After months of searching for a regularly-priced Oculus Quest, I was finally able to purchase one recently. The Oculus Quest tutorial wowed me, Beat Saber convinced me of VR gaming’s unrivaled fun, and then Half-Life: Alyx made me a true believer.
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Even as a newly converted user, I absolutely recommend buying a VR headset even if you’re not a gamer. Over the past several months, my wife and I have been sheltering in place, having our groceries and meals delivered, and growing increasingly bored at home due to the COVID-19 coronavirus global pandemic . The Quest offers us a chance to escape our one-bedroom apartment, while simultaneously bringing us closer together. She likes to demolish every single one of my Beat Saber scores and I like to routinely ask, “Did you see that?” when playing Half-Life: Alyx. She never does, but I tell her about it after anyway.
We’re both gamers with a handful of consoles, so we’re not new to video games, but we were not prepared for how VR felt. No amount of YouTube reviews could really put into words how real VR gaming feels, and how fun it can be. Super Mario 64 was the first game I ever played, and putting on the Quest headset is the closest I’ve ever come to that moment of pure wonder again from 20 years ago. After many consoles and games played, it was the first time something felt genuinely new and unique, with ostensibly infinite possibilities.
VR Gaming Has a High Barrier of Entry
While I do recommend having a VR headset, many barriers may turn people away. For one, VR headsets are expensive, and many of the high-end VR headsets require constant connection to an expensive gaming PC. It’s also tough to find one right now because, now that we’re all inside, everyone wants one. Having a headset also requires a decent-size room to fully appreciate it, which means many will have to rearrange their living spaces just to play VR games.
With the world seemingly at a standstill in many regards, it’s a great time to hop into VR gaming, so long as you have money, space, and are lucky enough to find one available for purchase. If the stars align for you, as they did for me, you’ll know that VR is not just a video game console but a window into many worlds.
Why I Finally Decided to Buy a VR Headset
I had wanted a VR headset ever since the first Oculus Rift hit the market, but I was in college and didn’t have the money for the headset or the computer to run it. I considered buying a headset again when the PlayStation VR launched. Both my wife and I demoed the PSVR at a Best Buy, but my wife felt sick after trying Batman: Arkham VR. It was also too expensive, and there wasn’t yet a game I was dying to play.
Our perceptions of VR changed during the winter last year after we played Beat Saber at an arcade. The arcade had a VR area with four HTC Vive headsets and charged ~$7 per person to use. Afterward, my wife and I couldn’t stop talking about the experience. We had no idea that VR had gotten that good so fast, and we talked about buying one, but the prices were still too much. We didn’t know about the Oculus Quest yet.
After my wife saw YouTuber Naysy flawlessly execute Doja Cat’s Say So on Beat Saber, she asked me to look into VR headsets again. At the same time, I couldn’t escape media coverage of the new VR-only Half-Life entry. That’s when I learned that the Quest could connect to the PC to play high-end VR games. I was sold. But even after we reluctantly agreed to spend the money, finding the headset proved to be a nightmare. At one point, we briefly considered buying from a reseller and paying $200 above the standard $400 price tag. We waited, instead, impatiently, and got one at its standard retail price.
Gaming On The Oculus Quest
Once our Quest finally arrived I must have spent 30 minutes just messing around in the tutorial area. There were rockets, a ping pong ball and paddle, a blimp, and a retro console that could be loaded with other experiences via cartridges. Just using the grasp button to pick something up was unbelievable. I can’t think of a better way to introduce VR to a newbie, so kudos to Oculus for pulling off the best, most fun tutorial I’ve ever played — game devs, please take note.
The first game I purchased was, of course, Beat Saber. The “killer app.” VR’s neon-glowing, Tron-inspired savior. I think I’m probably the worst Beat Saber player ever to wield the sabers, but damn is it fun. When you get in a rhythm and start slicing cubes, you feel unstoppable. The very rhythm of the universe flows through you in a way that Guitar Hero could never accomplish. I know I probably look like a giant dork wildly swinging my arms, but I like it, and it pushes me to stay active at a time when going outside is precarious.
My wife, on the other hand, is a prodigy. The Quest has a screen sharing feature that streams the gameplay to a nearby Chromecast, so I’ve seen her play. Excuse me, I’ve seen her slay. The sabers are surgical and unyielding in her hands, and she maintains her poise. She dances softly to the music while halving cubes at speeds at which my limbs simply cannot compute. When it comes to Superhot VR, however, that’s where I shine.
I’m sure everything has been said about those two games, but there’s a reason they’re so beloved. Not only do they perform well on the wireless Quest, but they both also have addicting gameplay loops with simple mechanics that become increasingly complex. Dodging one bullet in Superhot VR is easy, but dodging five bullets while another two enemies approach with knives is a whole other ball game. I’m convinced that Superhot VR is actually a workout game, to which I say, “well done, you made me do 100 squats and had me asking for more.” I could go on about both games, but words alone cannot do them justice — you must try for yourself.
