The consumer Oculus Rift may not be the game-changing VR headset we once expected it to be (another product holds that honor) but it still has some high-quality games at launch. Read on as we break down the best Oculus Rift games so far.
The big thing to keep in mind about the Oculus Rift is that it isn't (yet) known for first-person experiences. At launch the Rift is, somewhat strangely, a place where you play classic-style, gamepad-based games – that just happen to be in virtual reality. Adding VR can spice up any game genre, so there is still a lot that's cool about this. But there's a difference between transportive experiences that explode with mind-bending new possibilities, and games that just ... get a little cooler inside 360-degree VR worlds.
Most of the Rift's titles fall into the latter category. If you want more of the former, you'll need to get an HTC Vive.
With that said, these are the best ways for Oculus Rift early adopters to spend their time and money.
Defense Grid 2
Of all the classic genres Rift developers have picked up and plopped inside virtual reality, Hidden Path's take on the old tower defense genre may be the best. Defense Grid 2 is a game I look forward to going back to over and over, something I can't say about all Rift titles.
Part of that is because tower defense is a genre that gets better – on a practical level – when you put it in VR. Turn your head to look around the base below you, quickly glancing over to your left to upgrade this tower or hunching down to get a closer look at the invaders surrounding your level three cannon. That kind of quick panning and zooming would be a little tedious on a flat screen.
It also helps that this is a damn good tower defense game. All the genre's staples are here – strategic defense placement, wide varieties of enemies and weapons, and gameplay that builds in difficulty at a satisfying pace. The visuals and animations are solid enough to provide a nice sense of immersion, as you become the giant (invisible) human towering above the base/game-board.
At their best, tower defense games can be a meditative experience. And I could get lost in this one for hours.
Hidden Path's excellent Defense Grid 2 costs US$30 in the Oculus Store.
The Climb is a strange attempt at a first-person game that uses gamepad controls instead of hands controllers, like the Vive controllers or Oculus' own Touch.
It's still a thrilling experience, as you grip ledge after ledge in stunning and increasingly difficult rock-climbing challenges. But it would have been much more immersive using your own hands with the Oculus Touch controllers (they launch later this year), to the point where its gamepad control dampens the experience a bit. And since you can't reach with your hands (they'll both be gripping the gamepad), reaching for almost out of reach grip spots means standing up and leaning your head. Again, just strange and not the most intuitive way to handle this kind of game.
We hope Crytek adds Oculus Touch controls later on, at which point this could be a must-have game. As it stands right now, it's a visual showcase piece with controls that feel a little backwards.
Crytek's The Climb costs $50 in the Oculus Store.
If you took all of the Oculus Rift's launch titles and moved them onto traditional 2D screens, Chronos would probably be the best of the bunch. It's an action/adventure game with RPG elements – a sort of modern-day Zelda, if you will.
On one hand, that means it stands on its own as a pretty good game that doesn't lean on VR. But on the other hand, the game also doesn't benefit from VR more than any other game would. Another cool title that just happens to be in VR, more than something new and groundbreaking.
It also doesn't help that the Vive has a Zelda-like title of its own that rips this one to shreds. The Vive's Vanishing Realms is a first-person, room-scale experience, where you feel like you're going on the adventure yourself – using your own hands and feet to slay ogres and traverse pathways.
Chronos' visuals look great – and that's with our Rift being hooked up to a PC with the minimum recommended graphics card – the combat is fairly fun (if a little repetitive) and there's a clever aging mechanic to the game, where every time you die your character grows older (and this is more than just a cosmetic gimmick, as your abilities change the older you get).
If this sounds like the kind of game you'd want to play on a console or PC with a 2D screen, then you'll probably love Chronos on the Rift. Put it at the top of your list. Just don't expect to see much that will knock your socks off, or that could only be made possible by VR.
Gunfire Games' Chronos costs $50 in the Oculus Store.
This is another third-person game that doesn't really need to be in VR, and doesn't really add anything practical by being in VR, but is still a little more fun for being so.
There are two levels of control in AirMech: Command. First is the broader, army-level, real-time strategy, where you manage resources, create and deploy units and plan your attacks against the enemy forces (which can be either AI or online opponents). This is the head part of the game. Simultaneously, in the more visceral part of the game, you role up your sleeves and jump into the fray yourself, controlling a badass mech – transforming between humanoid robot and jet.
There's something incredibly satisfying about not just deploying forces to a certain spot, but also jumping into the fight yourself as a sort of robot-superhero, and bailing them out if things get sticky.
The balance between strategy and badass jump in and blow these suckers away Mech gameplay blend together nicely.
Carbon Games' AirMech: Command costs $40 in the Oculus Store.
Lucky's Tale is the odd game that blew us away in event demos, but only ended up being pretty cool once we finally brought it home and played it over extended periods.
On the positive side, Lucky's Tale is a polished and beautiful 3D platformer inside VR. On the downside, VR cripples the genre to some degree: the need to avoid motion sickness necessitates that Lucky can only move so quickly, and that makes the game slower-paced than a modern-day, straight-path platformer would normally be.
If Lucky's Tale had more open world-ish environments (like Mario 64), then that slower pace may work better, but as a straight-path game it would do better with a more furious, Mario 3D World kind of pace. Again, though, that would have made you feel like you're going to spew chunks. That's the corner developer Playful painted itself into.
So we're left with this more boring than we expected VR take on the 3D platform genre. It also doesn't help that the game makes you go back and play previous levels in an attempt to stretch out the gameplay (very literally stealing the collect the red coins mechanic from Mario 64, in addition to time trials). The slow-paced, linear levels are fun enough the first time, but quickly become tedious on repeat visits.
It's not that Lucky's Tale isn't fun, delightful or worth playing; it just isn't quite the magical, generation-defining VR experience we thought it might be.
Playful's Lucky's Tale is free in the Oculus Store.
CCP's Eve: Valkyrie is another one of the Oculus Rift's few first-person games, putting you inside the cockpit of a space dog-fighter, gamepad in hand. It's an online multiplayer game, with no single player mode, so after some quick tutorials you'll be jumping into battles with other real players ... over ... and over.
Like Lucky's Tale, Eve: Valkyrie got boring a lot quicker than we expected. Once you've played a few matches, you kinda get it. What else ya got? Oh, that's it? There are attempts at a sense of progression, unlocking upgrades the more you play, but it's still too repetitive. There isn't much sense of unfolding exploration or peeling back exciting new layers. Just slightly different versions of the same huge battle over and over. If that's your thing – as it is for many gamers – then you'll love it. But if you aren't already a fan of the genre, there isn't enough depth here to rope you in.
CCP's Eve: Valkyrie was included for free with Oculus Rift pre-orders, and is now sold as a $60 purchase for those who get a Rift without the bundle.