The best VR games of all time
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Virtual reality is a young medium, but it's recently evolved from weird, barely-escapism-with-a-bucket-on-your-head to an astonishing means of experiencing interactive entertainment. Granted, we're still very, very far away from the total immersion simulations seen in films like The Matrix; however, I've never failed to witness a VR newcomer become hooked the first time they donned a Vive, Oculus or PSVR. My absolute favourite thing is to watch the initial reaction of 99.9% of every single test subject – they reach out a controller-less hand to try and grasp something that their sub-conscious *knows* couldn't possibly be there. It's a rare, child-like wonder that never gets old.
Better yet, after this decent amount of time, VR demos have started to splinter off and evolve into unique game genres, much like traditional video gaming did all those decades ago. 1:1 motion controllers have had their accuracy improved to the point where complex object manipulation has made puzzlers possible. A variety of control and in-game movement techniques have sprung up to make traversal in first-person shooting feel much more natural (and less up-chuck-worthy). There's also been a race to include VR support for one of the most natural fits out there – driving games played with a force-feedback steering wheel peripheral. Lastly, the VR space is being explored by creative indie developers in wild and weird ways. These are my favourite offerings: the abstract, mind-blowing trips that simply aren't possible anywhere else, short of LSD and probable arrest.
VR is here and, unlike its flash-in-the-pan first showing back in the early '90s, it's not going away. It's evolving, expanding, and if the impressive sales figures of the PlayStation VR are anything to go by, it's winning a foothold in consumer living rooms. That said, as with any new medium, the landscape is littered with failed experiments – awkward, buggy abominations you should avoid like venereal disease. Join with me now as I point out the first ports of call you ought to make. A virtual tour, if you will, of the very best of VR...
Just a quick note about myself, to let you know you're getting the highest quality advice available. I've been in the game(s industry) for just over a decade, writing and editing major publications. Before that, I picked up my first controller 30 odd years ago when I was 8. Since the resurgence of VR, I've been on the cutting edge, buying the first (ridiculously expensive) Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PSVR units that have become available to the public. You name the VR game, no matter how obscure, and there's a high-to-certain chance that I've sampled it. Years of exposing myself to experimental and untuned VR technology has given me a high tolerance to motion-sickness, so maybe factor that in. Basically, you never can tell what's going to make somebody spew. VR is a regurgitation lottery, folks.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Resident Evil 7 is at the top of our list, but as a Resi purist I must admit that it's far from perfect. The first two acts are bloody excellent examples of heart-in-your-throat survival-horror (with a large emphasis on the word "bloody"). However, the third act shifts gears into guns-blazing action that's reminiscent of the more modern Resi titles that put this franchise in a sales slump in the first place.
That said, Capcom's greatest series returns to terrifying form in this horrific trip to Louisiana to meet the Baker family – near-invincible freaks who love to stalk you through their fixer-upper mansion. While playing five hours in the first-person perspective is obviously a new way to experience fear in this franchise (and can be mighty up-chuck-worthy if you're just starting out on VR), Resi 7 is the most polished virtual reality title we've seen so far. Tense exploration, anorexic personal inventory space, limited save opportunities and bugger all ammunition will reduce you to harsh language and melee defence time and time again. Still, this is gaming at its most gripping and it's criminal that the box doesn't come with a heart attack or weak bowels warning.
Petrolheads take note: there are a number of great VR-enabled racing games that could have taken this spot, but I deliberately put the brakes on flooding this list with the one genre. Truth be told, this entry is more or less interchangeable with Project Cars 2 (and if you value graphics over physics). Instead, being a slave to how cars feel on the road, I've gone with Assetto Corsa as it takes the chequered flag in terms of sheer authenticity.
Also, and unlike most PC racing sims, this is a title that concerns itself more with road cars, something that gives Assetto more mainstream appeal. With a good force-feedback wheel at your mitts and a VR on your noggin, Assetto delivers an unparalleled feel and feedback from these cars you're probably more familiar with. Being able to look through the corner and pick your line is how the pros do it, and having that better sense of connection with the car makes every lap thrilling. This is especially true if you have a rig that lets you comfortably crank up the graphics to "very high" and enable 30 AI competitors on the track.
No Man's Sky
To be perfectly honest with you, No Man's Sky was an amazing proposition before it received virtual reality support. Imagine a near endless, procedurally generated universe where every rock, plant, alien, planet surface, solar system, etc is randomised. Now imagine you're your very own Captain Kirk, folded right into that never-ending universe thanks to the "there-ness" of VR.
