Preview: Minecraft

VRFocus previews Minecraft on Gear VR.

Although the Oculus Rift compatible edition of Minecraft will no doubt be the bigger, better release, it’s the Gear VR version that is perhaps the most intriguing. That’s less to do with the smash hit videogame itself and more to do with what it means for Gear VR. While the Oculus Rift launch is shaping up to feature plenty of great content, big releases for the mobile-based virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD) are few and far between. Minecraft VR, then, represents one of Gear VR’s best upcoming chances to get noticed by a large crowd.

Fortunately, it appears that this edition will do justice to the incredible legacy Mojang’s beloved series has built up over the past few years.

Minecraft key art

Interestingly, Minecraft on Gear VR doesn’t technically start in VR. When you first boot up the videogame, you’ll be greeted to a giant screen inside a theatre that resembles that iconic voxel art style. Should you choose, you can play all of this version of Minecraft in this way, removing any potential comfort issues and instead appreciating it on an enormous display, though the screen door effect obviously means it’s not as clear as it would be in real life. You can even aim with head-tracking in this mode.

Tapping the Gear VR’s touchpad, however, brings you into the full article. As you might expect, Minecraft’s plain, rigid landscapes are striking within VR. It’s often the case that simpler art styles look better in 3D than more detailed environments, and that’s absolutely the case here.

Elsewhere, this is pretty much what you’d expect from the Minecraft experience in VR. Input options on the Gear VR are limited and so, yes, Mojang has relied on stick navigation from a control pad that stays in line with the traditional control scheme. For experienced VR users, that’s not going to be a problem, but even at the preview event there were complaints of motion sickness setting in. The team is clearly taking steps to reduce these issues – turning with the right stick takes place in 25 degree steps – but it would certainly be appreciated to see a more comprehensive approach to navigation.

Consumer Gear VR 1

The experience on display here was designed to allow players to quickly explore a range of aspects of Minecraft, rather than starting out from the beginning. The player was set free to scramble up mountains, dive into lakes and fend off incoming enemies. You don’t need VRFocus to tell you that the Minecraft formula works, it’s just a question of if this will be a viable way to actually play in this world for long periods of time, especially with the Gear VR’s age limit set at 13 years and over.

It’s so far, so good, then. Minecraft on Gear VR is one of the platform’s biggest titles this year and, while it’s no surprise to see it shaping up well, it certainly restores a little faith that fans might have lost in the platform since its launch last year. Release timing is going to be crucial to its significance, but this has a good shot at being Gear VR’s biggest videogame yet.

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