Discover The Best VR Games

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Discover The Best VR Games
January 15, 2017

There has never been a time when more virtual reality games and experiments were in development. VR is finally here (if off to a bit of a slow start due to the price of the headsets), and less than a year after the consumer releases of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift there are lot of great games to play. We've chosen a selection of our favorites, which we'll continue to update as we experience more new dimensions throughout 2017.

 

Thumper

 

Developer: Drool
Link: Official site
Compatibility: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift 

 

Already a great rhythm hell game in flatspace, Thumper is even more trance-inducing in VR. It's not very mechanically complicated—tap to the beat and slide around corners, at least at first—but it's brutal. As James put it, Thumper is "a psychedelic journey through impossible geometry and a crunchy, slippery, overwhelmingly oppressive force." In VR, it becomes a waking sound nightmare I should want to escape, but don't. —Tyler Wilde

Obduction

 

Developer: Cyan Inc.
Link: Humble Store
Compatibility: Oculus Rift

 

Cyan has built a wonderfully detailed world for you to explore in Obduction, and exploring it in VR lets you notice all the tiny touches that you might otherwise skip by. A spiritual successor to Myst and Riven made by the original development team, Obduction is filled with environmental puzzles and clues hidden in plain site to help you solve them. In my review, I said that it “remains faithful to Myst without feeling dated,” and that goes doubly in VR. It feels like you are actually in and exploring a classic Myst world, but there’s nothing old-fashioned about physically leaning your body in toward something to get a better look. 

 

But the reason Obduction really works well in VR is because the original Myst movement scheme was practically tailormade for Virtual Reality. You jump between set points in the world, then have time to look at your surroundings and take everything in. The mechanics and pacing of the game didn’t need to be compromised at all to make it ideal for VR. You can also run around normally if you have a stomach of steel, but Cyan has made each point you can hop to feel interesting and intentional, rather than just another dot on the path. —Tom Marks

Chronos

 

Developer: Gunfire Games
Link: Official site
Compatibility: Oculus Rift

 

Chronos is one of the finest examples of an existing genre being imported into VR and gaining an immense boost of immersion in the process. As I wrote in my review: "This is a tried-and-true action RPG in the Zelda vein, with timing-heavy combat and puzzle solving that feel more than a little familiar. But Chronos did something for me that Zelda never could. That no game I’ve ever played on a monitor or TV has ever done for me. Even when I’m utterly absorbed in a game’s world, I don’t feel like I’ve been transported inside my monitor. But that’s what it feels like to play Chronos in VR. I was there, and I didn’t want that experience to end."

 

This is a meaty 15 hour adventure, with an interconnected (and often beautiful) world to explore and demanding, timing-based combat to learn. It's all a bit simplified compared to an RPG like Dark Souls, but the experience of playing in VR makes every minute engaging. Of the Oculus Rift launch lineup, this is the only one I'd call an absolute can't miss. —Wes Fenlon 

Elite: Dangerous

 

Developer: Frontier Developments
Link: www.elitedangerous.com
Compatibility: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive

 

The first commercial game to offer native VR support, Elite: Dangerous is still the best example of the power of the tech to date. Strapped into the detailed cockpits of its ships, from bulky battleships to nimble fighters, dogfights are intense. It’s like being in the best Star Wars space battle ever. It’s also practical, because you can move your head to track enemy ships as they scream past you. Look down and you’ll see your pilot’s body, and their hands will mirror your own if you’re playing with a flight stick. You can even stand up and walk around your cockpit, providing it’s big enough to do so.

 

It’s not all about the thrill of dogfighting, though. Elite is impressive in VR no matter what you’re doing: from docking to gazing slack-jawed at stunning cosmic scenery. You’ll never forget the first time you fly into a planet’s ring system. Millions of slowly spinning space-rocks fill your field of view, and you can’t help but just stop and stare. The galaxy is beautiful on a regular 2D screen, but in VR it feels truly massive. Jumping to other stars and docking feel more intimate and intense too when they’re happening right in front of your nose. When you jump to another system, you feel yourself leaning back in your chair as the stars streak past your windows.

It helps that Elite’s flying model is so impressively detailed. The ships feel weighty and realistic, and how they handle varies between models. Flying a Hauler, a chunky entry level trading ship, is a very different experience to buzzing around in an Eagle fighter or a Cobra. In VR, this distinctiveness is even more pronounced. Make sure you play with headphones, because the sound design really helps sell the illusion: especially the engine sounds.