Words can't accurately describe the many first time thrills that NMS can provide, and in a way that no other game out there can. The first time your brain realises that those impossibly picturesque twin planets on the horizon aren't part of a 2D matte painting skybox is one. Acquiring your first ship via grit, spit and resource mining, and then using it to exit the atmosphere of your starter planet and into space is another.
If you ever tire of playing Space Minecraft when you're terrestrial, or dogfighting with space pirates when not, NMS has decent multiplayer to explore. How you use or abuse that fact is up to you. Co-op fun with like-minded explorers? Or pretending you come in peace to begin with, only to shoot to kill?
Doom 3 VR Edition
If you're in the mood for Doom, you basically have two options on the VR side of things: Doom VFR and Doom 3 VR Edition. The former is basically a spin-off of the Doom 2016 revival that was all about "push forward" gung ho action. The latter is more or less the same Doom that scared the pants off the few folks who had the Pentium IV to run it in 2004.
Modern Dooms, VFR included, are power fantasies undertaken in a series of generously sized arenas. Doom 3 is a much more sedate and claustrophobic affair -- a video game homage to when crap first goes wrong for the space marines in Aliens. You're no Doom Slayer, marine. You're an FNG with a pistol and a penlight masquerading as a flashlight.
As you can imagine, that's pretty much perfect for VR. Twizling about doing 360 no-scopes with a Gauss cannon is a sure-fire ticket to go visit your nearest toilet for a spew. Inching your way through the labyrinthine innards of UAC's demon infested facility is timelessly entertaining.
I'd be lying if I said the graphics couldn't be better. But hey -- they do the job.What impressed me way more is that the dev took the time to beef up the guns (sound and gib potential both) to keep modern audiences happy.
Quick confession: here are totally some more advanced and better looking track-based VR titles I could have put in this spot. That said, this is something of a personal preference call. Mostly because I find driving a car like I stole it, along a goat trail filled with obfuscated corners and obstacles to be a more thrilling experience than going round and round a track. Could just be a me thing.
If it's your deal too, you wouldn't believe how beneficial VR is to taking a turn when you're powersliding a WRX around a hairpin. Traditional cockpit views don't let you peer out your side window, to better pick and work towards your exit point. There's a downside, of course: when you roll the car while playing on a TV it won't legit trick your brain into thinking you're going to die.
Codemasters hasn't cheated here, either. Instead of the token "VR tour" mode that some games try to go with, what's presented here is the whole game playable in VR. Every car, every destination, every mode and every race type. Even the hill climbs that will make you sweat buckets and make peace with your own personal god, just in case you have a cardiac halfway through.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR
The praise for Skyrim being one of the best open-world RPGs ever made has been dragon-shouted from the rooftops for years. But how does it translate to VR? Quite well, actually. Controlling it via a DualShock 4 is definitely preferred over two Move controller wands because teleporting about and the novelty of waggle-to-win swordplay with Move will bore you pretty quick. That said, using your head to intuitively aim ranged weapons feels great in either control option – it's just such a glorious sensation to finally be IN the world of Skyrim.
The biggest downside to most VR experiences is that they have anorexic runtimes. You get five hours at best – typically the battery life limit of your average Move or Aim controller – and then it's end credits time. Conversely, this game represents a medically ill-advised VR experience where you can spend hundreds of hours in another world. This is the real deal – a life-sucker of the highest order. A complete, epic fantasy masterpiece with an unparalleled sense of scale, depth and immersion. We may never see some of you again...
Welcome to another abstract title that defies logical explanation – but I'll give it a red-hot go anyway. Gameplay-wise, you're looking at a spiritual successor to Panzer Dragoon and Space Harrier, though the post-apocalypse and winged beasts have been switched out for super-networks and swarms of (often literal) bugs in a computer system. Hacking through these Tron-like dreamscapes will require quick thumbs, your head on a swivel, and anything you kill will reward your eyes and ears with technicolour explosions and instruments that layer in seamlessly over the thumping techno soundtrack. Yep, it's a "duuude, I can SEE the music" type deal that one can usually only experience with the assistance of extra-legal substances.
