Review

Oculus Quest 2 review: Facebook's new headset breaks down virtual reality boundaries

4/5

The Oculus Quest 2 is the most impressive standalone VR headset yet... as long as you are willing to have a Facebook account

Oculus Quest 2
The Oculus Quest 2 is out now

As you may (or may not) have noticed, the mainstream groundswell of virtual reality has yet to take hold. A few years ago, companies such as Oculus, HTC and Sony were pushing VR as the future of gaming, the next level of immersion and an entirely new way of playing. And, to some extent, they were not wrong. VR has provided some tremendous experiences above and beyond the traditional screen and controller --think losing yourself in PSVR's Tetris Effect, pulling on a detective's suit in Rockstar's LA Noire or, more recently, the brilliance of Half-Life: Alyx.

But these games were generally played by a subset of the gaming audience. The barriers were clear: cost, space and comfort. Heavy and expensive early headsets needed beefy gaming PCs (or a PlayStation 4) to run them, sprawling cables, external cameras and a decent sized play area. A multi-pronged commitment beyond all but the hardcore. VR would grow and impress, but impeded by these barriers.

Bit by bit, these are being chipped away, with the Facebook-owned Oculus Quest the most notable attempt in 2018. A standalone headset with enough technical grunt behind the goggles to run higher-end (if not the highest-end) games and the smart motion controllers that are integral to involving VR. Oculus and Facebook look ready to capitalise on the groundwork already laid with the just released Oculus Quest 2, a remarkable upgrade over its predecessor and one of the most impressive pieces of VR kit yet conceived.

And, importantly, relatively affordable. At £299, the Quest 2 is £100 cheaper than the original Quest was at launch despite all of the notable improvements. The black of the original goggles and controllers has been swapped for a lighter hue. Sorry to say that wearing a VR headset is never going to look stylish, despite what the movies tell you, but this one is smarter than most.

Underneath the casing is a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 platform, while the goggles offer an 'almost 4K' resolution LCD display of 1832x1920 per eye. What this means in practice is a more powerful headset with a much improved screen. Visuals and colours on the Quest 2 are far clearer and more vivid than earlier headsets. Even the jump from the original Quest in a relatively short space of time is remarkable.

The headset is lighter than much of the competition too, making it relatively comfortable to wear. Though still not without caveats. There is a fabric strap which you use to secure the headset to your noggin, with a velcro strap at the front and a tightening strap at the back. It is a bit of a fiddle to get right and for the clearest view, I found it would sit a little heavy on the front of the face without a sturdier strap on top.

This is in part due to being a glasses wearer, with the goggles pushing down on my nose a little too much for my liking. The Quest comes with a plastic 'glasses separator', which can slip into the eyepiece to give you a little more room in the headset. However, it does make the gap at the bottom of your view more pronounced, letting in a little more daylight around the nose. It's good that Oculus has considered the option, but glasses remain a conundrum that VR hasn't yet solved.

The result is that my personal experience was considerably improved when wearing contacts rather than specs. But either way, once you are strapped in it is impossible not to be impressed. The Quest achieves its head and controller tracking by using outward-facing cameras built into the headset. You can 'see' your room in the headset via video feed, allowing you to 'paint' the edges of your play area for you to be able to move around in. It will also warn you of stray objects (or, for me, a dog wandering in). If you break the barrier while in-game, the view will revert to the camera so you can find your bearings.

Movement and tracking of the two handheld motion controllers is more or less impeccable, be it for fast-paced shoot 'em ups, more precise exploration or sporty games. You can also simply use your hands, with the camera picking up finger movement and 'pinches' to control menu options. In truth, using the controllers is more accurate, but it is an undeniably impressive technological feat.

Its in-built speakers also create a surprisingly effective surround sound effect. While headphones are still the most involving option, being able to still hear 3D audio without further encumbrance around your head is a real boon. 

Vader Immortal is exclusive to Oculus and is a solid slice of Star Wars adventuring

Crucially, it all just works. Early VR would be a minefield of technical hiccups and fiddly setup. The Quest 2 is a doddle to start and, in my experience, doesn't bug out without a definable reason. Some games may require more space than you have for the 'room-scale' experiences, for instance, leaving you reaching out beyond your barrier. Which is unfortunate, but at least you understand the reasons behind it. Less so your other half, perhaps, when you knock that commemorative champagne bottle off the mantlepiece.

One of the advantages that Quest 2 finds itself in is that the VR ecosystem is in a healthy place in terms of the games that are on offer. There are now scores of titles already available, from smaller VR 'experiences' that defined the early knockings of the medium to more sophisticated adventures. VR is still best enjoyed in relatively small doses, lest you become hot and queasy, and that is reflected in some excellent high-score chasers.

John Wick-inspired rhythm-based shooter Pistol Whip has become a small obsession of mine, as you move through an abstract neon shooting gallery backed by thumping electronica, firing off rounds at mysterious assailants while dodging and weaving out of harm's way. VR-favourites Beat Saber, another fabulous rhythm-action game based on swordplay, and Superhot VR play superbly on Quest. The dreamy Tetris Effect is here too, while Brit-developed puzzle game The Room is ideal in VR.

There are more involving adventures too, with the Oculus exclusive Darth Vader: Immortal providing a solid slice of Star Wars fun, and a decent line-up of future games in the pipeline. Walking Dead, Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell are but three established series heading to Quest. Healthy, indeed.

And while Quest games are naturally slightly more slimline to fit onto the headset, you can buy a separate link cable that allows you to connect it to a gaming PC to delve into beefier VR games like Half-Life. The Quest is intended as Facebook's main long-term headset, mobile or not, as it looks to discontinue the Rift next year.

The Quest's parent company, of course, remains the elephant in the room. It is an undeniably brilliant piece of kit, but it is mandatory to connect to a Facebook account in order to play the Quest and access its store. How much of a barrier that is will depend on your own concerns over the company's track record on privacy and your willingness to have an Facebook-connected headset with outward facing cameras in your living room.

It is a notable caveat. The Quest has a few, but its exceptionalism in providing accessible, comfortable and compelling virtual reality means that the list is growing ever shorter.