gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Some Thoughts On Meta Quest 2

Meta Quest 2 brings the high-energy fun back to videogames. You know, that nonsense we lost when Nintendo dropped their motion-first controls for the Switch, Microsoft quietly killed Kinect and PlayStation… well, was Move ever really that popular? If you cast your mind back further you might also remember the Xbox 360 camera and You’re In The Movies related shenanigans. And let’s not forget the Wii balance board!

Many of these energetic, bygone videogames were gimmicky- sure – but they were also quite fun. I miss them.

The vast majority of mainstream gaming now is unfettered by experimental input devices, relying on the ubiquitous dual analog. This leaves us flippin’ casuals with a detached, impersonal relationship with videogames. This is great for casual, everyday gaming but lacks- something.

VR, on the other hand, excels at quite the opposite. It’s an incredibly immersive- to a fault – full body experience that excels at engrossing the player for short bursts of high energy fun. It’s extremely demanding of your time, attention and money but it recaptures those halcyon years when consoles were a little more experimental.

In this article I’ll talk about what the Meta Quest 2 does for gaming. I’m not interested in Zuck’s grand lofty goals of owning and controlling the “Metaverse” and I’m deeply sceptical that they will ever be attained. I won’t talk about VR Chat or Horizon Worlds, even though I’ll admit I tried them both and found them at least somewhat compelling.

Before we delve into what the Quest 2 is- let’s briefly cover what it isn’t.

It’s not accessible.

It remains an expensive purchase for entry into a very novelty vertical of the video gaming space. Quest 2 is the low end of the price spectrum here, and it still handily out prices a Nintendo Switch. Albeit I’ll grant the games are cheaper.

But price isn’t the only accessibility barrier. VR headsets in their current form are rife with fundamental issues betraying the very middle-upper class mindset behind their inception. VR needs space. Lots of space. Even playing stationary from a sofa there’s no getting around the inherent risk of flailing limbs annihilating a lampshade, or your partner’s face. Even in our church-hall of a living room I managed to punch our wall-mounted TV while playing Hitstream.

In room-scale mode you need a clear floor with no obstacles, no pets or toddlers to run in front of you, no loose rugs and a clear schedule because you won’t hear or see the door, your phone or your partner calling down for help with the baby. You’ll need to down a glass of water, pee and forgo snacks or cups of tea. VR is the antithesis of mindless pick up. and play mobile “games.” It absolutely demands your full, undivided attention.

Most people don’t have the time to curate their space for VR. This is a deeply fundamental problem to the experience. While headset tracking, hand tracking and controller tracking are all very solvable problems cracked by technical geniuses, the socioeconomic boundaries keeping people from even considering VR in its current form are not.

And we’re not even covering the physical accessibility issues here. VR headsets are bulky, awkward and highly demanding of your faculties. My early experiences with the Rift DK 2 left me with waves of nausea, requiring a long sit down and some controlled breathing. If I get too cavalier with the Meta Quest, the same will happen.

Many games are also physically demanding, with Hitstream being intentionally a workout and Beat Saber usually managing to become one. There are plenty of laid-back experiences to be had, including the aforementioned Horizon Worlds and VR Chat, but they lack the allure of these – literally – hard hitting, energetic, frenetic workout games.

It’s not social.

Sorry. I was born into a world of internet. Met my first partner online. Spend inordinate amounts of time on Twitter. Keep up with friends via Discord. Yet the prospect of playing a multiplayer VR game online doesn’t really grip me. Playing Hitstream in your living room is a deeply lonesome experience. Fun. Absolutely. But if you want others to participate alongside you the space problems are multiplied. If you want people to see what you’re doing you can stream your headset feed to the TV- but now you’re taking it in turns with a headset that’s very finicky to adjust because-

It’s not comfortable.

Good grief is the out of box experience with the Meta Quest 2 bad. I can pick up and innately understand a regular games console. A phone. A Nintendo Switch. But VR requires dedication and determination to overcome the comfort and fit issues in order to get a blur-free view of your virtual surroundings.

Ultimately you’re strapping something bulky and heavy to the front of your face, and it has to sit much higher than you’d expect. This makes wearing Meta Quest 2 deeply unintuitive, and since you must rely only on the testimony of your friends and family when you’re adjusting it for them- you’ll never really know if a casual, guest player is getting the same experience you are.

If you embark upon a rigorous fitness session you’ll also find your headset cushions soaked with sweat and be at a loss for how to clean and dry them. The Quest 2 isn’t really a complete product in this respect- demanding a near lexicographical knowledge of all the various add-ons, parts and fixes that make it suitable for particular tasks. In a few short days I’ve had different cushions, batteries, cooling fans, and more recommended to me. The fact is-

It’s incomplete.

Meta Quest 2 is a pick up and play device that you can’t really pick up and play. Even the very basic features outside of its core premise have not been adequately considered. It should charge wirelessly. It should come with a dock and storage to keep it charged and protected when not in use. While the hardware is deeply, deeply excellent at its core I can’t help but feel like every possible corner has been cut in order to hit the £399 entry price. And I strongly suspect my feelings here are right on the proverbial money. But that really hurts the “metaverse” pitch because right now-

It’s inconvenient.