Rez Infinite also offers an exclusive treat for VR users in the form of "Area X", a new and impossibly beautiful level that detaches you from the rail and offers full flying capability. It's weaponised wow-factor, described by many who've played it as the current pinnacle of VR experiences. I tend to agree. Every PSVR owner needs this, because diving headfirst into Tetsuya Mizuguchi's masterpiece – a synesthesia rail-shooter that still sits at the apex of its genre – is an incomparable and sublime treat for your senses.
L.A. Noire Case Files
- RELEASE DATE:15/12/17
- DEVELOPER: Team Bondi
- PUBLISHER: Rockstar Games
Though it suffers from what I like to call VR-itis – a truncated runtime that seems to infect most first-generation titles – Rockstar Games is not the sort of dev to do thing by half measures. L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files is short, sweet, and a worthy addition to this super-developer's stable. It's also one of the most visually impressive VR experiences going, thanks to the leveraging of an impressive face/performance capture technique that never caught on elsewhere. Called "MotionScan", it delivers photo-realistic faces in an open-world 1940s detective thriller.
How realistic are these mugs? So life-like you'll be able to spot the smug smirk of a lying murderer (right before you smack it off). And that's just a part of the job when you fill the gumshoes of Detective Cole Phelps. Your mission to infiltrate the seedy underbelly of "Hollywoodland" will have you driving about town in an insanely detailed, pre-freeways LA, foiling robberies in shootouts and running down perps (mostly via your windmilling arm motions) to engage in fisticuffs. The action is solid, but it's the narrative and the dopamine you get from sniffing out clues and solving cases that elevate this from good VR to a truly arresting experience.
Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes
- RELEASE DATE:13/10/17
- DEVELOPER: Steel Crate Games
- PUBLISHER: Steel Crate Games
Here's the simple-but-addictive deal: one VR-enabled player is trapped in a virtual room with a ticking time bomb they must defuse. A bunch of non-controller-having yahoos in the surrounding living room are the "Experts" who must give quick and accurate verbal instructions on how to defuse said bomb by deciphering info found in few physically printed out bomb manuals. The Experts can't see the bomb on the TV, the victim has no bloody idea what the group of mental decathletes are reading. Fun times will be had by all.
There's no other gaming experience like this. It's the asymmetrical co-op game that will lure everybody at hand – even non-gamers – into playing a round. And, after many more rounds and a few hilarious hours, all of the now-converted stick-in-the-muds who resisted Nobody Explodes will suddenly want to know what the price of a VR unit is. Make no mistake: this is a better party entertainer than Monopoly, Uno, Twister and illicit substances combined.
- RELEASE DATE:28/5/16
- DEVELOPER: Crytek
- PUBLISHER: Crytek
Like all great games, The Climb offers a deceptively simple control scheme. Where you look is where your be-gloved hands will go; wherever those hands are is where you'll leap to. Beneath these mitts of yours are two stamina meters that deplete if you're holding onto something, and any hand that isn't on a ledge really ought to be chalked up to ensure its meter drains more slowly (failing that, you can regain energy by double-holding a ledge). Sounds easy? I guarantee you'll fall to your horrible death in no time. I also bet that you'll want another go. And another. And another.
The Climb is addictive as hell and surprisingly atmospheric for a game that essentially casts you as two disembodied hands. The environments are beautiful and relaxing, but it's mostly in the audio. Technically, the only sweat you're breaking is coming from wearing a headset for too long, but your avatar grunts, pants and painfully wheezes as you make your journey ever-upward. The vertigo is real, too, thanks to some blood-curdling screams and the ledges that require you to bodily leap like you're Stallone in Cliffhanger.
- RELEASE DATE:13/10/16
- DEVELOPER: Drool
- PUBLISHER: Drool
Anybody who loved rhythm games like Amplitude will get their rocks off here in Thumper, but it's also for anyone with an open mind and a love of phat, infectious beats. Picture this: you're screaming down a rollercoaster-like "note highway" that's tied to a melody. Zen moments of synesthetic bliss will ensue as you learn how to do rhythm violence with your space beetle avatar. Don't ask, just go with it – and while we're suspending our disbelief, you also need to accept that you're doing all this in order to stop a giant evil head from the future.
What Thumper lacks in a grounded, approachable premise it more than makes up for with a constantly-evolving move-set that allows you to violently punch through barriers interwoven with chunky bass lines. If you aren't tapping your feet in two minutes of starting this game – or gawping about at this technicolour world with your jaw on the floor – you may be clinically dead inside. Thumper is an odd creature that defies explanation, but it's a leap of faith you'll not regret.
