The HTC Vive is now officially the first high-end virtual reality headset that you can buy like a normal tech product, instead of preordering and then waiting a month or two. HTC is promising that any new Vive order will ship within 72 hours, and it's also slightly expanding its offline retail presence, so there's a better chance of just picking one up at a store. A $799 product isn't exactly an impulse purchase, but this still makes the Vive more attractive to people who weren't totally committed to the platform already. So, obviously, this raises a question: now that the Vive has had two months to mature, should you buy it?
And just like two months ago, there's still a simple answer: do you have a lot of money, patience, and tolerance for unfinished games and software? Conversely, do you want to be the first to try almost every cool, experimental indie VR game? If so, the Vive might be for you.
I elaborated on the Vive's strengths and weaknesses back at launch, but basically, you'll get an amazing core experience that's kind of a hassle to use. I'm still encountering bugs in its SteamVR software, and the hardware is going to be just as onerous to set up as it was at launch. You'll want a gaming PC that matches HTC's recommended specs, which start at around $1,000 for a prebuilt model. But until PlayStation VR comes out this fall, and Oculus releases its Touch controllers (supposedly) some time this year, it's the closest you can get to really, physically interacting with objects in virtual reality.
The Vive is going to be more fun for people who like trying lots of different small games than ones who want to dive deep in something huge and polished. So far, big publishers have paid more attention to the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR headsets, although that may change in the future. You'll find a lot of Vive prototypes and a lot of Early Access games, where you're paying for an unfinished product that could (but won't necessarily) be expanded down the line. Getting the most out of a Vive means actively searching through Steam's list of VR games or checking out the "virtual reality" tag on the Itch.io market, and being willing to pay a few dollars for something you might be disappointed by.
That said, some of the best things to do on the Vive are free. So if you're going to buy a Vive, here are a few of the experiences you have to look forward to:
The Lab is essentially Valve's way of introducing people to the Vive. But a few of its sections, like an adorable archery mini-game and a simple schmup called Xortex, have great replay value. It's so popular that Valve recently expanded both these elements and added global leaderboards.
Budget Cuts demo
Vive demos are always a little scary, because you have no idea if the actual game will ever come out. But Budget Cuts' short demo — a stealth / teleportation game about throwing knives at robots in order to get your job application approved in a corporate dystopia — is great in its own right.
The Brookhaven Experiment demo
The Brookhaven Experiment actually does seem pretty set for a full release on June 28th. For now, the demo is one of the most intense survival experiences in VR, putting you up against waves of increasingly difficult monsters with a gun and limited ammunition.
Ikea VR Experience
Yes, it's basically just a virtual Ikea showroom where you can cook virtual meatballs, but do you really need any more? It's a weird, charming, and unique little experience.
Remember Bouncing Babies? Now imagine that you can physically catch those babies (and other cute, blocky creatures) with your hands and save them from increasingly bizarre disasters. Rescuties is another game that may not actually come out, but the demo, again, is worth a look.
The Tilt Brush virtual painting app isn't technically free, but right now, it comes bundled with the Vive. It is, hands down, one of the single best virtual reality experiences available on any platform, ever. Go look at some of the terrible art I made with it, then try it out.