 

Elite: Dangerous is something of a pioneer when it comes to making comfortable, convincing virtual reality experiences. Many other games have included native support for VR headsets since its release, but none have surpassed it. It’s a rare example of a game that you’ll actually want to play for long periods of time in VR, rather than just as a novelty. Watch out, though: it’s a game where you spend a lot of time spinning to figure out where you’re going, and coming back to the static, non-rotating real world can have a strange dizzying effect if you’ve been playing for a long time. —Andy Kelly 

 

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

 

Developer: Steel Crate Games
Link: Humble Store
Compatibility: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift

 

Keep Talking is the most family-friendly bomb disarming sim you can play today. Family friendly because some participants aren’t expected to play the videogame portion of the game at all, required instead to flip through a thick physical bomb disarmament instruction manual (that you need to print off yourself), screaming out directions while a lone player frantically flips and studies a virtual explosive device. The VR component isn’t the most immersive experience out there, but isolating yourself in a room with a complex bomb puzzle goes a long way in developing tension. It’s also a nice way to prevent cheaters from sneaking a peek at the manual themselves. And if you don’t have a VR headset, you can still play with a good old-fashioned monitor. Everybody wins (if they don’t explode). —James Davenport 

Superhot VR

 

Developer: Superhot Team
Link: Oculus Store
Compatibility: Oculus Rift

 

In Superhot VR, it’s possible to toss a brick at a man, knock his semi-auto pistol into the air, catch it, and bash him over the head with it before shooting three other men out of a helicopter behind you. This can all happen within a few seconds or the span of three minutes—or however long you need to plan out the most efficient and action-movie-cool way of taking them all out. Time only moves forward if you move, and while the original Superhot had you weaving in and out of bullets using traditional FPS movement and controls, in VR, you can’t run about. Everything comes to you, turning levels into bite-sized Matrix scenarios, where agent after agent is headed your way. It’s up to you to suss out how to take care of them using the few weapons and objects around you, all the while dodging, throwing, catching, and punching to stay alive. Wrapped up in the same meta narrative framework as the original game, Superhot VR has too much style, fluidity, and inherent satisfaction to skip. —James Davenport

Hover Junkers

 

Developer: Stress Level Zero
Link: Steam page
Compatibility: HTC Vive

 

Hover Junkers has my favorite solution to VR movement so far. Think of it as a full-body cover shooter, where you’re dodging and ducking behind corrugated metal and hunks of wood, but with mobile cover. With one hand, you steer your floating junker, which glides smoothly over the air in whatever direction you point, while the rest of your body crawls around the deck, popping up to shoot at other players.

 

Aiming is tricky at first, but you get used to it, and I really love how reloading is an active, cartoony analog to the real thing. With the pistol, for instance, pressing down on the Vive controller’s trackpad pops open the cylinder. Circling the trackpad with your thumb plunks in bullets, and then flicking your wrist snaps it shut. It’s not hard, but when you’re close to a kill and close to death yourself it’s a frantic thing done sat on your carpet, slamming the cylinder shut way harder than you have to in the panicked moment.

 

The problem with Hover Junkers is that it's multiplayer-only and there are often few other players online, if any. I still think it's great, though, so hopefully the population picks up as more people buy Vives this year. —Tyler Wilde 

Accounting

 

Developer: Crows Crows Crows, Squanchtendo
Link: Steam page
Compatability: HTC Vive

 

If you enjoy the sort of long, improvised strings of dialogue that Justin Roiland brings to Rick and Morty, he and Crows Crows Crows have built a reality around that sense of humor. Accounting gets a lot of points for being free, but the main reason I've included it here is a two-headed xylophone skeleton. It's wonderful and horrifying and sticks in my mind as something that happened to me in a dream or hallucination. —Tyler Wilde

Job Simulator

 

Developer: Owlchemy Labs
Link: Official site
Compatibility: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift (with Touch)

 

As a pack-in with the HTC Vive, Job Simulator is a delightful introduction to the simple pleasure of waving your arms around in VR and interacting with your environment. It's satisfying to find just how many things are stuffed into its office cubicle or kitchen, and there are often great one-liners or slapstick jokes to reward your experimentation. It's all over too soon, and won't be the kind of game you go back to again and again, but it's definitely one to pull out every time someone's curious about why VR is so cool. Job Simulator will put a smile on their face. —Wes Fenlon

The Lab

 

