We already knew Oculus had some impressive – dare we say "magical" – games in the pipeline for the Rift. That belief was only reinforced after spending six full hours inside the VR headset earlier this week. These are our impressions of the 12 Oculus Rift games we went in-depth with.
At Oculus' Game Day event at GDC, we played 12 different Oculus Rift games (there are many more than 12 launch games, but these were our chosen ones for this showcase). These weren't just demos, though, like many of us played at E3 and other previous events; we played recent builds of the full games, spending half an hour "inside" each one.
There were quite a few indie developers at the showcase alongside a few big-name publishers, and the common theme we observed was an overlap between the two: many games combined the originality you'd expect from indie and the high-end polish you'd expect from AAA. Perhaps that's a reflection of Oculus itself, a one-time indie startup now enjoying the virtually unlimited resources of an enormous parent company.
Some of the games we played use the Oculus Touch motion controllers (above) and since they don't launch until the second half of 2016, it's a stretch to say those are "launch games." Still, for a group of launch window games, this may be the best batch we've seen on any platform.
If you're wondering why we had to wait until 2016 to see the consumer Rift, this is one of the biggest reasons. Oculus needed to give developers the time to do their thing.
There are still things we don't know, like how many hours of gameplay each will provide, and we also haven't yet played any of the full games from start to finish. Take these impressions for what they are: based on half an hour inside each game, and conversations with the developers.
If you like 3D platform games, we can pretty much guarantee Lucky's Tale is going to blow you away. It captures the best of the genre, in a way that would make Mario proud, all while forging new ground into VR.
Platformers have never been a big part of PC gaming; they're almost always tied to consoles (usually Nintendo-made ones, with horsepower that can't compete with other consoles, let alone gaming PCs). Even if you took the VR element out of the equation, a 3D platformer that looks this good and runs this smoothly is something we aren't used to seeing.
Adding VR to the mix drops you into Lucky's lush and colorful cartoon worlds: imagine being inside a Mario game, looking down on a 10-inch version of him from above. It also solves the camera issues that often plague platformers, as here the camera is your head. You can gaze at Lucky as he walks along, lean your head in for a closer look to help time a jump over a spiky log, or pause the game to look behind you and soak up the beautiful environments.
Add delightful and varied gameplay and the fact that Lucky's Tale is bundled with all Oculus Rift purchases, and you have one of several (potentially) generation-defining games for this first round of virtual reality hardware.
Dead & Buried
I love VR games that let me get my full body into the experience, which usually means standing or room-scale experiences that use motion controllers. Dead & Buried is a multiplayer shooter that falls squarely into that category.
In Dead & Buried, the Oculus Touch controllers become a pair of six-shooters, as you blast away at enemies in wild west ghost towns (literally, as your tutorial guide is a ghost). We played our match in a dimly-lit saloon, with two players hiding behind the railing of the upper balcony, and two hiding behind tables on the floor below. Similar to HTC Vive launch title Hover Junkers, I had loads of fun ducking behind cover, crouching down to steer clear of the hot lead zipping past my ears and, when the timing was right, emerging from the shadows to let my revolver have its say.
The more you can make VR a physical experience, the greater the sense of presence you're going to feel, and Dead & Buried lets you do that. Here I was crouching behind virtual cover, shooting down onto the saloon floor from the balcony above ... with absolutely no sense of my real physical surroundings:
While I had roughly a 8 x 4 ft. space to play in, it still wasn't quite what you'd normally call room-scale VR (more like small room-scale VR). There were a couple times when I bumped into an Oculus representative or made contact with a wall; situations like that make us wish the Rift had the Vive's Chaperone system, which alerts you when you're nearing the edge of your playing space. But anyone worrying about the Rift's large-scale tracking capabilities compared to the Vive's should know that I didn't have any headset or controller tracking errors whatsoever playing in this size of a space.
Edge of Nowhere
Insomniac's Edge of Nowhere feels like "Uncharted in VR" meets "The Last of Us in VR." Far more than the 5-10 minute chase scene demo we'd played at previous events, this 30-minute gameplay session had us climbing ice walls with a pick axe, sneaking around or slaughtering human-sized, insect-like beasts and, like Uncharted, making fingernail-biting escapes on collapsing set pieces.
Edge of Nowhere is less a virtual reality simulation and more a traditional video game that happens to be in VR. These games work surprisingly well though; its polish and gameplay strike us as more like a second- or third-generation game than a launch title.
Edge of Nowhere showed us all the things that define a high-quality action/adventure game: fun and varied gameplay, stunning visuals, believable voice acting and an intriguing storyline. Are you really seeing these monsters as you descend further and further into the snowy and icy mountains, or are you perhaps just descending further and further into the depths of your own madness? Here's to hoping the game leaves that answer open for interpretation.
We finally got to experience live multiplayer in CCP's space shooter Eve: Valkyrie this week, and it's going to be another defining experience for the Rift (like Lucky's Tale, it's also bundled with the headset).
