We spent much of this year trying out various virtual reality games on a variety of platforms. With Oculus putting the finishing Touch on the Rift with the launch of its excellent motion controls, there have been some big changes in our picks for the best VR games.
Superhot (Oculus Rift w/Touch controls)
Superhot builds on a simple premise: "What if time only moved when you moved?"
When you're still, so is time – giving you a chance to scan your surroundings and plot your next move, as would-be assassins charge towards you. As soon as you reach for your weapon, though, time will speed up accordingly, so you'll need to move efficiently, with good aim and a precise game plan.
Arizona Sunshine (HTC Vive, Rift w/Touch)
Perhaps VR's most immersive gaming world so far, story-based Arizona Sunshine drops you into the zombie apocalypse. There you'll need to scavenge ammo and refine your aim to make it through the world and find fellow survivors.
Has this genre been beaten into the ground? You bet your hot-wired Winnebago, it has. But teleporting through the world with the HTC Vive's 360-degree, room-scale VR casts a fresh gaze on the overused fictional setting.
Robo Recall (Rift w/Touch, 2017)
We're jumping the gun by putting Robo Recall on our list – it hasn't launched yet – but we've played the demo enough to say this free game will be a must-download for Oculus Touch owners.
The manifestation of 2015 demo Bullet Train, the arcade-style shooter has you squashing a robot rebellion by "recalling" the uprising robots one at a time: by either blasting them to smithereens or ripping them apart limb-from-limb. Great fun.
Edge of Nowhere (Rift)
If you put Naughty Dog's Uncharted series in VR and added a touch of the Scarecrow nightmare scenes from the Batman: Arkham series, you'd have Rift exclusive Edge of Nowhere. It's AAA, console-style gaming in virtual reality.
Insomniac's adventure is well-written with great voice acting. The Antarctic setting builds tension on its own, but the larger question is what's real and what are hallucinations inside protagonist Victor's head?
Being gamepad-based, you aren't using your own body. Like most of the Rift's launch games from earlier this year, this is a traditional, third-person video game presented in virtual reality.
Dead & Buried (Rift w/Touch)
It's an undead wild west shootout – using the Oculus Touch controls to fire a pair of six-shooters at fellow Rift owners. The system's new Guardian boundary system will come in handy here, as your bullet-dodging may have you bobbing and weaving, flailing about your room, forgetting the physical limits of your real surroundings.
A nice touch is a visual sightline emanating from the end of each gun (think laser pointer), letting you shoot from the hip with an accuracy Wild Bill Hickok would envy.
Damaged Core (Rift)
One of our favorite gamepad-based VR games is Damaged Core, a shooter where you leap from body-to-body, possessing an enemy only long enough to catch your other enemies off guard.
We're impressed with how developer High Voltage integrated the VR gameplay into the story from the ground up: It's the rare VR game where teleporting makes perfect sense inside the game world.
The Unspoken (Rift w/Touch)
Want to be like Gandalf or Dumbledore? Here's your chance, as you use the Rift's Touch controls to perform spell-casting gestures in one-on-one, online duels against other wizards (i.e. other Rift owners).
The key is paying close attention during the game's lengthy tutorial level, as you'll need to remember those conjuring gestures once you jump into fireball-flinging online showdowns.
Raw Data (Vive)
Raw Data is another fast-and-furious action title where you use the Vive's motion controls to either blast away at enemies or slice them in two with a katana blade.
It uses a wave-based progression system (staying inside one room, while onslaughts of enemies attack) rather than moving around in a more open environment, but it's still one of the more exhilarating short-burst games in VR.
I Expect You to Die (Rift w/Touch)
Another escape-the-room puzzle game: ho-hum, right? Once you move the genre to VR, though, using Touch controls to examine and manipulate objects brings fresh life to this familiar game category.
The campy, 1960s-era Bond motif also helps to keep things light and quirky. You'll need the comic relief, as you rack your brain trying to escape seemingly impossible predicaments. As for the title? Spot on: This is a game where the road to victory can only be paved on previous demises.
The Lab (Vive)
Valve's collection of mini-games makes for a great introduction to 360-degree, room-scale VR: the Vive's specialty.
Highlights includes an archery game that will have you channelling your inner Legolas and a slingshot contest that gives you a new perspective on Angry Birds, as you load the catapult with your own hands, while perched on your own room-sized platform.