I’ve only owned the Quest for a few weeks so far, and I’ve already bought four games. My wishlist so far is about a dozen games and growing every day. With so many good games on the Oculus store, I’m glad we splurged on the 128GB version. It’s incredible how many games are available on a headset that runs on a souped-up smartphone processor.
Oculus Quest Demos and Experiences
I’m also glad that there are several demos of popular games out of the box, allowing users to try before they buy. The demos are also perfect for showing a newcomer the ropes, which is hard to do when someone is wearing a headset. Unlike traditional gaming, you can’t just point at a screen and shout “there!”
I tried a demo for Space Pirate Trainer and liked its arcade shoot-em-up mechanics so much that I bought it. I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t have a chance to play it. Game trailers, as good as they may be, still don’t come close to experiencing the gameplay first-hand for a VR app.
Though the Quest is primarily a video game console, it also does non-gaming experiences just as well. The Oculus store offers plenty, such as National Geographic’s Explore VR, which lets users snap photos of famous locations from around the world. When not playing, I find the Quest’s lobby to be calming, and there are different background options available for download. My current pick is a space station with beautiful views of stars far away.
The Quest’s Oculus TV app has a ton of VR video content, and it’s also possible to download YouTube, Netflix, and other video apps. I spent a few hours watching Netflix on the Quest from a simulated living room located on top of a mountain resort. The non-game experiences are not the main draw, but they’re fun, especially when you can’t go outside. I stood on the shore of a German lake last week without having to board a flight.
Notes On VR Safety
When it comes to keeping players safe, the Quest has a few great and non-intrusive features. The Guardian System is a feature that passively alerts players when they’re near the boundary. The room-scale guardian can be set manually via the controller, and it remembers the boundary perfectly every time. There’s also the option to set up a stationary Guardian when playing in tight spaces. Getting close to the boundaries triggers a grid wall with lines that transition from blue to red as users get closer.
Passthrough is another safety feature that activates in two different ways. Completely leaving the area triggers Passthrough, and so does double-tapping on either side of the headset. Passthrough lets users view their real-world surroundings, albeit with a black and white filter, so they don’t need to remove their headset to see the real world.
Oculus Quest Upgrades
I’ve made a few upgrades to the Quest to corrects some of the system’s flaws, but it hasn’t set me back too much. I purchased a silicone cover from VR Cover that sits on top of the padding to prevent sweat and bacteria from accumulating on the foam. The silicone cover, apart from making it easier to wipe away sweat and dirt, also helps the headset stay put thanks to the inherent grippiness of the material.
I also got some controller grips that are more similar to the Valve Index controllers for better handling. The straps fasten to the back of your hand, making it easier to grip the controllers. And the grips also come with wrist straps as an added layer of protection.
And to fix the just okay battery life, I’m planning on attaching a power bank to the headset later. There are other accessories and upgrades out there, such as prescription lenses that attach to the Quest lenses, so you can pimp your Quest as much as you want.
Troubleshooting Oculus Link
I did have trouble setting up the Oculus Link software, which lets you play PC VR games on your Quest via USB cable, but I managed to fix it finally. It used to be that users had to buy Oculus’ USB-C 3.0 Link cable, which costs $80, or a third-party equivalent. The included USB-C 2.0 charging cable, though similar in appearance, did not work for the Oculus Link because of its data transfer limitations. But Oculus somehow fixed the issue, allowing users to connect their headset with the included charging cable. That didn’t work for me.
I think my computer wasn’t outputting enough power to the Quest, so it kept disconnecting. I read a few threads on Reddit, and I bought a 10-foot USB-C 3.0 cable, in case that was the issue, and a powered USB hub. That seemed to fix the issue, and I’ve been able to play Half-Life: Alyx for hours at a time.
It hasn’t been perfect, though, as my computer has been crashing at random moments. At this point, I don’t believe it’s a headset issue, so it must be a software issue. I have a decent gaming PC, which gives me the chance to experience some of the best games not available on the Quest, but Oculus Link has a ways to go. I’m giving the software the benefit of the doubt because it’s only been out for a year or so, but I do hope it improves soon.
A Quest You Won’t Regret
I can’t speak to the quality of other VR headsets, but I can say that the Quest is an amazing introduction to the medium and invites a larger audience to participate. Sure, the content running natively on Quest doesn’t look as great as content on other headsets tethered to a PC, but it runs games like Beat Saber, Superhot VR, and Pistol Whip with little to no hiccups.
Overall, the Quest condenses the VR gaming experience into a device that is not too heavy, not too expensive, and not too needy in terms of space, while delivering top-notch gameplay on the go. And at a time when we’re all supposed to stay inside, having the Quest has been therapeutic. A VR headset will never compare to the outside world, but I am able to, at least for a few hours, travel to different worlds and go beyond these four walls.
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