It's one of the few launch games for the Rift that's both seated/gamepad-based and a first-person simulation. There's still a connection between your real hands and virtual hands, though, as the Xbox One controller becomes the ship's controls.
Controls took a little getting used to, but we'd expect this to be the Rift launch game that tallies up the most hours of gameplay. Online matches mean there's no limit to the time you can sink into it, and it's loads of fun zipping around space, locking your targeting onto an enemy ship using head movement, and blasting a missile in its direction as you spin off to find another bad guy.
A first-person mountain-climbing sim in virtual reality is just as thrilling as you'd expect it to be. The Climb is ultimately a strategy game, as you choose your route along the mountainside (there's always more than one way to go) and, even more importantly, figure out exactly how to position each hand as you search for the next climbable ledge.
The views are stunning, but be sure you have two hands firmly holding onto rock or your sightseeing may be the end of you.
Strangely, The Climb uses a gamepad rather than Oculus Touch. Apparently developer Crytek was working on the game before Touch was announced and ended up sticking with the original focus. It works well as is, using the trigger buttons on the Xbox One controller to grip each hand (you stand, reach and lean with your own body to move towards the next ledge), but Oculus Touch support would be the more logical long-term destination.
I Expect You to Die
It's only appropriate that a game named after one of the most quoted lines in the James Bond canon would put you in the shoes of a secret agent trying to weasel his way out of various over-the-top, espionage-based predicaments.
Schell Games' I Expect You to Die is a first-person simulation/sandbox/puzzler, using the Oculus Touch controllers. Each environment you find yourself in, whether it's the driver's seat of a Sean Connery Bond-era car or an office inside the lair of an evil mastermind, tasks you with figuring out how to do use the objects in your environment to escape without setting off an alarm, or steal an important item without triggering the release of poisonous gas.
Oh, and because this isn't room-scale, you use telekinesis to grab far-away objects. After using room-scale VR on the Vive, levitating objects from a static position feels like a trick to mask the Rift's more stationary marketing focus (at least at launch), but it doesn't detract much from the gameplay.
Similar to Job Simulator, there's great fun in trying to solve the puzzles straightforwardly, and maybe even more fun in screwing around inside the VR sandbox. If you haven't tried the Rift or Vive, manipulating ordinary objects with your hands in VR (via Touch or Vive controllers) is more fun than you'd expect.
Games like I Expect You to Die leave us wishing Oculus Touch were coming sooner than it is. The third-person Rift games available at launch look terrific, but a VR platform doesn't feel quite complete until you bring these kinds of first-person experiences into the fold.
Fantastic Contraption is a wacky (and quite awesome) contraption-building game for Oculus Touch. But since it's also bundled with HTC Vive pre-orders, Oculus won't be the first place to enjoy this delightful standing or room-scale experience.
Your objective is to get the jelly ball back into its jelly home sitting far ahead of you, by piecing together balloons, wooden sticks, wheels and other objects to make a unique contraption that will (at least in theory) roll the jelly ball over to the right spot. You can resize pieces in mid-air by stretching or scrunching their ends, toss them around or bang them onto each other to make some impromptu music ... there's plenty to keep you entertained here in addition to the colorful and creative engineering.
Fantastic Contraption sounds absurd, but some of the best VR experiences are just that. See also Job Simulator and I Expect You to Die.
Similar to Dead & Buried, we spent half an hour walking around a (roughly) 8 x 5 ft. (small room scale) space without any tracking problems. Also like the Dead & Buried demo, though, I did bump into a monitor and a member of the development team once or twice, again emphasizing just how valuable the Vive's Chaperone system will be.
VR Sports Challenge
This is your chance to be the NBA, NFL or NHL superstar you've always dreamed of being. This former gamepad title now uses Oculus Touch, as you use your virtual hands to throw and catch football passes, drain threes like Steph Curry (though half of my shots sailed pathetically into the stands) or try to throw down a vicious 360-degree, through the legs two times, around the back three times, reverse two-handed jam (I got a little carried away with this very dunk and knocked the Rift completely off my head).
There's a touch of NBA Jam-like arcade goofiness to the whole thing – like icicles appearing on the rim if you miss a few three-pointers or exploding in fire when you finally make one. VR Sports Challenge looks like a fun party game; we can see friends trading turns with the headset, trying to beat one another's scores. Consider it the burgeoning Wii Sports of VR.
Defense Grid 2
Even if you grew bored with the tower defense genre years ago, VR is going to make it worth another look – as it moves off of 2D screens and onto a living board game of sorts. There's something immensely satisfying about looking down on the virtual landscape, as you place turrets and cannons to try to take out the tiny invaders and protect your resources.
Though Defense Grid 2 is a seated, gamepad-based experience, positional tracking is a big part of its appeal. Sit up straight or lean back to get a long view of the entire table-sized tower, or lean closer to get a better look at a particularly troublesome group of invaders. You can also take it a step further and toggle a battlefield-level view.
