When some of us think about virtual reality gaming, our last experience might have been with Nintendo's Virtual Boy from years ago, which for lack of a better description, was utterly terrible. For me personally, this was exactly the case. I hadn't had the opportunity to experience virtual reality gaming since use of the Virtual Boy many, many years ago, up until now. For the last couple of weeks I've had the pleasure of using Samsung's Gera VR headset in conjunction with the Galaxy Note 4 that supports the platform, and the experience has been somewhat delightful, albeit with a mixed bag of emotions on how I truly feel about the overall aspect of it.
On the face of it, playing games on the Samsung Gear VR is a pretty cool experience, if you can find a game you might actually enjoy playing. Luckily for me I found a couple that were available in the small library of content that one can find on the Oculus Store. Both Temple Run VR and a hack and slash adventure game called Herobound The First Steps had piqued my interest and so I dove into them without a second thought. Temple Run VR is the same Temple Run you can experience on Android or other mobile platforms, for the most part, except for the completely immersive environment. Content wise there isn't much that has changed. You're still tasked with stealing the golden idol and running for your life to escape impending doom. Rushing around corners as you attempt to pick up coins is as exhilarating as ever if not more so thanks to the 3D virtual environments, and the act of leaping across pits has a certain element of excitement to it that can only be experienced when playing the VR version. At its core though, everything is Temple Run like you remember it, which is nice to see since I was already familiar with how to play this game using a touch screen. That brings me to the other matter, controls.
With this game in particular, you can play and control your character and actions using either a Bluetooth gamepad or the touchpad on the right side of the headset which is generally how all games will be played on the Samsung Gear VR, and while I haven't played Temple Run VR using the gamepad yet, using the touchpad wasn't too hard after a few rounds, and rather quickly became second nature. That isn't to say that it wasn't without its challenges, as I found myself swiping right when I should have swiped left, sometimes resulting in me missing out on grabbing coins and other times plummeting to my death or smacking into a log or rock. Once you get the controls down, it's all adventure from there and you can finally begin your journey of racking up high scores and seeing how far you can go before you're ultimately caught by the monsters chasing you or you cause your own death and reset the level.
While Temple Run VR is a game that can be played with the touchpad and it is fully 3D with the ability to look around you, for the most part you'll be spending your time looking straight ahead so as not to hinder your own ability to keep going. The actual immersive experience is quite different in a game like Herobound, where you can spin around and see the level from all angles as your character traipses through the mystical and wondrous levels that have been elaborately created. Herobound is also a game that fully utilizes the gamepad to play the game as there is no other option. This makes it kind of pleasing since gamepads are also familiar to any gamer, and it meshes well with the virtual reality gameplay. Even using a gamepad though I found the controls to be a bit more difficult as it still tends to incorporate some of the VR's functionality into actions that can be taken in game. While moving, dodging, slashing and jumping are are controlled with the buttons on the gamepad, at one point in the game I found myself with a bow and arrow in hand, and aiming this particular weapon is handled by the head tracking in the Gear VR. It was a little more challenging than I had anticipated and one that I almost found to be a little bit frustrating. Truth be told, I still haven't gotten the use of this type of control down, however, this did little to sour the experience as Herobound turned out to be quite fun, and incorporating use of the head tracking for part of the gameplay is a neat idea.
While there are still a handful of games I have yet to check out, the two that I have played made for an enjoyable experience and left little for me to want. The only downside to gaming on the Gear VR at this particular time is that you don't seem to be able to play for very long before the Galaxy Note 4 and the Gear VR unit itself heat up a little bit, resulting in your game being paused to present you with a message that you should let the unit cool down before continuing. This happened to me about 10-15 minutes into playing Herobound which wasn't even enough time for me to complete the first level. Should you choose to ignore the message, which you're able to do, you may experience some lag and performance loss in the game you're playing, which you absolutely will. This was the only time I found the gameplay not to my liking as the performance drop is pretty severe. Not severe enough that you can't really continue, but just to the point where it doesn't become fun anymore as things get much more difficult when responses take slightly longer than they should. Overall, gaming with the Samsung Gear VR is kind of a surreal experience and although there is clearly still some stuff to work out, it's loads of fun if you simply love games in all their forms and as the content expands and the performance issues get worked out, it'll simply get better. Check out a few of the screenshots below from in game as well as the videos showing off the main menu and a few seconds of gameplay for Temple Run VR.