch — are covered in a fine mesh that feels warm and slightly slick under your fingers, while the face of it is a matte plastic stamped with a simple Oculus logo. There is a slight inward and outward movement to the arms that connect to the straps, allowing the user to fit their head into the display. The velcro straps to the side and above the head then tighten for a good fit. The headset has a 4-meter (~ 13 feet) cable that ends in an HDMI and USB connection, providing enough slack to sit or stand in front of your computer or pass the display from one person to another.

A note on that cable: You can remove it from the headset, and if it happens to become damaged for whatever reason, Oculus says users "can contact Oculus support and we'll send a new one." Our advice regardless: Be very careful to loop up the wire neatly before storing the headset.

The fabric between the lenses on the inside of the display is another form of squishy mesh, and there seems to be leather stitched on the inside of the arms that fit around your head. There are no splashy Oculus logos anywhere, nor is the word "Facebook" to be easily found on the hardware packaging.

There is a calibration screen that allows you to focus the display both in terms of your interpupillary distance and how the unit rests on your head, and it's worth your time to learn how the headset can be adjusted while finding the best way to get it to fit comfortably on your head. The difference between a well-adjusted headset and one that was slapped on is discomfort bordering on a headache, along with an angry red line around your eyes.

While the headset feels fine over glasses once you get everything situated, the act of putting it on and taking it off while wearing glasses remains a consistently awkward affair. I found my glasses often getting stuck in the hardware when removing it, or getting stuck on the bottom padding when putting it on. It's possible to get everything working by making the entire enclosure very loose before putting it on, but the process is trickier than it needs to be, and it takes a bit of practice. I worry about the long-term prospects of the padding around the eyes as it gets stuck or rubs on my glasses when the unit is removed or put on.

There is also no pass-through camera of any kind, like the sort of thing you see on the HTC Vive, so good luck trying to find the controller on your desk or take a drink without partially removing the headset. The act of getting everything on my head feeling great, and then forgetting where I put my soda or my controller, was a common annoyance.

In terms of the screens themselves, the image is crisp and bright, with next to none of the "screen-door effect" that was so annoying on the earlier versions of the hardware. It often feels like looking through a window into another world, and after a few moments of getting used to wearing the headset it's easy to forget it's there, even if you've had to struggle to get it seated over your glasses. There is a certain streaking effect that happens in high-contrast scenes, such as white text on a black background. Think lens flare, but even more distracting.

Oculus is making a rather large bet that a more impressive initial experience is worth launching at a $599 price point and, while the effects of that strategy likely won't be known for years, it's hard to argue with the quality of the optics and their efficacy at taking you to another place entirely. At some point when talking about the technology behind virtual reality, it begins to feel as if we're counting the hairs on the rabbit pulled out of the hat: What's important is that the illusion works and the audience is delighted by the entire effect. In the case of the Rift? The illusion works.

Audio is also one of the hardware's strengths. The arms that hold the headphones may look slightly goofy, but adjusting them over your ears is a simple process, and I was able to get a good, tight fit on myself, my children, my wife, and other friends and family who dropped by for a demo. Between my friends and family, friends and family of other Polygon staff, and Vox Media staff in our New York office — some two dozen people all told — the headphones were never mentioned; they're just taken for granted. By the time you get the headset on, they're just there. Removing the audio arms can be done with the included tool, but once you do so, you'll need to connect some form of headphones to your PC for sound. There is no audio jack on the headset itself.

Setup

The Oculus Rift may be an expensive item in the continuum of gaming platforms — you'll spend around $1,500 all told if you don't already own a gaming PC — but the system itself makes an immediate impression due, strangely enough, to the box in which it's shipped.

The Rift comes in a large hardshell case that opens to reveal the Rift head-mounted display nestled in a cavity on the left. The headset's cable wraps around a central spool, with the desktop sensor sitting to the right, over a wireless Xbox One controller and its USB dongle. The system's remote snaps into the top of the case, and the whole thing is held together by a strong magnet.

The packaging is not just for show; the design of the case allows every bit of hardware to be boxed up both quickly and tightly. This is an expensive piece of equipment, so the ability to pack it all up in a moment or two for safekeeping is a nice feature.

