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GDC 2016 - Minecraft for Gear VR First Impressions

Minecraft will never be the same again

Product: Minecraft - Pocket Edition | Developer: Mojang | Publisher: Mojang | Genre: Adventure, Brain training | Networking: wireless (adhoc)
Minecraft - Pocket Edition Android, thumbnail 1
This week as a part of GDC 2016, Oculus and Microsoft revealed Minecraft: Pocket Edition for the Gear VR, and with it a big step forward for both mobile VR, and virtual reality in general. Pairing Minecraft with virtual reality seems like the perfect match, especially when you consider this is the mobile version, and therefore far more accessible.

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But how exactly has Minecraft’s unique and popular experience transferred to portable VR? Well the answer is exceptionally. In fact, let’s just get one thing clear right from the start, this is definitely the definitive way to play Minecraft.

Upon placing on the comfortable and lightweight Gear VR headset the first thing that was noticeable was the use of two different view options.

The first of these allows gamers to play Minecraft from the comfort of a cabin themed virtual living room. There’s no need to worry though, as this is just one of the two viewing options, and is actually a nice way to ease your mind into the true VR experience to come.

The true option understandably places you into a first person view of whatever world you have selected, and it’s a complete revelation for a game that is already hugely popular. In fact, it will completely change the way you view Minecraft forever.

The first thing that jumps out at you is simply the impressive sense of scale. One that just cannot be replicated outside of virtual reality. This was most evident when standing at the feet of a giant staring up at it’s monolithic size, and also within the Cathedral section of the pre-built demo that was provided by Oculus.

In fact, the Cathedral section was especially mesmerising, taking me to a completely different world, one where I had even forgotten the purpose of the demo and just simply wanted to marvel at this elaborate construction.

This feeling was then only intensified by the open walkway that followed. One where I was able to stare at the stars in every direction imaginable.

To be honest, this feeling of wanting to do nothing more than admire and explore the world you are placed in, is the most interesting shift that comes with bringing Minecraft to VR. In fact, I had soon forgotten both that I had the headset on, and also a sense of how long I had been lost in another world.

Of course, this demo was just a taste of what’s to come, but the overall feeling of wanting to do nothing but explore certainly was powerful.

However, despite changing the way you play, Minecraft VR does feel like it compliments the usual gameplay. You’ll certainly want to use the VR to get inside the worlds, but you’ll also want to jump out in order to build and find new places to explore.

What’s more, from what I played it appears as though nothing has been lost from moving to a portable VR experience. Truth be told, it was hard to even tell that this was running on Samsung Galaxy S6, and not a PC.

That's not all though, as the Gear VR also has an inherent advantage over its much more expensive cousins. This is because it allows the player to completely rotate in 360 degrees, something which Minecraft takes full advantage of.

Of course though, the only sacrifice in getting it onto the Gear VR is the loss of the touch screen. As such this demo utilised a bluetooth controller, replicating the control of a console, barring of course moving your head.

Nevertheless, this took nothing away from the experience, and in fact made it feel just as comfortable and accessible as it has always been.

All in all, given how popular Minecraft is, you think it’d have been hard to improve on the game, whilst still making it easily accessible to everyone. However, this is exactly what the Gear VR has done. Make no mistakes, this is shaping up to be the definitive way to play one of the world’s most popular games.

Reviewer photo
Simon Drake 18 March 2016
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