In Fallout 4 VR, the Pip-Boy can be a pain but VATS is better than ever

I'm attempting to immerse myself completely in Fallout 4 VR. In my pre-war house, my husband takes a seat on the couch to watch TV, and I sit next to him—sort of. As far as the game is concerned, I'm sitting (I have chosen the 'sit' option with my controller) but while I'm positioned on the couch I'm still at my standing height. Only by squatting—physically, with my real body, I mean—can I feel like we're really chilling on the couch together, not a care in the world. It's a wonderful life, a relaxing husband and his weirdly crouching wife watching TV together, at least until the bombs start falling.

While Fallout 4 VR shows some of the shortcomings of retrofitting VR into an existing game, it's also impressively playable. I had my doubts about whether I'd really enjoy playing a game that one could easily spend 100 hours in while using a VR headset I typically want to take off after 30 minutes, but after several enjoyable hours over the weekend, I've found that VR is a great fit for Fallout 4.

Note: The gifs above and below are from video capturing the mirrored footage on my desktop while I play, which shows up at an odd resolution and not in full detail on my monitor. The game looks perfectly lovely in my headset.

Instead of racing through it for what is probably the 10th time, I spend a while in Fallout 4's introductory sequence just inspecting things. I lean close to one of my terrified neighbors as we descend into the Vault (in fact, I lean so close I can see inside her skull). In front of an armored soldier, I hunch over so I can peer into the barrel of his gun. (I don't know why—what do I expect to see in there, a bouquet of flowers?) When I meet Dogmeat I get down on one knee (my real knee) so I can look directly into his beautifully earnest doggy face. The sights and sounds I know very well at this point are made fresh and exciting again by being able to move around inside them and get closer to them than I've ever been able to before.

There's been some tailoring to accommodate the VR experience. One of the best things in Fallout 4 VR is VATS, which works a bit differently than it does in the original game. Instead of allowing you to target a specific area or areas on your enemy (or enemies) and then watching your attacks play out in a cinematic view, VATS in VR works more like a traditional bullet time effect.

Once activated, time slows down. You aim, physically, by pointing your controller (which looks like the current weapon you're holding) at your enemy. As you aim your weapon, parts of your enemy are highlighted as you center your aim on them. Then, rather than watching your attack play out as your action points are spent, you actually fire your weapon in slow-motion. Instead of pulling you out for a cinematic observation of the carnage, you feel like you're in one long unbroken fight. It's a great rethinking of the VATS feature. In fact, I found myself preferring the new VATS to the original: you feel more connected to the action. 

The Pip-Boy, unfortunately, doesn't translate quite as well. At first it's cool to hold your wrist up to your face to activate the screen (it enlarges automatically, though since you have no arms it's just sort of floating there) and scrolling through the options using the directional pad works okay after a little practice. But considering how often you use your Pip-Boy, it begins to feel like a bit of a chore after a while. Having a quick look at something, easy with mouse and keyboard, takes a good deal longer with the controllers.

The workshop experience is a bit clunky in VR, too (to be fair, it was already a bit clunky to begin with). Building elements appear nicely over one hand, as if they were little spinning holograms you were holding, and placing them is done with the other controller, though navigating the menus is much easier in the standard fashion than with the touchpads. Wearing power armor is another feature that doesn't feel quite like it should in VR. Apart from being a couple of inches taller, and having a new HUD attached to your vision, it doesn't really feel any different than running around without it.

Obviously, Fallout 4 VR hasn't been built from the ground up for a headset, and sometimes you can really feel it. I've spent some time recently playing Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality, so I'm used to using my virtual hands to pull open virtual drawers and cabinets, and holding and turning items over while seeing a representation of my real mitts in front of my face. You can pick up items in Fallout 4 VR, but you don't see yourself holding anything, they just float there. Opening containers works like it does in the regular game, which doesn't do much for immersion or giving you the feeling that you can really reach out, touch things, interact.

But it's still a highly playable game in VR. I feel some of the wonder in a new way: watching the massive vault door roll open, looking up at Diamond City's gate as it rises for the first time, seeing ghouls and deathclaws lunging right in my face. I'm not one who feels motion sickness in VR, but it can sometimes be jarring or uncomfortable when something doesn't feel right. Fallout 4 VR feels right just about all the time.

Really, the only thing pulling me out of the VR experience is my knee beginning to hurt from standing on a hard floor for several hours at a stretch, but chalk that up to my old, shitty body and not to Fallout 4 VR. Without my bum knee and the inevitable sweatiness of the Vive headset, I could keep playing for hours more.