Developer: Valve
Link: Steam page
Compatibility: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift (with Touch)

 

Valve's free VR showcase is another great way to introduce people to VR. It's full of little minigames that don't have much substance, but show off a little slice of VR's potential. And the robot dog is adorable. —Tyler Wilde

Fantastic Contraption

 

Developer: Northway Games
Link: Steam page
Compatibility: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift (with Touch)

 

Fantastic Contraption gives you the seemingly simple task of “make this pink blob move to that pink box” and then drops it into VR with you at the center. It’s a machine building puzzle game, but the machines are as big as you are tall. With a pile of sticks, rotating cylinders, and whole heap of creativity, you have to build contraptions that can navigate turns, turns, walls, and a lot more to get that pink blob to where it wants to go.

 

What’s so impressive about Fantastic Contraption is how intuitive the controls are. It’s easy to assemble your machine because it’s essentially just connecting dots, and modifying objects works exactly how you’d expect. Want this piece to be longer? Stretch it out. Want that wheel to spin the other way? Just turn it around. Don’t need that connector anymore? Throw it over your shoulder and it’s gone. The challenge never comes from the execution of an idea, but coming up with that idea in the first place.

Developer Northway Games is also doing some interesting things with observing a player while they are in VR, including using a camera and a green screen to key out the real world around that player to make it look as if they are physically in the VR space. It’s a cool concept on top of an already cool game. - Tom Marks 

 

Euro Truck Simulator 2 and American Truck Simulator

 

Developer: SCS Software
Link: Official site
Compatibility: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive

 

Virtual reality can whisk you away to fantastic, unimaginable worlds, but it’s testament to the power of the tech that even driving a truck down a German motorway can be a mindblowing experience. Euro Truck Simulator 2 is a genuinely brilliant game, and with the launch of the new VR headsets, SCS Software has added support for the consumer Rift and the HTC Vive. You can read about how to enable VR support for either headset on the Steam forums.

 

The game is, as the title suggests, about driving trucks around Europe, delivering goods between depots, and obeying the rules of the road. It’s oddly hypnotising, despite the seemingly boring subject matter, and a polished, well-made game to boot. And the VR support is fantastic. The detailed cockpits of the trucks, which are all replicas of real-world heavy goods vehicles, give you a powerful feeling of being in a physical, three-dimensional space. You can look up and see the sky moving past through the sunroof, or lean out of the window if you need to squeeze through a tight spot with an oversized load.

And wait until you get caught in your first storm. The way the raindrops streak across your side windows as you pick up speed is a tiny little effect, but an effective one. It makes you really feel like you’re in motion. Small things like this can be just as important as the big stuff when it comes to making a VR experience feel convincing. The illusion is even stronger if you play the game with a force feedback steering wheel, though it’s not essential to enjoy the simulation: just a nice optional extra.

 

Euro Truck Simulator 2 boasts an enormous recreation of Europe, including Britain and Scandinavia, but the majority of it is made up of grey motorways. Still, there is some impressive scenery out there in the game world, which looks extra cool in VR. Norway is the prettiest location of the lot, with picturesque valleys, lakes, and forests to make your drive a more interesting. In a strange way, the fact it’s so grounded in reality makes it somehow more convincing than a game like Elite, because you don’t have to use your imagination as much. You might scoff at the very idea of playing a truck simulator, never mind in VR, but seriously—give this one a chance. —Andy Kelly 

 

The Gallery Episode 1: Call of Starseed

 

Developer: Cloudhead Games
Link: Steam page
Compatibility: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift

 

It seemed like a no-brainer that first-person adventure games in the Myst vein would be perfect for VR. Apparently, it was a no-brainer, because Obduction and The Gallery are two of the best VR games. The first episode of The Gallery transports you to a moody island at night, with little clue what's going on but plenty of atmosphere to pull you in. Walking around in real space to explore corners of the environment, and then picking up objects by reaching out and grabbing them, is... well, it's almost real.