Here's an unlikely formula that works: VR meets Zelda-like action-adventuring meets a series of third-person fixed cameras. Look, I know you've just come from spending hours swashbuckling in first-person Skyrim, but bear with me here – watching the action from the outside works incredibly well, too. Hours of play-testing (plus a handy lock-on function) has ensured that sword and shield combat in this game is still a razor-sharp experience. Better yet, Chronos differentiates itself from the crowd by offering a fascinating punishment for death: each time you're murdered, your 18-year-old hero ages a year.
Just like real life, levelling up the skills of a battered hero pushing 50 will require a lot more resources and time (in this case, XP). Fortunately, carking it does not reset all of the environmental puzzles you've spent ages scratching your head over – which is another endearing feature of the 20-hour Chronos experience. Thread all this through an incredibly compelling inter-dimensional narrative and shifting WTF worlds that simply ooze atmosphere, and this is an addictive sleeper-hit of a game that is criminally under-loved at the moment. Trust me. Chronos is very much worthy of your time.
- RELEASE DATE:5/4/16
- DEVELOPER: StressLessZero
- PUBLISHER: StressLessZero
A VR, post-apocalyptic world where every maniacal marauder rides around on a hover ship made out of junk? "Oh, what a day! What a LOVELY DAY!" These are the words you'll be screeching to yourself as you zip about a nearly-waterless world, shooting 15 other human players and trying not to get eaten by the giant sandworms that infest this perpetual desert. (Don't ask, just accept that the entire Earth is like Tremors now – hence the hover ships.)
Though solo play is possible, you're really gonna want to pair up with a buddy in online multiplayer. One of you drives to the loot spawn, the other player has twin revolvers, their head on a swivel for bandits, and they can also build barricades around the edge of the ship that you will (physically) duck behind when the lead comes your way. Better yet, Hover Junkers is constantly evolving with more weapons and better hover ships to discover and use in bloody death feuds against your fellow man. Honestly, if you have a Vive, you'd be madder than Max not to pull the trigger on this.
- RELEASE DATE:23/3/20
- DEVELOPER: Valve Corporation
- PUBLISHER: Valve Corporation
Whenever Valve makes a game -- any game, really -- the industry sits up and takes notice. The expectation is that something a few steps beyond whatever the cutting edge happens to be. Half-life: Alyx is such a thing -- a virtual reality action-adventure that has set the quality standard for the next few years, at least.
It makes me sad to type this, but forget about any dreams you may have of a VR-centric, weird titled product that serves as the long-awaited Half-life 3. Alyx is a prequel that drops you into the role of the titular resistance fighter who's doing her best to thwart the Combine, a ruthless cabal of interdimensional invaders.
What we have here is a game that is supported by a wide array of PC VR solutions, but to get the full effect you'll really want to play this with the "finger motion measuring" controllers of the Valve Index.
Gameplay-wise, you can expect a large smorgasbord. Everything from cover-based shooting, melee brawling, puzzling and even a bit of light stealthing. Also, fair warning to the faint of heart: while this isn't an outright horror game, jump-scares abound. Headcrab monsters -- facehuggers who love nothing more than pouncing at your melon -- are basically the perfect enemy for an immersive VR action game.
If you've been yearning for a good VR lightsaber game, Beat Saber is most certainly not it. There'll be no dismembering of stormtroopers here today. What you will be doing is cutting a lil' virtual rug as you effectively arm-dance your way through some sick beats.
The concept is as simple as it is addictive. You have a red saber and a blue saber, plus a whole bunch of blocks barrelling toward you along a sort of note highway that's not unlike the one made popular by Guitar Hero. Every block has a colour code and a direction imprinted on it. Swing your sabers accordingly as they reach you in time with the music.
Throw in the occasional need to step around virtual obstacles, and that's pretty much Beat Saber boiled down to its essence. Speaking of high temperatures -- expect a workout here, especially if you crank the difficulty up to the rhythmic equivalent of a Master Yoda sparring session.
Obviously, games like these live and die on their available soundtracks. Beat Saber is no Rock Band store, but there's a decent and rather eclectic mix of tunes to get your beat-tastic bisections on to.Amazon prices last updated on 6 December, 2021 at 11:02 pm
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