Vanishing Realms (Vive)
Before Arizona Sunshine came along, Vanishing Realms was the best glimpse into broader-world action/adventure gaming in VR. Use your own hands and feet to walk around mythical worlds, swinging swords, gathering treasure and – my favorite – unleashing a hellfire of fury on your opponents with a magic wand.
It's still an incomplete Early Access title, but Vanishing Realms is the closest you can get to being inside a Zelda game, stepping into the hero's boots.
Star Wars' Trials on Tatooine (Vive)
This is a quick demo rather than a full game, but we couldn't resist including the first chance anyone has ever had to swing a real-looking, real-sounding, honest-to-goodness lightsaber. It's a short burst of VR fantasy fulfillment.
VR Sports Challenge (Rift w/Touch)
Originally developed as a gamepad-only title, the developers were wise to pivot this collection of over-the-top mini-games into an Oculus Touch title. If you're of a certain age, you may have flashbacks to 90s coin-killer NBA Jam when you do a three-times-around-the-back, twice-through-the-legs, 720° tomahawk jam (just try not to trip over the Rift's cord in the process).
The Gallery Episode 1: Call of the Starseed (Vive, Rift w/Touch)
The first episode of The Gallery plops you into something akin to an 80s or 90s adventure game from Sierra or LucasArts. Only instead of typing commands into a prompt or pointing-and-clicking, you're using your own body to explore the world, solving its puzzles and mysteries.
The Brookhaven Experiment (Vive)
You're dropped into a dark forest, with a gun, limited ammo and flashlight. Those creepy sounds in the distance? They're getting closer. And they're zombies. Very realistic, lifelike, make-you-crap-your-pants zombies.
Not for the faint of heart, to say the least.
Job Simulator (Vive, Rift w/Touch)
The cheeky humor of developer Owlchemy Labs drives this sandbox work simulation.
There are two ways to go about this: follow the rules and complete the tasks you're assigned (fun), or embrace unbridled freedom, flinging staplers at annoyed coworkers or pouring sriracha sauce into a car's gas tank (more fun).
Defense Grid 2 (Rift)
Strategy games work remarkably well in VR, as you can quickly pan and zoom using head movement, while gazing down upon the miniature world below. None fit this mold better than smartly-designed tower defense title Defense Grid 2.
Viral (Gear VR, Rift w/Touch)
A physics-based, on-rails shooter, there's something strangely satisfying about firing balls at little red and green robots, watching them fall like rag-dolls as they descend down an elevator shaft.
While fun on the Gear VR, the Oculus Touch version (Viral EX) lets you use hand controls to turn it into a more visceral experience.
Lucky's Tale (Rift)
What if you could play a Mario game in virtual reality? Lucky's Tale is essentially that.
It does have a slower pace (necessary to avoid motion sickness) and less enemy-character variety than you'd see in one of Nintendo's classics. But the polish and childlike joy are there in full force.
While Vanishing Realms puts you inside a Zelda-like adventure from a first-person perspective, Chronos has a hint of Zelda-like gameplay (room-to-room exploration, object-collecting, RPG upgrading) in a third-person gamepad title. Another case of a traditional-style video game that just happens to be in VR.
Castlestorm VR (Rift, Gear VR)
Castlestorm VR is proof that porting a non-VR game into VR can work, if only occasionally. It's equal parts action/brawler, tower defense and Angry-Birds-style tower-smashing, as you try to obliterate opponents' castles while protecting your own.
Eve: Valkyrie (Rift, Vive)
It can get repetitive quickly, but Eve: Valkyrie is still among the better gamepad-based VR titles, as you engage in space dogfights with online pilots.
Eagle Flight (Rift, Vive, PlayStation VR)
Along similar lines as Valkyrie, Ubisoft's Eagle Flight swaps out space-fighters for fowl, as you screech and claw at rival eagles while soaring above the empty, post-apocalyptic streets of Paris. Also gamepad-based.
The Climb (Rift w/Touch)
The Climb launched as a strangely-matched gamepad title, but developer Crytek recently updated it to be Touch-compatible, allowing you to use your hands to scale (and perhaps fall off of) mountains. It's a much more visceral and intuitive experience with Touch.
We'll keep this article updated as new content arrives and we get extended play, so be sure to check back frequently.
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