 

This kind of VR experience is made or broken by the fidelity of the world and how believable it feels to be there, and some small touches in The Gallery help sell the effect. The lighting, the ability to hold a sheet of paper up to your face and read it, the little environmental touches like roman candles you can pick up and fire off. These are all the things that pulled me into the first hour of The Gallery, and at that point its mystery started to channel into an intriguing story with a sci-fi bent. It's the first episodic game I've played in VR, and likely the first I'll play through to the end. —Wes Fenlon 

Space Pirate Trainer

 

Developer: I-Illusions
Link: Steam page
Compatibility: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift (with Touch)

 

Space Pirate Trainer is the 2016 VR equivalent of Space Invaders. Straightforward and immediately catchy, it puts a pair of guns in your hands and throws waves of fast-moving drones at you to zap out of the sky. It's one of many launch VR games to offer a simple shooting gallery—the accuracy of the Vive's controllers makes for great aiming and firing—but none of the others we've played feels as good as Space Pirate Trainer.

 

Even in Early Access, Space Pirate Trainer does all the little things right. The guns multiple firing modes give room for different shooting styles, including a steady stream of lasers or a much harder to aim one hit kill charge shot. The drones give off a telltale charging sound before they fire, giving you time to pivot and fire or pull of some Matrix moves to dodge their attacks. Time slows down when enemy lasers stream towards you, and ducking below them or leaning backwards as you continue to fire at another target is so satisfying. Pulling out a shield to reflect those bolts back is, too.

So far, Space Pirate Trainer is the only "just one more" VR game I've played. If it took quarters, I'd already have blown a month's lunch money on it. —Wes Fenlon

 

Eve: Valkyrie

 

Developer: CCP
Link: Official site
Compatibility: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, OSVR

 

Our review of Eve: Valkyrie touches on what's great, and what's not so great, about CCP's space dogfighter. The spectacle of these battles can be truly awe-inspiring, and it delivers those moments—when you lock missiles on an enemy and fire, then do a banking turn around the hull of a battleship, coming up around it upside-down to put another enemy in your crosshairs—where it feels unlike anything you've ever played on a screen. You probably have the churning stomach to prove it.

 

Those moments unfortunately come alongside a molasses-paced upgrade system for unlocking ship parts and new ship classes, a very light campaign mode, and a UI that does its best to bury information in confusing menus.

Dogfights can be thrilling, but lack the depth and strategy of a space sim like Elite: Dangerous. As our reviewer wrote, Valkyrie "would fit in perfectly in an arcade on your local pier, between the Time Crisis 2 machine that refuses to die and a Star Wars Battlepod. It’s an incredible experience, and one which in 20 minutes will convince you of VR’s gaming future. But beyond that initial foray you’ll have too many excuses to disembark. And that’s if you don’t throw up in your mouth." —Wes Fenlon 

 

Alien: Isolation

 

Developer: The Creative Assembly
Link: Official site
Compatibility: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive

 

If you’ve ever watched Alien and wished you were there on the Nostromo being chased by H.R. Giger’s most famous creation, then you’re in luck. Alien: Isolation doesn’t officially support Oculus Rift, but the functionality is in the game—you just have to know how to activate it. In the game’s data folder, edit the line in the ENGINE_SETTINGS.XML file under ‘stereo mode’ to say on rather than off. For the Vive, Isolation is supported by VorpX. Getting it working isn’t the hard part, though. The hard part is playing the game, because it’s beyond terrifying. If you thought the game was scary on your monitor, wait until you’re actually there, inches from a hissing xenomorph.

 

Isolation is a survival horror game based on Ridley Scott’s classic 1979 sci-fi horror, and it perfectly replicates the film’s slow, almost unbearable tension. You’re dropped into a room, or a series of rooms, with Giger’s alien. It stomps around, hunting for you, behaving unpredictably, and you have to sneak around it to find keys, unlock doors, access computers, and other simple tasks. When you play with the Rift, the darkness of the stricken Sevastopol station feels somehow even darker. The feeling of claustrophobia, and the fear that the creature will catch you, is so intense that it’s almost unplayable at 07 times—but, equally, totally exhilarating.

It’s also an opportunity for fans of the movie to explore its locations up close. One mission takes place aboard the derelict ship where the crew of the Nostromo sealed their fates, and it looks incredible. Gazing up at the famous ‘pilot’, you feel like you’re there on set. Even if you can’t stomach sharing a room with the alien, it’s worth trying Isolation in VR just to experience this legendary sci-fi set as an explorable 3D space. Horror games are an obvious choice for VR developers. The tech is perfect for making you feel claustrophobic, which is an important reaction when it comes to making an effective horror game. But it won’t be for everyone, and even people who can deal with scary games will find themselves tested when they’re plugged into an Oculus Rift. The Creative Assembly kept Isolation’s VR mode hidden away, but they should have polished it up and made it a real feature. —Andy Kelly 

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