When Half Life Alyx was announced I was pretty darn excited, but VR Only? Darn, back to the drawing board. At this time I was actually under the impression VR gaming was going to cost me as much as a new computer and so I reached out to Facebook as the Quest seemed like the ideal VR headset (given it is a self-contained unit and can be linked to the PC with Quest Link) and after trying a unit, having to give it back, buying my own personal unit as I missed it so much and then COVID-19 happening meaning I had no time to play it myself due to work (and itching to get back into the VR world) I found that VR is incredible and doesn't have to break the bank in the process.
The start - The Oculus Quest is fully self-contained. This means you can actually play games locally on the device and I think Facebook really have a good ecosystem here. I've found myself perusing the store and buying without much thought - until I found I was getting charged in US$. This is the single biggest problem with the Oculus platform currently and that is the Oculus defaults to US$ if there is no local currency. I ended up getting charged quite a bit more than I expected due to this but found a workaround - VPN your phone to Australia and use the Oculus app to purchase in AU$ instead. But, the store is actually great, has tonnes of content and content you know like Beatsaber, Superhot and Box VR which are pretty big on other platforms, games download to the device and you're up and playing in a few shakes of a tail.
The Quest app also gives you the ability to cast your gameplay from the Quest to either your phone or Chromecast device - I found about 2secs of latency when doing this but it is great if somebody else is trying out your unit. You also get full control to launch apps from the app itself, and manage your downloaded apps. Yes, you can do this all from within the Quest interface but it is nice to have a very well polished mobile app also:
Now, the hardware on the Quest isn't mind-blowing by any means given it runs on an Android (7.1 - which is a little behind now) on a mobile processor (Snapdragon 835) and 4gb of ram - as in hardware you'd see a number of years back but seriously don't let this fool you. I've actually been blown away with what Facebook and game developers have done with these limitations in place. Much like the Nintendo Switch which isn't all that powerful either (and yet can run The Witcher 3) the Quest is able to run games extremely well at stable framerates. I've been playing Beatsaber on Playstation VR for quite some time and switching to gaming on the Quest was a far better experience given you're not tied down - an excellent review on Beatsaber + Quest is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1ccLiIR5Ek
All that aside though we totally get the Quest is a great mobile gaming platform but there are some shortcomings such as battery life, and audio quality. The bigger cousins have integrated headphones where the Quest has speakers that are hidden in the headband to give you audio - the audio isn't great, lacks bass and crackles at higher volumes (plus also - everyone around you can hear what you're playing). At first I thought this was a problem with my review unit but the crackling occurs on my personal unit also. Lucky there is headphone ports so getting better audio is as easy as purchasing some in ear headphones. Battery life is an average of 3 hours but by the time it is running low, you really need to take a break anyway.
Now, what I really wanted VR for - Half Life Alyx. How does it run? Excellent. How is gameplay? Excellent. It is that simple. Getting Half Life Alyx running via Quest Link was pretty seamless - install the software on your computer, grab a USB3 to USB-C cable and plug it into your computer and suddenly you've got a PC Gaming VR headset. The Oculus software, much like its Mobile counterpart is easy to use making it easy to give Facebook money and you've also got Steam VR which runs rather flawlessly.
My PC specs include a GTX 1070 and a processor from 2013 - it is not at all high end (and the Oculus software warns me my experience may not be the best) and yet I was able to play Half Life Alyx on max quality at a stable 72fps (the refresh rate of the Quest) using the cable I hacked together from a cheap USB3 - USB-C cable from Kmart along with a USB3 Extension cable - not at all ideal, but because of COVID this is all I could do. I've been playing Alyx fine, the controllers fully work without any further configuration and the most important thing of all - I got zero motion sickness (which I experience on the Playstation VR). The experience was great even on my PC that is in much need of upgrade love.
The room I play VR in is not massive. The Oculus has something called Oculus Guardian which allows you to map out a space in your room for safe gameplay (and alerts you if you ever leave this area). Unlike the Playstation VR, I have not broken my hand again by hitting any walls during any gameplay. The Oculus remembers your Guardian zones so you can just pick the unit up and continue gaming without having to map things out each time.
Now the important topic I couldn't not talk about - Oculus, is owned by Facebook, an advertising company with a dubious history on privacy. Plus also, the quest has a bunch of cameras. Well on this - I am seriously not thinking that far into it - I've downloaded my data from Oculus + Facebook and apart from the apps I have there isn't as much data collected as I would have thought and no images from the internal cameras showed up in my information download. Unlike Google products (of which I have all over my house) I don't believe "you're" the product in this ecosystem, the games they sell are. I am not seriously being paid to say this...
Most people don't know about the Quest all because it isn't sold in retail stores in New Zealand. The Quest I purchased arrived in just a few days and I purchased this directly from Oculus. It was actually a rather seamless buying experience and offers free delivery, ...and their site uses NZ$ - unlike the apps (sort this out Facebook!). I fully recommend it for a cheaper VR experience as it works well as a standalone gaming device and works very well for PC gaming also. Tracking of the controllers is great, and the whole out of the box experience as a whole was excellent and I've found myself using the quest in any downtime I get due to its convenience.