Samsung Gear VR has been around for over a year now, and content-wise it's got a significant leg up on its (only) formidable mobile VR competitor, Google Daydream View. While some of its best content has been around since launch, its lineup is more robust than ever. Whether you want to slip into VR to escape the holiday bustle, or you'll be gifting a headset and you seek suggestions for the giftee, here are New Atlas' curated picks for must-try Gear VR content.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,500 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
There's no shortage of zombies and first-person shooters in virtual reality, but this title blows similarly premised Gear content out of the water. The visuals are amongst the best we've seen in mobile VR, plus it has an actual storyline.
You play a special agent equipped with a smart visor, assorted weaponry, and time-traveling DNA so you can rewind in the event you fall victim to the undead. In addition to hordes of zombies, you're up against the evil Dr. Monday, the mad scientist behind the apocalypse. A father-and-daughter "good guy" team occasionally helps you along the way.
This game has campy horror movie vibes that make it more fun, and are also a good match with the capabilities of mobile VR. The need to reload your weapons helps create a sense of urgency and excitement, while the two movement modes (full experience and Comfort Mode) make it appropriate for seasoned gamers and VR newbies alike.
Drop Dead is US$9.99. Gamepad is supported but not required.
Generally, I'm no fan of puzzle games, but Land's End should please those who enjoy chasing riddles. It walks the line between intuitive and opaque, intriguing and relaxing.
Like many of our picks for top mobile VR content, it does a lot with a little. The graphics and gameplay are simple so as not to tax the system (or the user), but they're reimagined in a manner worthy of the 360-degree space.
Like other well-known puzzle games before it, you're trying to escape an eerie isolated island (with a very tranquil color scheme, I might add). Use your head movements to navigate from place to place and solve puzzles to remove barriers. You'll need to be able to look around you freely, but you won't be subject to the VR-induced dizzies.
Land's End is $5.99. No controller or touchpad required.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Here's a rarity amongst VR games: A local multiplayer game that only requires one headset. The player wearing the headset is the Bomb Diffuser, who is faced with a ticking time bomb. The player(s) without the headset may access the bomb defusing instructions (which are available at BombManual.com) but they can't see the bomb itself. It's their job to talk the Bomb Diffuser through the dismantling process.
Keep Talking might not be visually advanced, but it's a terrific party game and a very accessible way to introduce others to the world of VR. It also uses VR's isolating aspects to an advantage. $9.99; gamepad supported but not required.
Adventure Time: Magic Man's Head Games
This silly, family-friendly third-person 3D platformer is a gentle introduction to VR. It should please fans of the Adventure Time franchise and bop-'em-on-the-head-style gamers alike.
You can finish this title in an hour or less, but it's still cute, silly, easy on the eyes, and inspired. Gamepad required; $4.99.
Mobile VR is full of haunted house-like scare tactics. Cheap thrills are a hack to make you feel more immersed without requiring a more expensive, higher-powered VR setup – or more engrossing gameplay.
While Dreadhalls does engage in this type of tomfoolery, it's the scariest of the bunch. The premise isn't terrifically novel – you wake up in a dark dungeon from which you need to escape. But when the villains start appearing, you may find yourself squealing and whipping off your headset.
Plus, it requires you to stand up and turn around in real life; it doesn't just plant a 360-degree world in front of you. That makes it a good choice for the wireless Gear VR, and certainly a good value for $4.99. Gamepad required.
Herobound (Spirit Champion, First Steps and Gladiator)
Herobound is the closest thing that Gear VR has to a saga or franchise. Your character is a petite goblin fellow (you play him in the third person) heavily inspired by characters like those in Legend of Zelda.
Spirit Champion, our favorite of the Herobound games, is a full-on role playing game where you're out to save the world (naturally). Start off in your own village and explore the lush and lovely cartoon world around you. Your ultimate goal is to put the vindictive Spirit of Fire back in his place. Eradicate foes with your sword and arrows, learning combo moves and talking to other characters along the way.
The secondary versions of Herobound, First Steps and Gladiator, are free mini versions of the full-length adventure game. In Gladiator, you can battle your friends in VR using detailed, well-done goblin avatars. First Steps is a free demo where you can get a taste of the game play and determine whether you want to pay $9.99 for Spirit Champion. All three require a gamepad.
An on-rails shooter in VR feels something like a slow-moving Disneyland ride combined with paintball. That's Viral in a nutshell: There's something immensely satisfying about flinging balls at little red and green robots, and seeing them flail like ragdolls (the game is physics-based) as you knock them off their platforms.