Once you open the box, you'll find:

The head-mounted display
The sensor with desktop stand
A wireless Xbox One controller
A USB extension cable for the Xbox One's controller dongle
The Oculus Remote
Two AA batteries for the Xbox controller
A tool for removing the included headphones from the Rift headset
Two Oculus logo stickers
A safety guide for the Rift and manual for Xbox One controller
A lens cloth

The initial unboxing experience is clearly meant to make the whole system feel like a briefcase sent from the future. There is a small but lengthy safety guide "hidden" under one of the flaps, but actual setup instructions are given to the owner via a URL printed on the top of the case.

Setting up the hardware isn't a complicated process, as the Rift's software does a good job of holding your hand throughout. Launching the executable file — and remember, there's no Mac support in the current version or even the near future — initiates a simple but effective series of instructions along with videos that explains how to set up the hardware.

The headset connects to your gaming PC via HDMI and a USB 3.0 port, and the sentinel-like sensor's glossy head — which faces you for positional head tracking — connects through another USB 3.0 connection. The wireless Xbox One controller connects via a third USB port, and the included remote control seems to connect to the headset itself. This is all very simple … so long as you're not using that HDMI port to power your display in a home theater or living room. If you are, you'll have to acquire an adapter — a simple DVI to HDMI adapter worked on one of our systems, sending both video and audio to a television and freeing up the HDMI port for the Rift.

The installation screens and setup videos check to make sure every bit is connected, and then ask you to put on the headset and agree to a brief disclaimer. Next, the headset puts you directly into a few very impressive, non-interactive virtual reality demos.

Tearing down the Oculus Rift likewise only takes a few minutes. You disconnect the headset's HDMI and USB connection, put it in the case and wrap the cable around its spool, disconnect the sensor from your system and lay it down in the case, snap the remote in place, and close the box. And that's it! While previous development kits have often been finicky regarding games and the software, the retail version of the hardware requires a short software installation and a few plugs to be connected after you place the free-standing sensor on your desk, and then things just work.

You will need an Oculus account and a payment method to purchase games through the store. This will likely be the primary method of acquiring Oculus Rift games for most people, though the system is still open — there's a setting in the options that allows you to toggle the ability to run programs not officially supported by Oculus. You can browse the store from the virtual menus, while purchasing, downloading or updating games from within virtual reality.

While it's likely that Oculus exclusives will only be available through the Oculus Store, you can already sort games on Steam by virtual reality support, including the ability to play on the Oculus Rift, or even by sitting or standing experiences. The hardware is designed to be able to track your movements while in a sitting or standing position. The sensors in the back of the headset mean you'll be able to turn completely around without losing tracking, although in our testing doing so led to a few finicky moments of positional tracking. There is even a microphone included on the headset, although I'll be damned if I can figure out where they hid it.

The ease of installation and temporary nature of the Rift's setup are going to be strengths for people with smaller living spaces or who don't want the hassle of taping, mounting or otherwise attaching hardware to their walls or bookshelves. If you have two minutes, you can turn your desk into a Rift workstation, and it takes just as little time to make the hardware completely disappear.

Controllers

The Oculus Rift, in many ways, heightens the emotional reaction given by games and experiences, but for now you'll be exploring these virtual worlds using very traditional tools.

The Oculus Rift comes with a standard Xbox One wireless controller, and a remote control. This gives you some idea of how the platform thinks of itself; you'll be playing some very comprehensible games on a visual platform that intends to put you inside the virtual environment.
XboxController

The remote control is designed to fit snugly in your hand, and handles everything from selecting items you're looking at in the virtual Oculus Store and game library to adjusting volume on the fly. There are also some games, such as Defense Grid 2, that can be completely controlled using the remote. It's such a helpful and natural way of interacting with the virtual world that I found myself keeping the remote control strapped to my wrist even when I was using a standard controller.

For now, the Rift launch library has been selected and designed with the idea of using a controller or the remote. Oculus is releasing a motion controller platform called Touch later this year — bundled with an additional sensor to allow for a more room-scale experience — for an undisclosed price, which should allow users to more directly interact with the virtual objects in games.

