Oculus Quest 2 – a review and a look ahead

It’s been over two months since the Oculus Quest 2 was released, and the transition has been fairly seamless for most people. We’ve seen Quest exclusives like Jurassic World Aftermath and Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge come out, but it’s worth pointing out that both of these titles can also be played on an “old” Quest. Without diving into the specs and tech, it’s time to take a closer look at the in-game differences and what the future might hold.

Quite a few games have released “Quest 2 patches” with updates that make use of the new headset’s capabilities. We’ve tried a few of these, but most of them look quite similar to the Quest 1 experience, at least to the untrained eye. If you know where to look you’ll see a difference, but it doesn’t suddenly make wireless versions of a game like Phantom: Covert Ops look and feel like the PC-based VR experience that you can play on the Rift and with other headsets. There are a few titles out there that are exceptions to that rule though, where booting the game up on a Quest 2 makes for a significant change in visual fidelity. Let’s look at a few examples.

In Death: Unchained

We’ve previously reviewed both the PSVR version of In Death and Quest conversion dubbed In Death: Unchained, which we enjoyed but brought a significant downgrade with it. Playing the game on a Quest 2 makes for an experience that’s much closer to the PC and PSVR versions, thanks to a few clever and impressive features.

in death

As with other “Quest 2 optimized” patches for games, In Death Unchained no longer uses a feature called foveated rendering, which essentially means that the game renders what’s in the center of the screen at a higher resolution than what’s on the edge of the screen. This is smart, but immersion-breaking partly because VR headsets don’t have any kind of eye-tracking yet, so if you look at something out of the corner of your eye it’ll be blurry. On the Quest 2, this problem no longer occurs, which is a step up for visual fidelity as well as immersion.

The game also features a much-improved draw distance, while at the same time introducing a fog effect that fits with the game’s visual setting and creates a much more natural border for what you’re able to see clearly. Combine that with smoother gameplay and sharper visuals, and this is a game that demonstrates well what kind of upgrade that Quest 2 can deliver.

Espire 1: VR Operative

Espire 1: VR Operative had a bit of a rocky start with delays and the need for a few post-release updates last year, but today it’s one of the finest stealth experiences you can pick up – especially on the Quest. For Quest 2 owners, there is now also a headset-specific update that enhances the experience even more.

espire 1

Unlike with In Death: Unchained, foveates rendering isn’t disabled here, but it’s far less obvious on a Quest 2. Combined with enhanced resolutions for in-game characters, bullet impact particles and improvements for color and clarity, it’s certainly a better looking version of the original game. What’s interesting about Espire 1, however, is that it also features hugely enhanced audio – another field in which the Quest 2 gives developers new opportunities.

Where a bullet hits now directly impacts the sound, with different effects depending on the surface that the bullet hit. There’s also a very cool effect where the music volume is turned down when you crouch, simulating a heightened sense of awareness where you can hear the enemy’s footsteps and voices better than when you are standing. Although the Quest (1) version has also had improvements since the 2019 launch, this one is exclusive to the Quest 2.

Apex Construct

Apex Construct is another title that we originally reviewed on PlayStation VR almost three years ago, but it has continued to receive support and updates from the team at Fast Travel Games. The release of the Quest 2 was yet another good reason for them to update their game, with several updates making this a good “updates across the board” example of Quest 2 optimization.

apex construct

Besides turning off foveated rendering and the usual higher resolution visuals, Apex Construct also features additional audiovisual effects. These include particle effects and a wider range of audio effects, but among the most striking features are the enhanced ragdoll animations on the enemy droids you take out. Where they would usually just plummet down upon being shot, and slanted surface (or a pair of stairs) will now let them properly fall over, or even roll down the stairs if you time it right.

The future?

The step from the Quest 1 to the Quest 2 is one of evolution rather than revolution, that much is clear. Perhaps the same can also be said about the new Xbox and PlayStation consoles, but there’s another dynamic at work in VR that is worth discussing. Oculus has recently discontinued the Oculus Rift range, stating that they’ll be diverting their focus to the Oculus Quest 2 instead, and this creates a few interesting scenarios.

We very much doubt that the PC-based VR experience is dead, as Oculus has crafted or (co-)funded some of the finest AAA experiences you can find for your VR headset, so it’s likely that they’ll merge the PC and standalone worlds with the Quest 2. We’ve already seem preliminary steps towards this with the Oculus Link cable, which effectively makes the Quest work like a Rift, but other options are also possible.

quest 2a

Apps like Virtual Dekstop have already unlocked the potential to play PC-based games wirelessly on the Quest, and we certainly wouldn’t be surprised if Oculus decides to actively support functionality like that in the near future. Wireless communication between the headset and a PC is a bit of a thing there, so unless they’re confident about relying on existing hardware there could also be a scenario where they release a dedicated transmitter and perhaps even a receiver for the Quest 2.

Whatever happens, we’re sure that 2021 will bring exciting new things for VR enthusiasts like ourselves, and although we’re not sure what Sony is going to do we’re positive that we’ll see movement on the Quest 2 front.

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