Though there's already one great mobile virtual reality headset you can buy today, the release windows for the big PC- and console-based headsets dictate that 2016 will be the year VR goes mainstream. But once you get a VR headset, what kinds of gaming experiences can you expect to have with it? Join Gizmag, as we preview some of the biggest upcoming virtual reality games.
Update: Over halfway through 2016, we're well past the preview stage and now have a list of favorite early VR titles.
Lucky's Tale (Oculus Rift)
You might not think a Mario 64-style 3D platformer would be a great fit for virtual reality, but Lucky's Tale has consistently been one of our favorite VR games to demo. The Oculus Rift exclusive has all the charm and delightful level design of a Nintendo classic, but with polished (and gorgeously-drawn) PC visuals that no current Nintendo system can handle.
Like all VR, you're "inside the game," looking down on our little fox hero, as he squashes bad guys, avoids spinning spikes and jumps across tiny islands. You can also use the Rift's positional tracking to lean in for a closer look at the furry protagonist, to help time your jumps and tail-spin attacks just right.
Eve: Valkyrie (Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR)
This one has been fun to watch evolve, as we first played an early iteration of the Eve VR title on a Rift "Crystal Cove" prototype at CES 2014. In the most recent demos we tried this year, the MMO had jumped to a AAA level of polish, as you sit in the cockpit of a starship (in first-person perspective) and dogfight with attacking ships.
When the Oculus Rift launches (presumably in Q1 2016) every headset will come packaged with a copy of Eve: Valkyrie. The game will also be available for PlayStation VR (where it will likely be a separate purchase).
Rez Infinite (PlayStation VR)
Sega Dreamcast cult classic – and ultra-stylistic – rail-based shooter Rez is springing back to life for the virtual reality medium it was seemingly destined for, as a PlayStation VR exclusive.
Rez is a franchise more easily experienced than explained, so you'll want to check out this video to get a sense of its trippy polygonal worlds:
Edge of Nowhere (Oculus Rift)
At both E3 and Oculus Connect, we played demos of this third-person action/adventure title, and we can't wait to play the full version. You're a one-man search party, venturing into Antarctic mountains to find a missing expedition team.
Edge of Nowhere has some Uncharted-esque elements, like collapsing environments and death-defying leaps across chasms. But there's a psychological twist as well, as you battle surreal dangers that may or may not be figments of protagonist Victor's mind, as he fights not just to survive, but to also fend off insanity.
Like Lucky's Tale, the game's camera movement hits a nice balance: moving just enough to push the action forward and give you a thrilling tingle in your stomach, but not fast enough to cause any motion sickness (at least not in our demos).
Chronos (Oculus Rift)
Chronos is another Rift exclusive from Gunfire Games, developers of one of our favorite Gear VR titles, Herobound: Spirit Champion. Like that mobile title, Chronos uses a room-to-room gameplay mechanic, only with much more advanced and realistically-drawn visuals.
We've only played a short 10-minute segment of this one, but the company says it uses an aging mechanic, where your RPG progression doesn't just advance your abilities; it also moves the protagonist into different stages of his life (ending as a wise old wizard, perhaps?).
Job Simulator (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR)
Sometimes all VR needs to do is put you in a sandbox and let you screw around. The self-described "tongue-in-cheek" Job Simulator uses each platform's motion sensing controls (Oculus Touch on the Rift, PlayStation Move on PS VR or the Vive's unnamed motion-sensing controls) to let you interact with ordinary workplace objects in environments like an office cubicle or kitchen.
There are basic tasks that you're supposed to do in these virtual office spaces, but most of the fun is in raising all kinds of hell. Throw knifes at walls, bang spoons against hanging pots, chuck coffee mugs into opposing cubicles ... it sounds elementary (and, well, it is), but, when it all feels incredibly lifelike, it's loads of fun.
This one was most impressive when demoed on the HTC Vive, where we could physically walk around a large space (an HTC demo trailer in the real world; a kitchen in the virtual world). But two Oculus positional sensors spread out appropriately will likely achieve a similar result.
Golem (PlayStation VR)
We don't know a lot about this one yet, but a great trailer can do wonders for getting our imaginations firing on all cylinders.
There's a clever parallel going on here, as a little girl in her room controls a huge golem figure wandering through mystical worlds, seeing what it sees with her glowing eyes. At the same time, you sit in your room controlling the golem with the PS Move controllers, seeing what it sees with your glowing PS VR headset.
Minecraft (Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR)
In the first half of 2016, a VR version of Minecraft will launch on both of Oculus' platforms, letting you jump inside the blocky sandbox world to do the usual mining of materials, crafting of tools and running away from zombies and creepers.
If you have any doubts about how well Minecraft will fare in VR, perhaps you'll rest easier knowing that gaming legend, Doom creator and Oculus CTO John Carmack is personally working on the project.
No trailer for Minecraft VR just yet
Rock Band VR (Oculus Rift)
Games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero defined the rhythm game genre in the previous decade, but, despite their guitar-shaped controllers, they required quite a bit of imagination to feel like you were really rocking out at a concert.
We imagine this VR version of Rock Band, a Rift exclusive, will change that. At the very least, its trailer gave us Oculus founder Palmer Luckey's (unapologetically hammy) acting debut:
100 Ft. Robot Golf (PlayStation VR)
The title of this quirky PS VR exclusive says it all. You play as a giant Voltron-like robot who just wants to lower his handicap – even if it means taking down skyscrapers and wrecking half of civilization in the process.
Wayward Sky (PlayStation VR)
This game started as an early demo for the Gear VR (then called Ikarus) which was never made into a full game for Oculus' mobile platform. Its disappearance made a lot more sense after it reappeared as a PlayStation VR exclusive called Wayward Sky.
You find yourself in a floating city in the clouds, where you shift between third- and first-person points of view, hiding from robots and using cranes to remove obstacles, as you scramble to save your sweet ol' pops.
The Climb (Oculus Rift)
There are some types of games that would be terrible on 2D screens, but that become thrilling experiences once you put them inside virtual reality.
... we expect the rock-climbing title The Climb to be one of those games:
The Assembly (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR)
We spent about half an hour playing this game at E3 last year, and it shows us a glimpse of how well adventure games can work inside VR. The slower-paced genre, which enjoyed its peak in the 80s and 90s, could see a renaissance, as virtual reality has a way of making atmospheric first-person games work in ways that even today's attention spans can stay focused on.
In The Assembly, you find yourself in the mysterious headquarters of a (possibly sinister) organization – with a character-switching element that has you swapping between two different protagonists.
Modern Zombie Taxi Co. (PlayStation VR)
This quirky PS VR exclusive has you, as possibly the last surviving human on earth, taxiing around zombies – who tumble like rag-dolls inside your cab.
It looks like a fun twist on the racing genre:
Eagle Flight (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR)
Ubisoft's Eagle Flight puts you in the talons of an eagle living in a post-apocalyptic Paris. Explore the city, attacking other birds and feeling the (hopefully not nausea-inducing) sensation of soaring through the air in VR.
*Fingers-crossed pick: Bullet Train
Bullet Train was a knock-your-socks-off Oculus Touch demo we played earlier this year, which cleverly worked around VR motion sickness concerns by using teleporting and time-slowing mechanics.