This introduces another problem with the platform. Without any way of seeing the outside reality when wearing the Rift, you better be very comfortable with the controller. That's not a problem for most people reading this review, but telling a player to hit the X button without a way of letting them look at the controller could be an issue. You can get around this by showing a graphical representation of the controller on the screen, of course, but that's hardly elegant or inviting for new players.

Overall the controller situation offers a familiar approach for an entirely new gaming platform, and that has its drawbacks. If you know how to use a standard controller while looking around, you're all set for the Rift. The lack of packed-in motion controllers also allowed the Rift to launch at $599, which is $200 less than the much more complicated HTC Vive. The reliance on traditional controllers helps with price and ease of use, but the Touch controllers will ultimately split the community, with some players owning them while others pass on the secondary purchase — which history has generally shown will later make games that take true advantage of the Oculus Touch controllers a harder sell.

Software

The "loading program" of the Oculus Rift is a sort of futuristic living room, with a selection of games in front of you. There are icons for the store, your home screen and your full library underneath the featured titles, and your friends list floats on the right side of the screen.

There's not much in the way of social features yet — that area is clearly marked beta — but you can buy, update and launch your games from this screen, and the visuals are comfortable, warm, like being in Tony Stark's rec room, without the voice recognition. For a platform that's owned by Facebook, there aren't many ways to be social yet — in fact, you can't even send messages to people on your friends list — but those features will likely come in a future update.

Hitting the home button on your controller or the remote takes you to a menu screen that allows you to leave your current program, adjust the volume, see what your friends are doing, change your interpupillary distance or re-orient your screen. Right now, using the beta software, you can only add friends using the desktop application, an odd oversight.

It's all very basic, but it accomplishes the goal of allowing you to move from program to program or buy new games without leaving virtual reality. It's intuitive and simple, while giving you most of the options you'd need while wearing the headset.

If Oculus were the only headset game in town, a bare-bones software platform might be easier to write off, but the imminent VR competition just so happens to run on Steam, Valve's impossibly popular PC storefront. That puts the Oculus app's shortcomings into particularly stark contrast. The Vive simply uses Steam's Big Picture Mode, which means viewing your desktop and chatting with other gamers is available now, even if it's not perfectly tailored to VR. Oculus is going to need to catch up, and fast.

Samsung's Gear VR platform uses a version of Oculus' storefront, and strangely, the Rift's implementation feels behind that mobile solution. It's odd to see certain apps, like Oculus Video, feature things like movie purchases on the Gear VR but not on the Rift. There's also no Rift-enabled Netflix app. This leaves Oculus in the weird situation of having a portable platform that is, in some ways, more capable in terms of what can be viewed than its more expensive PC-based big brother.

The Rift also has a sometimes strange relationship with your monitor. Elite: Dangerous, for instance, launched a login screen on my main monitor before I could play the game. Adrift moves the game onto your monitor if you take off your headset, so you can go back and forth at any time (although it's worth noting that Adrift refuses to run fullscreen on that display). You need a monitor to launch the loading program that allows you to browse your library. The Rift may eventually be the only display you need for your PC, but we're not quite there yet.

There are also currently some weird issues with the platform. My own gaming rig "fails" the Oculus compatibility test, even though my setup runs all the games at a perfect 90 frames per second. Despite real-world testing that proves my home PC is more than capable of running virtual reality well, the Rift displays a warning saying my hardware isn't powerful enough and may deliver a suboptimal experience. That's a nice detail if you're using an underpowered system, but there's no way to turn it off. I'm stuck with the system telling me to expect low frame rates, but the games run perfectly.

The Rift is designed, in its current form, to be played while sitting or standing directly in front of your PC. There's no warning when you leave the boundary of the sensor, nor does anything happen if you try to walk "out of frame" and pull the cable out.

The problem: I've noticed that players who aren't aware of the boundaries of VR or the limits of the technology want to stand up and walk off to enjoy the environment. This happened multiple times when I demoed "Henry," a VR film: Children, and at least one adult, wanted to walk into the other room.

