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3dRudder (PlayStation VR)

It’s finally here!  What is arguably the most anticipated and divisive peripheral for the PlayStation VR is slowly becoming available to the masses for our beloved console, currently in Europe and soon in North America.  The 3dRudder has been available on the PC side of things for over a year now but garnered little attention thanks in large part to its lack of need for those headsets.  It would seem though, with the lack of thumb sticks or track pads on the Move controllers, that the rudder was designed specifically to make up for the PSVR’s motion control limitations.  With this current generation of VR now over 3-years deep, more and more “fully realized” games are coming out with complex control schemes that are being shoe-horned into Sony’s 9 year old motion tracked technology and can feel awkward and/or limiting forcing odd hand-gestures to move around while trying to balance out combat and environment interaction.  The 3dRudder offers a solution to Sony’s aging tech by freeing up both hands while still being able to navigate around many VR worlds…but just how good is it…I’ll get to that in a bit.

What’s in the box?! The 3dRudder of course!

The 3dRudder is a new method of control that basically acts as a thumb stick but is controlled by your feet.  It’s not meant to be stood on and is designed for seated play only.  The 12′ USB Cable is all that is needed to power and connect the rudder to the PlayStation 4.  At the time of this review, 14 titles are currently supported by the Rudder with over 20 being compatible when the peripheral officially launches in August with the promise of more to come after launch.  That list is available here.  Most of the titles supported are traditional first-person experiences, which makes perfect sense as that genre would seem to be the one to most benefit from this new controller, though a few other genres will pop up throughout this review.  As far as design goes, there really isn’t too much to talk about, and that simplicity is a good thing.  The blue and black circular foot pad emblazoned with the PlayStation logo in the middle is flat on the top where you rest your feet, save for to plastic guides that help with your foot positioning.  Where you rest your feet offers enough grip to not have your feet slide regardless of whether you are wearing shoes, socks or going barefoot.  The bottom is rounded to allow you to perform all the motions a necessary and the overall design feels sturdy and solid thanks to it’s 7 pounds of weight which helps it to sit on the floor properly.

For a bulk of these the titles supported, the 3drudder implementation is very simple and once you boot a game up the rudder should be automatically detected and available to use once the game allows you too.  In every game that requires you to walk forwards or backwards, simply tilting your feet away from or towards you will have you moving in that direction.  Tilting the rudder right or left will cause your character to strafe in that direction and to turn you need to twist the rudder left or right.  Most of the games that utilize these controls have options to customize them further by adjusting their sensitivity making it more or less sensitive, though this isn’t always the case.

Games like The Wizards and Red Matter are the clear standouts with The Mages Tales and Mind Labyrinth benefiting from the Rudder support as well.   My first moment with the rudder that truly sunk home that this more then just a throwaway peripheral was when I was playing the Wizards and a Troll appeared in front of me.  My immediate reaction was to put the literal breaks on with my feet, pushing back on the rudder while I still madly cast spells to take the creature out.  Red Matter is a combat free experience reliant on exploration and puzzles which utilize those move controllers.   Exploring these environments while still being able to grab anything I could was a new sense of freedom that I kind of forgot I had.  Even on the PC side of things, with the rift touch controllers, you still use your hands to move and having my legs controlling where I move in the environment was a sensation I soon embraced.  Other titles, like Immortal Legacy: The Jade Cipher benefit huge by it as that game uses a very complicated control scheme that just felt crammed on the Moves and the Rudder alleviates most of, if not all the issues, by freeing up buttons on the moves to allow you navigate menus and other interactions.  Beat Blaster was designed specifically for the rudder and feels like it, with other movement schemes not feeling quite as immersive.   A late update to Space Junkies allowed a freedom of movement that gives those with a rudder a distinct advantage over those without, letting you fly around and strafe while still aiming with both hands, which is a big deal in a competitive shooter.  The same goes for Honor and Duty: D-Day which took me awhile to customize to my liking, but once I did, I ended using the rudder over the Aim controller thumb sticks when it came to movement.  With thumb sticks on the Aim, you would think the Rudder would be a little redundant, and for some I bet it still will be, but allowing my brain to focus more on aiming while my feet naturally moved me around the environment has me hoping that more aim supported titles support the Rudder in tandem with the Rifle peripheral.

The design is very simple.

That’s not to say it’s all good as it’s entirely up the developers of titles to adapt their games to the Rudder.  While first person games involving walking are improved, others don’t really benefit from it and do feel like their inclusion of rudder support was just tacked on for no real good reason.  Pirate flight now has you controlling a plane with your feet which doesn’t feel natural at all, especially when compared to the Rudder use in Ultra Wings, which supplants your right and left pedals with the rudders making for a new level of immersion and control.  Pirate flight has you controlling the plane with your feet it just feels awkward more then anything else.  Darkness Rollercoaster let’s you move your cart left or right to dodge obstacles and while the rudder is better to do this, it’s not really needed as that mechanic is rarely used and is broken at times causing you to fly off course.  On the flip side, TrainerVR surprised me with the Rudder, as now you can move around the map with smooth locomotion, supplanting the teleportation only system if you are only using the Moves and actually made for a way easier time to build my train tracks.   Even Bow to Blood, a game where you pilot a flying ship, uses the Rudder to steer the ship now and just makes all the multi-tasking in the game a little easier to manage.  The point I’m making is that even games that utilize the Rudder in smaller ways for the most part are still better for it with the exception of only 1 or 2 titles.

