Get this. I just played skeeball for nearly two hours straight. That’s right, going up against two other people, while yet another three looked on, cheering, jeering, and being general distractions (or sometimes stealing our balls if they were feeling particularly mischievous). The kicker? This was virtual skeeball — and yes, every time I say that, I think of Futurama — in a bar in PlayStation VR, and those five other players were actual people around the world, wearing their own headsets and waving their own Move controllers around right in front of me.
Alright, so maybe the entire two hours wasn’t trolling the ramp for high scores. At one point I made my way to a jukebox just to pick it up and toss it across the room. A couple of us made a detour to an air hockey table or a dartboard every so often to challenge each other in these popular barroom games. Of course the centerpiece of the attraction is the pool table, as SportsBarVR is a massively updated version of Pool Nation VR, and allows the opportunity to get that real live feeling of playing pool in a bar, from the spectators, to being able to pick up a bottle and pretend to drink a beer while you wait for your turn (I also had a real beer sitting on the table nearby, if I could ever actually find it).
The first time I played SportsBarVR was actually a terrible experience. I’ve had minor tracking hiccups before, but this went far beyond that, shifting my perspective constantly in small bursts, and never really being able to grab the Move controllers (which this game requires. Sorry, no DualShock 4s allowed) and track them correctly. There’s a reason that the safety instructions tell you to take a break if the headset encounters tracking issues, but because I had never had ones this serious before, I tried to power through. Instead of getting the SportsBarVR experience that I was looking for, I found myself feeling drunk after the headset was off, my brain having gotten used to the unnatural shifting my perspective underwent.
Before writing a final review, I wanted to make sure that the tracking issues really were a problem, so I grabbed my ID, called a designated driver, and headed back to the place where everyone knows my PSN name. This time, I hit the bar issue free, aside from some minor “breathing” where the screen appears to move forward and backward when moving your head left and right. In (virtual) reality, it’s kind of a tipsy feeling, so it just adds to the atmosphere. First I hit the pool tables, and played the incredibly difficult AI. Even at level one, I got my cue balls handed to me more times than I would like to admit. Playing pool using Move controllers can be a little tough based on the sensitivity of the tracking, but the lowest level AI shouldn’t be able to sink four or five shots in a row on each of their turns. Crank up the difficulty even more and they just start beating you with insane trick shots instead of basic pockets.
Competing in virtual reality pool against bots isn’t the real draw of SportsBarVR though. This is a proof of concept for social experiences in VR. As much as video games and technology have brought me together with friends, coworkers, and other people from around the world, I have never felt the sense of presence the same way that I had staring at five other people in SportsBarVR. As I matchmade into an open room, a person on the other side of the pool table waved at me. Alright, so it wasn’t exactly a person, but it’s amazing the way that perception can turn a floating VR headset and a pair of Move controllers into another human individual. The wave in question was nothing more than a waggle of the Move, but it was unmistakably welcoming me to the fun.
One of my fellow bar patrons commented on my hat, which was a hamburger, while another threw a chair across the room. From here we faced each other in some games of pool, threw some darts, drank some virtual beers, and started that massive skeeball challenge that consumed much of our time. Every time we failed to reach the score threshold, we would make the motions of throwing a tantrum, and through the motion capture-esque real time movement of the headset and Move controllers, in addition to the microphone on PlayStation VR, we were able to all feel like we were standing together playing skeeball, heckling each other, and just generally hanging out in a virtual bar.
As fun as the social experience is, it does tend to grow thin. There are currently only four games in the bar: pool, darts, air hockey, and skeeball. A recent post on the PlayStation Blog had promised more at launch (shuffleboard, chess, and checkers), but it doesn’t look like those ones made the cut, at least quite yet. It also mentions that more games will come after launch, with loading screens hinting at the addition of table tennis and what appears to be a Nerf-like ball shooter, so perhaps over time this virtual sports bar will be populated with additional things to keep its patrons entertained. They could also benefit from posting the rules for each of their game types. Many people may not know how to play the different games of pool, or how to play 301 in darts, and nowhere in SportsBarVR does it make any kind of attempt to give the player a rule book for the games.
At last call, SportsBarVR does some incredible things for virtual reality, proving the kind of presence and depth that a social VR game can provide. In many ways, it reminds me of PlayStation Home, albeit on a much smaller level than Sony’s social app. Tracking issues can hamper some of the games, leading to missing a save in air hockey, or some off kilter shots in pool, but with updates, additional games, and continued support, SportsBarVR could end up being the defacto virtual reality hangout platform for PS4 players.
SportsBarVR review copy provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.