The PS4 isn’t dead yet, but it’s certainly entering its twilight years. There are rumblings of a next-gen successor coming maybe even as early as next year. But there’s still life left in Sony’s console, and it’s increasingly looking like the future of the PS4 is going to be PlayStation VR.
Look at Sony’s recent State of Play announcement to get an idea of the direction things are going. The presentation was overwhelmingly focused on upcoming VR titles, including Iron Man VR, Blood & Truth, Five Nights at Freddy’s VR: Help Wanted, along with VR modes for games like Concrete Genie and No Man’s Sky.
A lot of that upcoming PSVR docket is exclusive to the console, too: so if you want to pretend to be a Guy Ritchie-esque spy, fly around like Iron Man, or create your own worlds in Dreams, you’ll need Sony’s console. It’s the same strategy that Sony’s used to great success for the base PS4 system. With only a small chunk of PS4 owners actually owning a PSVR, these new titles could be what helps get more of those customers to buy one.
I had the chance to try out a few of Sony’s upcoming PSVR titles at a recent event, and there’s a lot of impressive stuff there. The flashiest game on the docket is the recently announced Iron Man VR. The demo gave me full control over Iron Man, allowing me to freely fly around a map in first person, aiming my hands to control thrust just like in the movies and comics. I could also sacrifice mobility to fire repulsor blasts at targets. There’s a bit of a learning curve — in fairness, it took Tony Stark some time to adjust, too — but the unique control scheme adds a lot, giving the kind of experience that you can’t get with a controller.
Blood & Truth is a similarly grand experience, offering action movie thrills and slow-motion gunplay that make you feel like John Wick. I juggled ammunition as I dual-wielded pistols and traded shots with enemies while riding shotgun in a jeep flying over desert dunes. Five Nights with Freddy VR (which I watched others demo from the safety of a regular screen) puts the series’s iconic jump-scares even closer to your face, which I assume must appeal to some people.
Games like No Man’s Sky or Concrete Genie, which aren’t exclusively available in VR but offer a new spin on their existing gameplay, let you get even more value out of a game if you’re an existing owner and give a new incentive to try them out for those who weren’t interested before.
This virtual reality push is important because Sony doesn’t have a lot of big games on the schedule for the PS4. Blockbusters like Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us Part II, and Death Stranding have all been announced for the PS4. but there’s been virtually no word on release dates (or any playable demos) for any of those titles.
It’s easy to imagine a world where those titles get shifted to be PS5 launch games, or at the very least, cross-generation titles that will still be used to show off the presumably improved performance of Sony’s latest console, much like Nintendo did with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Sony is also skipping out any big presentation at E3 this year, so it’s unclear when we’ll actually hear more about those games. Compared to blockbusters, PSVR games are generally smaller experiences that require far less investment from developers to produce and from players to commit time and money toward.
Focusing on the PSVR also makes sense from a business perspective: with no new PS4 hardware in the works, a big push of the PSVR as an accessory for the tens of millions of existing customers who haven’t bought in yet could help fill that space for Sony this year while it finishes work on the PS5.
And even once the PS5 does launch, it’s easy to imagine a world where the PS4 sticks around as a budget, entry-level VR system. If history repeats itself, it’ll probably take some time for Sony to have an updated PS5-era PSVR successor. (That’s assuming the company commits to VR at all for that console generation and doesn’t just continue using the existing headset.)
Factor in all of the new titles on the horizon, along with the surprisingly good back catalog that’s been quietly building up, and one thing is clear: the PSVR is shaping up to be a big part of the PlayStation 4’s swan song.