Viral costs $4.99 and uses a gamepad.
This hacking-themed strategy/puzzler game with Tron-like graphics is smart, fun and addictive. It's one of the best examples of working within the confines of the Gear's more limited horsepower to deliver something that you can play for hours.
Darknet rings up for $9.99 and uses a gamepad or touchpad.
The mobile counterpart to Rift/Vive game Eve: Valkyrie, the simpler Gunjack puts you in the turret of a spaceship as you fend off pesky attackers. When you think about it, the core gameplay isn't radically different from Atari classic Space Invaders, but the more lifelike medium of VR breathes new life into the zap-zap genre.
This one is also $9.99, and you can use either a gamepad or the Gear VR's built-in touchpad.
The Gear VR has plenty of casual-gamer experiences, but if you have an inner geek just waiting to come to the surface, this CCG (collectible card game) come-to-life is one of your best bets.
Dragon Front is free with in-app purchases; gamepad is optional.
Archer E. Bowman
It doesn't match the physical immersion of the HTC Vive's archery mini-game in The Lab, but this simple, first-person, tower-defense game is still worth playing, as you rain a hellfire of arrows on attacking goblins.
Archer E. Bowman costs $4.99 and gives you the option of gamepad or touchpad control.
This title is much better on the Rift (performance can be choppy at times on the less-powerful Gear), but it's still a fun blend of tower defense, action/brawler and Angry Birds-like tower smashing.
The game costs $9.99 and requires a gamepad.
This one is very similar to Viral: Move along on-rails, shoot balls to break obstacles. Only here your steel spheres are smashing panes of glass instead of robots. Again, hard to explain why, but this is curiously satisfying.
Smash Hit is a mere $2.99 and uses gamepad or touchpad.
A bullet explodes out of a gun barrel, careening towards its target. Only here, you are the bullet: Slow down time, bend around corners and try to avoid hitting an innocent, as you inch towards the heart of your intended kill.
Drift costs $9.99 and gives you the option of gamepad or touchpad.
Sort of an unofficial (and much more basic) mobile counterpart to Oculus Rift title The Unspoken, Wands puts you in magic duels with other online players, as you teleport from spot-to-spot trying to gain the upper hand.
Wands is $5.99 and can use either gamepad or touchpad.
To say Esper 2 is like Gear VR's answer to Portal would be too high a compliment, but it does lean in that direction. Gifted with ESP, you levitate objects to solve puzzles.
This one costs $9.99 and lets you play more comfortably with a gamepad or more authentically to the telepathic experience (finger to right temple) with the touchpad.
Experiences & Apps
Notes on Blindness
This is a VR interpretation of one man's journals chronicling his descent into blindness. At first, we were incredulous that a visual medium could be applied to the concept of sightlessness. However, this experience proved to be educational and evocative despite the seeming incongruity.
The poetic, insightful narration is the big mover behind this experience, but the accompanying sights and sounds come together in harmony. Notes on Blindness is free; gamepad is not necessary or supported.
This app compiles the best nonfiction VR stories in one place. Media outlets like The New York Times, NBC and VICE are all producing VR news items and documentaries – Within is where to find them. For being a relatively new outlet, there's already a significant amount of quality content, and the app is free.
While Within compiles features and documentaries, NextVR focuses on live events like newscasts, sporting events and concerts. Marquee events like NFL games, the U.S. presidential debates, the U.S. Open and heavyweight boxing matches have already been broadcasted live via this free app, and there are several more in the pipeline.
This might only make sense if you really want to get away from your surroundings (college dorms, perhaps?), but you can watch Netflix in VR on the Gear. They aren't 360-degree videos, but you do get to stream movies and shows on a large-screen virtual TV, while sitting in a posh virtual loft.
Netflix is free.
Not for the claustrophobic, Ocean Rift can introduce you to underwater oceanic life – and also scare the bejeezus out of you, as you come face-to-face with virtual versions of marine animals that could enjoy you as a snack.
This undersea journey will cost you $9.99.
The Night Cafe: An immersive tribute to Vincent Van Gogh
This free experience is short on action but wins on style points, as you take a stroll through an amalgamation of Van Gogh's paintings, brought to life.
You can use the touchpad with The Night Cafe, but it works better with a gamepad.
Facebook has big plans for social VR, but is taking its time introducing them first-hand to the public. In the meantime, this third-party app can help. Drawing inspiration from Second Life, you can interact with real players in virtual hangout spots, using an avatar and live voice chat.
Altspace VR is free; gamepad is optional.