There's a lot of depth here, with a variety of towers, enemies and upgrades, and the expected steady rise in difficulty as you progress.
I've never played a CCG (fare thee well, geek cred) so I had a steep learning curve when sitting down to try Dragon Front. But developer High Voltage (maker of fellow Rift title Damaged Core) tells us its gameplay is exactly what you'd expect if you put genre staples like Magic: The Gathering (or any of hundreds of other examples) inside a virtual world.
During my half-hour tutorial of the turn-based fantasy strategy game, I sat atop a tower, placing armies, casting spells and trying to outwit my opponent. Based on the level of detail on offer, we'd be surprised if fans weren't pleased with this animated virtual version of the genre, but in this case we'll have to let those who know CCGs try it and speak for themselves.
Ubisoft's Eagle Flight is a multiplayer flying game that didn't make me feel sick at all. That's surprising, considering how quickly I was swooshing through the air and dive-bombing through narrow passageways in buildings. Part of that may be because, while it's almost a first person perspective, you get a slight glimpse of the eagle you're controlling, right around where your eyes would normally see your own nose – this serves as a stabilizer.
The multiplayer match we played in was an avian version of capture the flag ("capture the prey"). A dead rabbit (or another critter that bit the dust) will pop up at a random point throughout the human-less Paris you're inhabiting; two teams (3 vs. 3, at least in our case) then race to bring the prey back to their own nest. A battle screech is your defense, as you emit a sonic wave that can take out the opposing team's birds from distance. It was pretty realistic up to that point, but it's understandable Ubisoft needed to include a long-range attack.
I was convinced I sucked at this game, until I found out afterwards that two Ubisoft developers were part of the match (cheaters). Eagle Flight should join Dead & Buried and Eve: Valkyrie as early multiplayer highlights for the Rift.
Smashing the Battle
We've already seen 3D platformers, Uncharted-like action/adventure epics and tower defense games in our Rift roundup; Smashing the Battle brings the Gauntlet and Rogue style of top-down hack-and-slash game into VR.
Gameplay is fast, with a variety of special abilities to spend skill points on (including landmines, a magnet that sucks all your enemies into one area and an explosive lightning strike). And as you ascend to the next level, you can look down over your shoulder and see all the levels you've beaten hanging down below you. Easier appreciated first-hand than described, but it's a nice use of VR.
This won't be the first game on our list when the Rift launches, but it could be fun in short bursts. It will also only cost US$20.
Amazingly, Smashing the Battle was developed by one man, South Korean developer Dae Hoon Han. Oculus' showcase included companies as big as Ubisoft and as small as this one-person operation – just one example of why VR is such an exciting place to be right now.
Full list of Oculus Rift launch window titles:
Pricing and release date included where it's known:
ADR1FT - $19.99 (March 28)
Adventure Time: Magic Man's Head Games - $4.99 (March 28)
AirMech: Command - $39.99 (March 28)
Albino Lullaby - $9.99 (March 28)
Audio Arena - $9.99 (March 28)
Project CARS - $49.99 (March 28)
Chronos - $49.99 (March 28)
Darknet - $9.99 (March 28)
Dead Secret - $14.99 (March 28)
Defense Grid 2 Enhanced VR Edition - $29.99 (March 28)
Dreadhalls - $9.99 (March 28)
Elite Dangerous: Deluxe Edition - $59.99 (March 28)
Esper 2 - $9.99 (March 28)
Eve: Valkyrie Founders Pack - bundled (March 28)
Fly to KUMA - $14.99 (March 28)
Eve: Gunjack - $9.99 (March 28)
Herobound: Spirit Champion - $9.99 (March 28)
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes - $14.99 (March 28)
Lucky's Tale - bundled (March 28)
Omega Agent - $14.99 (March 28)
Radial G - $24.99 (March 28)
Rooms - $14.99 (March 28)
Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe VR - $9.99 (March 28)
Smashing the Battle - $19.99 (March 28)
Vanishing of Ethan Carter - TBA (March 28)
Vektron Revenge - $9.99 (March 28)
VR Tennis Online - $24.99 (March 28)
Pinball FX2 VR - $14.99 (March 28)
BlazeRush - TBA (March 28)
Windlands - $19.99 (March 28)
The Climb - $49.99 (April)
Dead & Buried - TBA (TBA)
Fantastic Contraption - TBA (TBA)
I Expect You to Die - TBA (TBA)
Job Simulator - TBA (TBA)
Rock Band VR - TBA (TBA)
VR Sports - TBA (TBA)
Damaged Core - TBA (Spring)
Dragon Front - TBA (Spring)
Eagle Flight - TBA (Fall)
Edge of Nowhere - TBA (Spring)
For more on the Rift, you can check out the five things we learned from our recent Game Day demos.