If you were looking for somewhere to go for tea and saw a restaurant review that said ‘Fabulous food, but we guarantee you will turn your buttocks inside out with the runs tomorrow’, then chances are – unless you’re astonishingly constipated and see this as a boon – you’d give it a miss and go elsewhere.
This guaranteed bum cloud to VR’s silver lining is its biggest problem: you know it’s an experience that more often than not is going to make you feel mildly queasy at the very least.
In fact, Mrs SBA was chatting to a friend the other day whose husband used to work as a games tester, and he mentioned when his team were bugfixing VR games – for whole days at a time – they all had sick buckets installed next to them in the office. And worse still, they all had to make use of them.
Say what you like about the glamour of stacking shelves in Lidl compared to playing videogames as a job, but at least needing a spittoon to periodically regurgitate into isn’t part of the deal with the former.
This this DIY vomit comet effect is why I’d held off on buying Skyrim VR for ages because it tends to be games such as this, where you have full and free movement, that are the worst for bringing on ‘the pukes’. After all, why buy a game you can barely play before chucking up?
But as it’s currently on sale, my curiosity and eye for a bargain won out over my desire to not fleck my lounge carpet with stomach acid. So with scant regard to my oesophageal safety, I donned my absurd electric hat to bring you this review.
First off, yes: I was sick, but only a bit. Although that’s damning with faint praise really, as any level of being sick is still unpleasant – it’s about as preferable as being gently stabbed rather than run through.
To be fair the queasiness did improve over time, but if you find you’re particularly prone to the VR heaves I’d weigh up whether the perseverance is worth it: this may just not be the game for you.
What’s it like though when you’re not retching? Well, I’m not going to go into too much detail about Skyrim itself: that’s the same game it’s been since 2011, huge map and weird graphical glitches and all. This is more about whether VR brings ‘milkshake’ to Skyrim’s ‘yard’, or just a load of rancid curds in a slop bucket.
To that end, it’s certainly immersive. Walking through forests, villages and dungeons and having them all around you is amazing, and this is still VRs big, undeniable wow factor. You just don’t get the same sense of ‘being there’ wonder from a regular game, no matter how detailed or pretty it is.
Combat is also the same and yet much more; swinging your move controllers about to use your swords is hilarious (though of course, makes you look like a total clod in the real world). Using magic is the best though – whack out a few fire spells and you’re essentially doing virtual ‘Hadouken!’s all over the place.
The game in VR also has a very different feel. A skeleton with a spear popping out from behind a dungeon wall in regular Skyrim is a bit ‘Oh!’ if you weren’t expecting it. In VR, that ‘Oh!’ becomes a ‘Fffffuuu-waaah?!?!?’, followed by much panicked flailing. It essentially turns the world, and how you react to it, up to 11.
There are issues though, and quite a few of ‘em. Even though it’s an older game it’s still bloody ambitious for VR, and as it wasn’t built for it originally the transition has had some hiccups.
For example, menus – of which Skyrim has about a trillion – can be clunky to navigate with your two bulbous wand controllers. Waving your arms about like a demented conductor just to try and select an option gets annoying quite rapidly. Especially if, as I did, you accidentally boop the cat on the nose while doing so and he then claws your hand. Actual wounding is too much realism, thanks.
Movement can also be a bit imprecise. Granted, you do get a choice – a sort of ‘click and hop’ approach where you move to a set waypoint, or a more free-moving option where your character ambles off in whatever direction you waft your controllers – but neither have the crispness of using a joypad. Consequently, finding yourself smacking into walls or stuck in doors is common.
As a result, you’ll more often than not be unable to enjoy the immersion as you’ll be blundering about with all the grace of a one-legged kangaroo who’s just eaten a bottle of hand sanitiser. This is especially true in combat, and fairly quickly that fun sword swinging will be ditched entirely in preference for much more effective (i.e. you can actually hit something) ranged attacks.
The visuals suffer too. The game works best in darker, enclosed locations simply because the PSVR doesn’t have the juice to render the world in high-res.
Inside is more or less fine. Outside, things at a distance can be blurry and opaque enough that it feels more akin to some sort of medical student training device to show them what it’s like to be a person living with cataracts.
I hate to use the term, but even though Skyrim VR is the full, unabridged game (and that deserves credit – no watered-down VR lite version here) it’s not best enjoyed as a game: it’s an ‘experience’. I’m a good few hours in but I can’t see myself finishing it as, even setting nausea aside, it’s just too cack-handed.
That makes it a bit of a waste, because you almost certainly won’t see anywhere near everything the game has to offer – and if playing Skyrim is what you want to do first and foremost, there are much cheaper and/or less bilious ways of doing it. Not least of which being the recent Switch port, which graphically runs rings round this version and has its own ‘immersion’ factor in its motion controls.
Plus of course you can play Switch Skyrim on the loo, whereas this version will have your head down the loo instead.
If you want to show off your PSVR and have a few spare coins knocking around, and can live with ALL the shortcomings, then sure – give it a go. There is fun to be had here, and doing stuff like having a tavern brawl in first person never gets old. Just be warned that actually getting to that virtual pub might make you vomit a lot more than a whole night spent on the gin in a real pub would.
SCORE: Blee and a barf (three and a half) out of sicks (six)