Valve’s VR demo reel The Lab is extremely cool. It’s also frustrating. It’s got some of the most impressive virtual reality demonstrations I’ve seen, but I wish there were more to it.
Here’s a video of me playing some of the best demos:
What it is: The Lab is a free collection of minigames playable by anyone with an HTC Vive hooked up to Steam VR. The idea is that you’re a researcher in a “pocket universe” test area of Portal’s zany-as-ever Aperture Labs.
You move from table to table through a central hub area, picking up glowing globes that transport you to one of a handful of pocket universes. Each universe lets you do some new sort of VR gameplay: Shoot a bow and arrow, launch metal orbs from a huge slingshot, explore a fantasy magic shop or even visit with some old Portal friends.
Some of the demos are cooler than the others, but the best ones are so good that I wish there were more there. That’s not just because at the moment, the Vive is hurting for complete-feeling games that make use of room-scale VR. It’s mostly because the people at Valve are so obviously talented, not just at making interesting VR experiences but at making games in general.
The Lab is full of the kinds of things we associate with Valve: creative new methods of interaction, fascinating little details, clever wordplay, charming animations and slick production values. It’s got that magic Valve touch, which is something we haven’t seen in this kind of game since Portal 2 came out five years ago. Half a decade, man!
Oh, well. The Lab is still really cool, and it’s hard to feel too bummed out about how impressive a totally free thing is. Besides, who knows? Maybe they’ll still make that archery demo into a full game. I’d play it.
Throughout the next couple of weeks we’ll be posting more short videos like this one to give an idea of how these VR games work. For more detailed thoughts on the VR headsets themselves, check out my writeup of the Oculus Rift and Nathan Grayson’s take on the HTC Vive.