Review: Riftcat 2.0 (Computer)
- Release Date (NA): January 30, 2018
- Release Date (EU): January 30, 2018
- Publisher: RiftCat Sp. z o.o.
- Developer: RiftCat Sp. z o.o.
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
This is for the mass
I’ve had a VR-ready PC rig for more than a year now and I own as many VR headsets as there are good games for them, i.e, zero… until recently. With big publishers, like Bethesda and Square Enix, pushing their flagship games on the VR platform (Fallout 4 VR and DOOM VFR only came out a few months ago), they aim to entice gamers to embrace the new technology that promised to literally take us to another reality.
However, the VR headsets required for playing those AAA games like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive are quite the investment. The Vive has an MRSP of $599 and the Oculus Rift is priced at $399, both costing as much as, if not more than, a VR-ready rig…
Just like the Robin Hood of VR-gaming comes Riftcat. This nifty software, along with its companion Android app VRidge, tricks your PC into thinking that your phone is an HTC Vive headset. You can see where this is going: slide your VRidge-powered phone into a Google Cardboard headset and ta-da! $5 HTC Vive!
Cheaper, yet not cheap
Before diving into the prowess of this software, bear in mind that you need a VR-ready PC, an Android 5.0+ smartphone and any cardboard-compatible mobile viewer. See below for the minimum and recommended specs that Riftcat suggests:
All set? Let’s get this cat out of the bag!
Enter Riftcat 2.0
Riftcat 2.0 is, as the name suggests, an updated version of the software and it is the one that introduced me to this promising concept. This version came out this January 30th which you can purchase at € 14.99 and download on their official website. The companion Android app, VRidge, is available for free on Google Play. However, to allow potential buyers to test the compatibility of their setup, Riftcat also has a free version of the PC software on their website that has all features of the paid version except for the limited 10 minutes per session playtime.
The PC software and its Android companion app communicate via your phone’s USB cable after enabling USB tethering option on your phone or via WiFi connection for a tangle-free VR experience. Riftcat then shares the computer’s images with the phone as a video stream, with about 1-2 frames behind input (less than 50ms delay). On the phone’s side of things, the latter sends back the head rotation data to enable head movement for the user.
In theory, all HTC Vive-compatible games will work via this method. However, since you won’t have the Vive’s controllers, it works best with VR games that require minimal input (ideally none) from the Vive controllers or those that are compatible with a regular Xbox controller and/or mouse + keyboard. Here’s a handy list from Steam for all games in its library that you can use with Riftcat and a controller.
I’ve tested quite some games and apps from that list and below are some of the most interesting games that I’ve tried. Note that the purpose of the videos are not to show the games in detail but rather to demonstrate how the PC and Android software work in conjunction.
Vivecraft is a mod of Minecraft for the original PC Java edition that adds the VR twist. It currently supports versions 1.7.10, 1.10.2, 1.11.2 and 1.12.2 of the game. As the name suggests, it supports HTC Vive and subsequently Riftcat. Since the game is in first-person and plays with a mouse and keyboard, it works perfectly with Riftcat allowing to do… Minecraft stuffs?
- Project CARS
Get in the driver’s seat of racing cars with this title that officially sports a VR mode. Best experienced in first person! I’m not a huge fan of racing games in general but the VR experience here is a very recommended one!
- Rise of the Tomb Raider VR
Explore the Croft Manor as if you were right there! Flipping through notes and inspecting artifacts in VR is a nice way to explore the lore of such a revered series but moving Lara with the point-to-teleport mechanic makes exploration more tedious than it should be.
- DOOM VFR
Best for last, DOOM VFR was my favorite VR experience of all. Impersonating Doomguy has never felt so immersive. Yet again movement is done via teleportation which however works better in fast paced action sequences. Actually teleportation has an added bonus in this title: teleport to a demon’s location and you’ll blast it away, leaving its blood and guts splashing all over the screen… eww! Cool!
However I cannot share the experience in the video since it is a game that has to be played with the HMD on and using the gyroscope to look around while using the controller to take action as the environment contains quite a few interactive elements (demons to exterminate in general). This does not translate well in a video where I have to move the phone in one hand and use the controller with the other.
To Be Continued
Now if you want to further expand Riftcat’s potential, there are additional tricks and hardware that you can pair it up with.
While the Riftcat is geared towards “emulating” the HTC Vive, it can also play Oculus Rift games via Revive.
Want to have the Vive controller without having to actually buy the device? Fiddle around with cheaper alternatives like Leap Motion and you are there.
However, the Riftcat team tells me that they are working on an emulator for the controller that is planned for a release later this year but the pricing is unknown as of writing.
As you might expect, it’s not all roses in cheap Vive world. Screen glitches like in the DOOM VFR video at 1:11 are quite common. I have also had some issues like the VRidge phone app disconnecting at random, my PC crashing (which might arguably not be an issue due to the app but it happened quite some time while running the software and gaming) and on some occasion a blue horizontal line would persist on the phone screen while playing.
Blue line of death?!
Thankfully Riftcat has quite a competent and responsive support team that helped me in addressing the issues I had. Feedback is quite valuable as it is thanks to the latter that updates for the software are build upon to perfect it.
+ Affordable method for AAA VR gaming
+ Free version available
+ Responsive support team
- No native support for games that require Vive's controllers
- Some pertinent issues
out of 10
Riftcat is an ambitious and promising software that is worth a try for anyone with a VR ready rig but without the extra capital to invest additional in pricey hardware.