At E3 2015 I was lucky enough to test out the HoloLens in a tech demo built around the new Warzone mode for Halo 5: Guardians’ multiplayer.
My first impression of the HoloLens? This product is a long, long way from being a consumer friendly device. Setting it up is a chore that involves measuring the distance between your eyes and balancing it on your melon. It’s heavy, ungainly and uncomfortable, sliding out of place after sudden movements and never feeling particularly secure. Which is perfectly fine for the purpose of an early E3 glimpse, but you couldn’t help but notice there is a few years of fine-tuning yet to be done.
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My second impression? Wow! Once affixed, I look up and see deeper into the booth, floating in mid-air as it would in-game, the classic Halo objective marker. I follow it and when I reach the location, another marker appears yet further in again. The booth is dressed up like the inside of a Pelican – or likeminded Halo craft – and I notice a shut window while walking down a corridor. When I look at it, the window opens – I lean down to get a look through it and on the other side I see a fully realised military camp in preparation for war. Vehicles and troops busy at it underneath a vast alien landscape – it’s breathtaking.
The next marker sends me to a hexagon briefing table where I stand with other journos. In front of us on a raised platform the schematics of the multiplayer map we’re about to play are displayed and we’re briefed on what to expect. We get fully 3D insights into enemies and vehicles, and as I crouch and look around trying to break the effect, I can’t - it’s enough to make me forget the uncomfortable device strapped to my head. Alas, when the briefing ends, the HoloLens is removed and we’re escorted into a traditional multiplayer room to enjoy a round of Warzone (which is good fun by the way) with a controller and our own dumb eyes.
My third impression? As cool as it was and as much as I enjoyed it, I’d never pay for a device that doesn’t actually connect with gameplay. It was nice to get a deeper, more immersive pre-mission briefing than usual, but it was just a briefing. The demo seen on stage during the Microsoft press conference showcasing Minecraft certainly a lot more compelling in linking the tech to gameplay, but the world crafting phenomenon is a unique experience and not – to date at least – a system seller.
How will the HoloLens be used to gift the likes of Halo, Fable, Quantum Break, Gears of War, Forza and co. better gameplay experiences? The jury is very much out on whether that is actually possible. My hope is that Microsoft succeed where so many previous gimmicks have failed and make the HoloLens a truly compelling purchase. In my opinion, such success would mean remembering that technology is best when you have no idea it is even there. That requires subtlety, not blunt force trauma – I’m looking at you Kinect.
I watch on with interest.