Virtual strategy: Five must-have games in VR's most surprising killer genre

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Strategy games can work incredibly well in VR – we break down five of the best(Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag)

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Our favorite VR games so far are the first-person, room-scale types of experiences you get with the HTC Vive. But of the less physical, seated, gamepad-based titles you can play on, well, pretty much every VR platform today, strategy games rise above the rest. Let's look at five killer VR strategy games worth checking out.

Even at this early stage, VR developers have thrown quite a few ideas against the wall – adapting longstanding genres like Mario-style platformers, Zelda-like epics, space dog-fighters and first-person shooters where you you feel like you're really trading gunfire.

But if your VR is going to revolve around parking your keister in a chair with gamepad in hand, strategy games make sense in ways that many of those other classic game genres don't. While Mario and Zelda types of games don't really have any practical reason to be in VR, strategy games become better in VR than they do anywhere else.

That's because there's usually a lot going on in your battlefield/map/base, requiring you to think quickly and manage multiple areas in short order. VR lets you do that without a bunch of tedious panning and zooming. Just turn your head to the right to get a look at your front line, back to the left to check on your home base, and hunch down to enjoy a closer look at the skirmish by your missile tower. You feel like you're an invisible giant towering over a living table top.

Let's look at five strategy games that you'll want to pick up soon after getting your first virtual reality headset.

Defense Grid 2

We absolutely love this game: Hidden Path's Defense Grid 2 for Oculus Rift gives the worn-out tower defense genre a fresh reboot for the VR age.

All the genre principles are the same (this is actually a VR adaptation of a 2D game you can play on any gaming PC), but looking down on the base as if you're really there, leaning in for close looks at different parts of the base, makes this genre feel like it was made for VR. All good virtual reality gives you that I'm in the game sensation, but tower defense, again, makes more practical sense here than anywhere else.

It also helps that Defense Grid 2 is an excellent tower defense game, far from the mailed-in, freemium mobile drivel that today's gamers associate with the genre. There's a story mode that's well-written and well-acted (it unfolds through voiced dialogue you hear while you're busy defending your keep), animations are fluid and lifelike and there are a wide variety of maps and game modes to keep you playing for many, many hours.

If you own an Oculus Rift, get this game.

The 2D (non-VR) version of Defense Grid 2 is available on Steam, but the VR edition is exclusive to the Oculus Rift (Oculus Store only).

Final Approach

Strategy games will most often be gamepad based, but Final Approach is a standing/room-scale game for the Vive and (later this year) Oculus Rift that uses hands motion controls. Though that makes it the least traditional strategy game in this list, it's still one of the most fun.

Final Approach tasks you with managing an airport, using both hands to trace paths for planes and helicopters – keeping everyone safe and happy, and preferably not exploding into a ball of flames. If the gameplay doesn't sound especially fun at first blush, don't worry: there's something surprisingly satisfying about managing a room-sized world full of tiny people. Maybe it's the whole I'm a giant/god thing. Power is fun.

Final Approach is available on the HTC Vive (Steam) and will launch for Oculus Rift later this year, after the Touch controllers arrive.

AirMech: Command

Another badass Rift strategy title, AirMech: Command takes the genre's headier unit-deploying strategy and adds the action-packed element of controlling a mech that transforms between jet and humanoid robot. Think real-time strategy (RTS) meets Transformers.

Since your mech is by far your most powerful unit, deciding where to move it is one of your most important tasks to manage. Juggling the army-level decisions with the more visceral mech battles makes for a nice contrast. It's a faster-paced, but no less intelligent, kind of strategy game.

Airmech Command is exclusive to the Oculus Rift.

Darknet

While the first two games put either a base or an airport on a virtual table below you, Darknet puts you inside hacked financial networks, where you lean back and pwn the enemy nodes all around you. The holographic visuals are simple, but it's the underlying strategy that, again, makes this one a blast. You'll need to manage resources, plot a course through enemy networks, balancing vulnerability vs. reward, in your quest of overtaking increasingly secure networks and getting filthy rich.

Darknet is available on Oculus Rift and Gear VR.

Tactera

Launching today on the Gear VR, Tactera is from E McNeill, the same developer that made Darknet. Like that title, it sticks with a holographic visual theme, but moves the strategy to the tabletop and the thematic backdrop to a wartime battlefield, complete with tanks, choppers and ICBMs.

The campaign mode consists of a larger game board, where you move units like chess pieces to try to spread your own brand of manifest destiny, wiping your opponent off the map. Up-for-grabs sections of the board zoom you into RTS battles, where you and the (pleasantly challenging) AI spar over outposts. The outcomes of these mini-battles dictate who overtakes each section of the map on the larger board. Great fun.

Tabletop strategy games practically beg for positional tracking, though, which lets you lean your upper body in different directions to pan and zoom across the battlefield. That makes the no motion tracking Gear VR an imperfect platform for the game. If you have both Oculus headsets, you're better off waiting for the Rift version.

Tactera is available now on the Gear VR and coming soon to the Oculus Rift.

For more on early VR, you can hit up our reviews of the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Gear VR.

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