The Rift desperately needs an in-world and universal way to warn players when they wander out of range. It's a safety issue as people begin to use virtual reality hardware for the first time without someone knowledgeable to guide them through the experience. Trying to walk away puts both the $600 investment in hardware, as well as your own health if you trip and fall, at risk.

The included stand for the sensor is helpful and looks nice, and is likely fine for most people, but I unscrewed it in order to connect the sensor to a speaker stand that I placed behind my computer desk and a bit to the right, pointed down. This may not be the most pleasant solution to look at, but it greatly expanded the amount of space in which I could move. The only problem with this approach is that, unless the game or experience offers a way to re-center your screen (and most do!), it can appear as if you're lying on the floor, looking up at the visuals.

The limits of the hardware are understandable, and the Rift succeeds at delivering what it promises: standing or sitting virtual reality with a wonderful positional tracking unit kept on the desk. The problem is that the system does next to nothing to effectively communicate its own limits to the player. Oculus needs to find a way to communicate the usable space of VR in a comfortable, convincing way.

Games

The Rift is launching with a wide selection of games, and a good number of these experiences take advantage of the system. You get "Henry," a virtual reality short film about a hedgehog who is looking for a friend. "Lost" is one of Oculus' first experiments in virtual reality storytelling, and it's a neat way to try VR. Dream Deck is likewise a series of environments that only require you show up and look around. If you want something that will justify the technology or simply want to demo the game for a friend, Oculus has you covered.

Oculus is also admitting that it doesn't quite know what virtual reality is, or what it can be. The store is organized by Featured Titles, which are anything Oculus would like to spotlight; Games; Entertainment, which includes narrative experiences in VR like Invasion! and The Rose and I, as well as Dream Deck, which allows you to meet a T. rex or see the inside of a submarine; Concepts, which Oculus describes as "experimental projects that push the bounds of VR"; even explaining why you should download and try them; Early Access, which are "playable VR experiences that are still in development"; Apps, where you'll find Oculus Video, Twitch and Vimeo content, 360-degree photos, and the 360-degree video app Jaunt; and, finally, My Preview Apps, which includes demos for upcoming games — I recommend Technolust.

You can also just look at everything in the store, organized by alphabetical order, release date, popularity and comfort level. The comfort levels are important: If you're sensitive to VR, you may want to approach programs marked "intense" with caution.

The organization of content is fascinating: It's an admission that while the Rift may be sold as a gaming device for now, it can and likely will be so much more. The launch lineup is, if anything, a bit overwhelming, and it should put to rest the idea that virtual reality is just for first-person games or any set demographic. There are games here for a wide variety of ages and interests, and the ability to sort by comfort level means it's unlikely you'll be surprised by an intense experience with a lot of motion if you just want to relax.

What is notable is that almost all of these games would be possible on a standard screen. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Defense Grid 2 both came out in 2014 and are available on multiple platforms. Even Lucky's Tale and Eve: Valkyrie — the two games bundled with the Rift — could work with a bit of tweaking on a standard display. These are some, as one editor put it, "game-ass games." You don't need virtual reality to play a pinball game or AirMech.

So you don't need VR to play these games, generally. But virtual reality changes the experiences. It takes you into the game, and often heightens the emotional reactions. Playful, the developer of Lucky's Tale, knows how to use both your head movements and the movement of the camera to bring home the drama and challenge of certain scenes. The studio uses virtual reality like a conductor uses an orchestra; it's the organizing force that provides the emphasis to every scene and interaction.

You'll hear that point over and over: Virtual reality on the Rift is making these games better, and offering the best way to play each one. "The Oculus Rift version of Carbon Games' AirMech, the action strategy game that's been around in various forms since 2012, arguably plays best in VR," we wrote during a preview event. "The mix of third-person action and real-time strategy plays spectacularly on Rift, thanks to some smart control and UI design decisions from Carbon."

Others are surprised by what VR can offer. "To be honest, I greeted the opportunity to play a tower defense game on Oculus Rift with roughly the same enthusiasm appropriate to attending a garden center winter sale," we wrote about Defense Grid 2. "So, it came as something of a surprise that Defense Grid 2 VR on Oculus Rift is a way more impressive experience than I'd anticipated."

Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion. Facebook sees the Rift launching today as the first step toward the metaverse, an online social platform with implications in everything from media to content creation.

But for now it's a gaming platform, and the selection of games available at launch is strong and varied ... but often familiar. There's a lot here to sample, but it's not likely to blow you away on paper; instead, the experience of playing Defense Grid 2 or Pinball FX2 in VR communicates the vast potential of the platform going forward, even while it recalls, strongly, the past.

Henry

"Henry" is a short virtual reality narrative experience — and we're going to have to come up with a better name for those — that tells the story of a little hedgehog who is just looking for a friend. Narrated by Elijah Wood, "Henry" is perfect for anyone who wants a gentle and warm introduction to virtual reality. It also comes free with your Rift, which is a nice touch.

Darknet

Darknet began its life on the Gear VR, but it will likely be new to many Rift owners. It's also completely worth your time. An interesting puzzle game where you have to hack into different computer systems using an array of tools, it also winkingly makes fun of the '90s-era version of VR. If you ever wanted to pretend you were a hacker from the 1995 film Hackers, this is a pretty good place to start.

Lucky's Tale

Imagine Super Mario 64 in virtual reality, and you have a good idea of what to expect from Lucky's Tale. It's another one of the games packed in with the system, but it's not a throwaway title; it's an effective showcase for what VR can do for traditional genres. You can move your head around the virtual world to get a better look at the action or even to see future areas in each level, and the in-game camera itself often adjusts in the perfect way to give you a look at what's going on. Those high jumps from other platforming games get an extra kick from the use of depth and positional tracking of the Rift. Your kids are going to love this, and platforming fans will also find something special here.

Defense Grid 2 Enhanced VR Edition

This virtual reality revamp of a familiar game unexpectedly became one of our favorites among the launch lineup. There is something about the ability to lean in close to look at what appear to be tiny alien attacks trying to get past your defenses that turns the tower defense game into something that feels like a tiny war playing out on your desk. Everything about the game, from the ability to jump down to the point of view of any of your towers to the menus themselves, has been adjusted to work well in virtual reality. You can even play the game without holding a controller, using the Rift's packed-in remote control. If you're going to port a game to VR, this is how you to do it.

Dream Deck

This is a collection of vignettes that can be experienced in a few minutes each, but they do an effective job at showing off how well VR can transport you to different places. You'll meet an alien or a T. rex. You can be on the top of a building, or explore a tiny town made of miniature people. These fun, bite-sized pieces of content are successful at getting your imagination going, and you don't have to do anything once you're inside other than look around and enjoy the view. It may sound a bit limited on paper, but they last exactly the right amount of time while transporting you to someplace new.

Eve: Valkyrie

There are game modes that allow you to simply fly around the gorgeous, deep-space environment of Valkyrie, or you can play against bots if you don't want to get your feet wet in actual combat. But the real draw here is the ability to dogfight human players in one of the most graphically impressive games in virtual reality. CCP knows how to do space, and this pack-in game proves that the studio can handle action as well as the often slow-burning politics or sudden space wars of Eve Online. Valkyrie is a thrilling, easy-to-learn action title that delivers on the dream of being a hotshot space pilot.

Chronos

Chronos is one of the Rift's bigger titles, both in terms of quality and scope. A 12- to 14-hour action RPG, Chronos is from the team at Gunfire Games, a studio formed by veterans of the Darksiders series. And like that series, Chronos wears its video game inspirations proudly; in this case, they're Dark Souls to Resident Evil. In this third-person title, you control the character from the point of view of a fixed camera, leaving you free to look around the game's often stunning environments. Explore, unlock shortcuts, level up your character and take on massive bosses. If you're looking to test your tolerance for extended VR sessions, Chronos should fit the bill.

Pinball FX2 VR

It's virtual reality pinball, but the physicality of the tables combined with the odd, Zathura-like effects that happen to the environment around you while you play make it something a bit more interesting than pinball simulations on a flat screen. Being able to lean down to see the detail on each of the tables is neat, as is the ability to compare your high scores with other people on your friends list. It all sounds rather basic for a pinball video game, and admittedly it is, but the included tables are well-done and it's easy to get lost inside your own little arcade playing each one. This is definitely one of those games that may sound goofy in text, but work wonderfully when viewed through the headset.