It should be noted that the 3dRudder may also help remedy sim sickness as some people have issues with full locomotion in VR while being stationary in the real-world. Having your brain focus on using your legs and feet to move bridges that gap a little allowing a little more comfort for those who may be having difficulties.  With sim sickness being forever associated with virtual reality, it’s nice to see a new solution on the market and while I can’t personally attest to how much the rudder helps with this as I luckily don’t experience any sickness in VR, the math checks out.  The Rudder could also be a solution for someone who doesn’t have full use of their upper body.  The 3drudder isn’t a one-fix for every game, but for those that struggle with controls because you need 2 hands to navigate, now you only need to 2 feet, and you do need 2 feet as this is not usable if you don’t have the use of both legs.

Despite how well designed the 3dRudder is, I still ran into a few issues throughout the games I played.  The largest issue would be the Rudder just slowly sliding towards or away from me the longer I played. On more then a few occasions, I was forced to remove my feet from the rudder and slide it forward or back and inch or 2.  Not a big deal as I could easily do this without interrupting my game or removing my headset but depending upon which game you are playing, the rudder didn’t always register as an active controller until I had to do something in the game 1st.  In Immortal Legacy for instance, If my feet left the Rudder, once I put them back on, I had to go to the options menu for the Rudder to activate; there was no option for the rudder and it’s auto-detected, but until I navigated to the menu, it wouldn’t register.  Mages Tale was sensitive, though you can thankfully adjust rudder speed in that one, but with the Rudder in use, the sounds of my footsteps were sped up and very noticeable causing some minor annoyance.  In Beat Blaster from 1 round to the next, the rudder would just stop working for a round, forcing a quick death whereupon it would work again until it didn’t.  I don’t think this is the Rudder’s fault but rather poor optimization on the developer’s part and hopefully, with time, these minor issues will be addressed, making for an overall smoother experience.  Going back to the sliding, depending upon what floor type you are on could help this issue with carpets or soft matting allowing it to slide less, but those playing on harder surfaces may run into this issue a fair bit.  Sitting up straight also helps with this but playing VR with “proper” posture isn’t always comfortable for long periods.  There is a gripper attachment that isn’t currently available to the masses, but basically acts as a weight the 3dRudder mounts too, that just doesn’t allow the rudder to move.  I suspect higher sales may warrant a more public release and while I haven’t personally used this add-on, I suspect when it becomes available, as long as the price isn’t too nuts, it would probably be worth the financial investment.   My last issue would be with turning with the rudder, which requires you to twist your legs left or right and after long plays I started to feel this in my knees a bit and I found myself using the option to turn using the controller in my hand over the rudder, assuming this was an option as some games disable controller turning when the rudder is plugged in.

With the limited amount of games currently compatible and even with more coming soon I feel that many will be disappointed by the lack of support when compared to how many PSVR titles there are currently available.  It’s also notable that while some of the games supported are some of the best for the headset, the lack of support for some of the more prominent VR titles is noticeable.  Games like Skyrim, Resident Evil 7, Borderlands 2, Arizona Sunshine and  Farpoint could all benefit from rudder support though it’s up to the developers to make these compatible and maybe they will in the future, but as the launch approaches, their support absence is noticable, though I suspect a suprise or 2 before the official release.   With that said, looking at the Rudder as a solution for the Moves’ limitations is not the right mindset.  The rudder, to me, is more akin to a racing wheel or HOTAS controller with support being focused on a smaller selection of games.  It’s an additional peripheral that helps improve your overall VR experience in specific games, not unlike the Aim controller.   With luck, and hopefully decent sales, I bet we will see more and more titles that support the 3dRudder, changing it from a luxury purchase now to something that may be considered a necessity.

Does it belong? I say most definitely yes!

That’s kind of where I stand right now with the 3DRudder, it’s a luxury purchase not unlike those other peripherals I mentioned.  What I mean by that is that while not needed, the Rudder benefited almost every title currently supported and using it felt surprisingly natural.  That said, the current supported game count, even at 20+ still feels very limited, especially when so many games could easily benefit from it’s use.

What would I pay? So this is $120 US which I’m sure seems excessive to some, but considering how much a decent steering wheel or HOTAS controller costs, I think It’s an easy pill to swallow.  It’s worth the asking price, provided you play a couple of the games supported on a somewhat regular basis but if none of the titles supported interests you, then it may sit to the side gathering dust.  As I said, more titles are expected to be announced and with games like Sairento and Scraper just around the corner, each additional title that supports the 3dRudder only increases it’s value.

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