Quest 2 is a mess of rechargeable and standard batteries and you’ll need to shell out another £100 or so for a charging station that will keep both controllers and the headset topped up for grab and go use. Albeit it uses an awkward little plug to connect into the headsets USB Type-C port. Before I forced the habit of shutting Quest 2 down every time I’d finished with it, I’d find it with the battery drained and have to either stall my play session while it charged, or tether myself to an Anker 737 battery (I tossed one in a backpack with a 3m USB-C cable.) When the £399 entry point can’t even buy you the pick up and play VR experience that’s promised, you’ve got to wonder whether they’re truly serious about this pitch or just hoping enough would-be users would push through wall after wall of annoyance.

Some inconveniences are a side effect of the technology- Quest 2’s room mapping and recognition is nothing short of magic, but draw some curtains or change the lighting too much and it seems to throw it off. The way your hand-drawn boundary stays glued to your real room is incredible, but forget to tuck it an arms-reach in from your walls and TV and you might find yourself in some mischief.

It’s disorientating.

The fact of the matter is that the Quest 2 hardware is woefully inadequate for the job it’s intended to do. The headset tracking and handset tracking are both phenomenal and deeply disturbing in their incredible levels of accuracy and fidelity- even at the ludicrously high movement speeds demanded by a boxing game. But the heart of the Quest 2 is a computer which can’t keep up the VR illusion and continuously drops the ball. Moving from the Home Screen to a game will – more often than not – plunge you into a black abyss. Game title screens and splash screens will just be thrown up on a virtual billboard sometimes in front of your face and sometimes not. The experience is not cohesive and it doesn’t feel like the fluid virtual world that the technology so desperately wants to promise.

This disorientation can manifest in dramatic ways- open landscapes placing you high in the sky can cause vertigo. And walking through a virtual world with fluid camera movement can – and certainly does with me – cause intense motion sickness. At times it crosses the line from simply disorientating to downright nauseating and uncomfortable. Knowing your limits and reconfiguring each game accordingly is another weight on the mental load of using Quest.

But above and beyond all of these issues and complaints Meta Quest 2 – and in particular many of the games it hosts – is absolutely screamingly good fun.

The experience is deeply magnetic.

I can’t stop myself from picking it up and playing games. Even when my body aches, I’m hot, I’m tired and I’ve squat ‘til my legs are jelly- it’s just such a phenomenal experience to be deeply, bodily involved in a game. Truly absorbed. Elsewhere.

And that makes me think. If the gameplay experience is solid enough that I’m willing to put up with the myriad annoyances involved in using Quest 2, perhaps there’s something to this VR stuff after all.

The Games Are Chuffing Awesome

While I found Horizon Worlds far more tantalising than I had first imagined, it was the games that drew me in.

As you might expect with Beat Saber being the flagship VR gaming experience, many titles share a similar conceit- flail your arms and body at things flying toward you. The framing might change, from rhythm game to boxing, but the general premise of hitting things and moving your head – and thus your body – to avoid obstacles or hit targets – is common.

I found Hitstream to be an excellent twist on this concept, even though it demanded even more of my living room and was the game that nearly saw my TV annihilated by my poor room configuration and abundance of enthusiasm.

Beat Saber – by comparison – is what I play to relax. Sat on the sofa, clear from any obstacles just enjoying the experience of a sort of virtual, samurai drum solo.

In The Climb you’ll also find a quite convincing recreation of freehand climbing, enticing you to stretch across to reach the next handhold and thrust yourself onwards and upwards. I found this playable from the sofa, too, but managed to knock a basket of clean clothes off the arm while trying to make a particularly tricky jump.

In Resident Evil you’ll gain a convincing – albeit far more immersive – replica of a classic light-gun shooter. This is the type of game where you have to make sacrifices upon the altar of immersion- adjusting your movement to happen in steps to avoid motion sickness.

In Red Matter you’ll find your hands turned to grabbers and be challenged to manipulate the world around you to solve puzzles and progress. Giving the Quest 2 controllers an analog in the virtual world to make them feel like an intrinsic part of the experience is a common theme, and Red Matter plays with this concept adeptly.

The range of titles on offer is broad and deep, though you might find yourself addicted to just a couple that are easier to pick up and play. I would strongly recommend Hitstream to anyone wanting a Beat Saber-alike with a more compelling selection of music and wider range of bodily choreography.

Even Horizon Worlds is rife with little gaming contrivances that are satisfying demonstrations of VR. You’ll find a basketball hoop and paper planes and while these can be finicky you’ll be surprised at the nuance and complexity you’ll discover in such simple physical recreations. A simple variation in your wrist flick can send a paper plane spiraling off in one way or another, the technology is truly remarkable.

Games also typically come priced more around the £20 mark, reflecting the tentative nature of the VR market. Many of them are worth every penny and – again – I feel I need to plug Hitstream because I’m having obscene amounts of fun with it.

This fact tempers the £399 asking price somewhat. And let’s be clear- you get some seriously impressive technology for that money. But Meta Quest 2 feels like a beta, and incomplete package when it should be the ready to roll turnkey VR experience that the lofty “everyone will be in the metaverse” claims allude to.

It’s a lark, if you’ve got the cheddar.

If you want some amazing gameplay experiences and don’t mind buying into what’s essentially a money pit of a hardware and accessories ecosystem then Quest 2 is a heck of an offering. I toured the test unit ‘round some family members and – once feelings of discomfort subsided – they were awestruck.

While my experience with Quest 2 has been largely positive and the games thoroughly enjoyable I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone not willing to put the time and energy into getting the most out of it. As hard as it tries to be pick-up-and-play there are simply too many caveats. Kids will probably be a lot more forgiving in this respect, though, so if your teenager just wants something to play Beat Sabre and VR Chat and a Quest 2 is within your means- it’s actually incredibly good fun.

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023, Blog.