Adrift

Adrift is the perfect example of a game that shows you something amazing while taking you someplace new. Taking in those first views, the planet Earth hanging beneath you as you try to survive the wreckage of your space station, it's hard not to be overcome. This one may be a bit harder on your stomach, and the act of moving around in 3D space can take a bit to get used to — the game includes its own way of calming down your gut by limiting your view, activated by holding down the B button on your controller — but it's also one of the more transformative games on the platform. For many, going to space is a dream, and Adrift makes it feel like you've arrived.

Windlands

Just writing it out — first-person virtual reality grappling hook mechanic — does an admirable job of communicating just what's so special about Windlands. You'll navigate across a series of floating islands, using the controller's triggers to throw a grappling hook and reel yourself in. Time your swings, climb higher and higher, and explore the game's peaceful, enemy-free levels. But if that sounds too zen for you, there's also a time trial mode so you can get faster and faster, shaving time off your best runs. If there's any order to the universe, developer Psytec Games is fielding daily calls from Spider-Man's people.

Radial G

When you have a member of the team that worked on Extreme-G and Re-Volt, and another with extensive experience in flight sims and virtual reality, among others, you're going to end up with something interesting. Radial-G is a futuristic racing game that takes place on a long cylinder, at high speeds, with environments that can be almost overwhelming in scope. Luckily there are a lot of neat tricks to make it easy to understand, if not to master. You always know to move toward green and away from red. Colored bands across the cylinder let you know where your opponents are, so you can easily tell when you're passing someone even if you can't directly see them, and the cockpits look great. It's fast and intense, but remarkably comfortable, even for longer sessions.

Conclusion

The first retail Oculus Rift is an interesting device in that it already feels like a luxury item, but there are obvious areas that need to improve in future iterations. It's not the easiest system to put on over glasses, or to remove. The straps on the sides and top are adjusted using velcro, and how well will that work after a year? Or three?

The Rift as a platform will see its first major change in the second half of the year, with the debut of motion controls in the form of Oculus Touch. The lack of a pass-through camera makes interacting with the real world without removing the display a pain. It's tempting to ask if the Rift is ready to sell.

The answer is yes.

The Rift's strong support for both sitting and standing experiences and the obvious quality of the headset, matched with surprisingly strong ergonomics and usage of the remote, all work together to create something that feels satisfying and, more importantly, transformative.

It helps that finished games like Lucky's Tale and Eve: Valkyrie, which come "free" with the hardware, offer such a tempting window into the future. This is how good VR platforming can get. This is what it's like to dogfight in space. Games like Defense Grid 2 prove that, with the right amount of work and design talent, existing games can not only work in virtual reality but can be improved by playing in that format.

Oculus is also positioning the Rift as an entertainment device, with applications like Oculus Video and video shorts like "Henry" and "Lost" that ship alongside the hardware. The Oculus Dream Deck is a collection of 10 short ... I don't even know what to call them. They're tone poems of a sort, and deliver an immediate feeling of awe or wonder in the player.

The ability to jump from game to game from within virtual reality is both effective and comfortable. It may be a pain — sometimes literally — to get the headset locked comfortably over your glasses or even on your face in general, but once you're in, there's little reason to jump out.

An uncharitable view of the Rift as it exists today is that it's nothing more than a brand-new way of displaying games to the player, an adjustment to the player experience that puts you inside every scene instead of outside a window looking in.

If the Rift as it exists right now were "only" a new way of displaying games to the player, it would still be an amazing accomplishment that adds immense value and enjoyment to the play experience. But launch software feels like just the beginning.

Testing the bounds of what feels real and how we interact with worlds we control completely is a new frontier for gaming, and the Oculus Rift delivers on that promise. There are issues, and the software will continue to get better and offer more features, but this is a functional platform with a wide selection of available games and experiences. It changed how we think of games. It made us feel. It put us inside things that we used to only be able to see. Going back to a standard screen is hard.

Retail virtual reality is here. It was worth the wait.