The best VR games
of 2017

The games that beat the heck out of regular realities.

By Adam Mathew

Hold onto your lunch, motion-sickness sufferers. We're now throttling into the strongest year of virtual reality gaming yet. Ever since 2016, VR is no longer synonymous with those heavy apparatuses of the 1990s which facilitated 3D worlds that looked like a dog's breakfast. Modern virtual reality gaming is beautiful, engaging and going from strength to strength. The early issues of player movement controls and wooziness are being solved as each month passes. Nobody's figured out how to stop the hat-hair.

The three main competitors in the market are the two PC-based offerings known as HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, plus Sony has been going great guns with its PlayStation VR, a considerably less expensive option for the PS4 console. The first two are, admittedly, a pain in the butt to set up, but, once everything is in its place, they offer the best visual experiences in all of VR. Sony's offering is more or less the opposite of that formula: it can be hooked up in less than 10 minutes, but you'll be taking a graphical hit for the low-cost and convenience.

This is all much of a muchness, of course. The true decider of any gaming system should be the gaming experiences it offers. In 2017, VR enthusiasts from all sides did extremely well thanks to each unit's respective libraries growing quite nicely. The enthusiasm and support for VR is, at the very least, holding steady, and aside from the odd exclusive title in this list we have no competitor that's showing a clear dominance. Yet.

Our justification

I've been asked to throw a paragraph in here to tell you a little bit about myself. Makes perfect sense, because you really ought to know the credentials of any person curating a list. Basically, I've been gaming my entire life, and I'm old. Nearly 40, in fact. I've had the pleasure of witnessing gaming transition from the faux-3D vector-scapes of Battlezone in the arcades of the 1980s to the full immersion of...well, Battlezone VR, in my own home. I was on board with virtual reality gaming since the first Rift units went out, and Sony was good enough to send me one of the first PSVR review units in Australia (a side benefit of having spent 15 years in the industry, writing about and critiquing video games). Trust me. I've been around – possibly for too long. I've seen it all. I know my stuff.

10. Star Trek: Bridge Crew

Platforms
PSVR, Oculus, HTC Vive
Release date
30/05/17
Developer
Red Storm
Publisher
Ubisoft

Energise your VR headsets and prepare to board the U.S.S. Friendship in what is the best multiplayer experience in years. Via the magic of PSVR (or Oculus Rift / HTC Vive) you’re plopped into the captain’s chair of a spin-off vessel in the J.J. Abrams timeline. If you’re lucky, positioned around you are three human-player shipmates, online and VR’d up in their own living rooms. Their virtual arms will furiously tap away on their control panels, they’ll turn in their chairs to address you and their mouths will puppet away whenever an order (or cheese ball Star Trek quote) is spoken into their mic.

Together you’ll need to become very specialised cogs in a larger machine. Somebody has to freak out whenever the engines “cannae do it” (Engineering), possibly because somebody else has stolen all the power to phase/torpedo everything in sight (Tactical), and, lastly, you’ll need somebody to drive this thing and forget where reverse is (Helm).

Honestly, I never thought a game that is about – more or less – pressing buttons and shouting at inept people could be this much fun. But here we are.

9. To The Top

Platforms
Oculus, HTC Vive
Release date
17/05/17
Developer
Electric Hat Games
Publisher
Electric Hat Games

Confession: professional climbing (and indeed any activity which requires strenuous movement) is something I avoid. That said, even my slovenly self became addicted to To The Top, a VR platformer that gives you the freedom to ninja across 35 obstacle courses with superhuman abilities. Basically, you grab a surface with two hands, look to where you want to leap next and when you release you'll slingshot right over. Finessing a better landing is possible using mid-air control, and chaining these moments together quickly increases the speed and power of your next leaps.

That simple framework becomes insane amounts of fun when you throw in "skating" surfaces that make you slide (all handily colour-coded green), plus there's wall-run-enabling conveyor belts, Sonic-esque loop de loops and Jet Hands that let you get your Iron Man on. Honestly, the freedom of movement feels absolutely phenomenal. And the huge cherry on top is an 8-person co-op mode that hands you and your pals 25 dedicated levels and asks “who among you is the better Ninja Warrior?” This is gaming bliss.


8. Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes

Platforms
PSVR, Oculus, HTC Vive
Release date
13/10/17
Developer
Steel Crate Games
Publisher
Steel Crate Games

You couldn't get a more succinct, does-what-it says-on-the-tin description of a game than this one. A number of regular-reality players must aid a VR- ensconced player tasked with the defusal of an explosive package. And we're not talking simple “cut the blue wire, not the red one” stuff here. The complexity is considerable. Like, virgin-attempting-to-unhook-their-first-bra levels of difficulty.

Fortunately, the helpers have a (pre-printed out) manual that can explain what each of the switches and doodads mean and require from the VR player. That said, plot-twist: the support team are shown nothing on the TV, and the person hugging the bomb obviously can't go flicking through 23 pages of textbook. Trust me, if you've got the right crew – and not a bunch of trolls hoping to make you rage-out at deliberately incorrect advice – this is most hilarious party game since drunken Twister.


7. Fallout VR

Platforms
HTC Vive
Release date
13/12/17
Developer
Bethesda Softworks
Publisher
Bethesda Softworks

In Fallout VR it's the end of the world as you know it, but you'll feel fine (aside from a bit of motion-sickness). Because you're the Sole Survivor, a cryogenically frozen everyman (or woman) who's barely avoided a nuclear holocaust. Awakening in a madhouse future, you must begin your life anew in one of gaming's greatest open-world RPGs. What specific life you choose could be a myriad of different things, but I can pretty much guarantee there's a 100% chance of mutant-fueled violence in whatever course you plot.

Unfortunately, and unlike the controller-supporting Skyrim VR on PSVR, getting about requires you to either teleport about the world, or you can use the (slightly ungainly) trackpad. Beyond that, the ranged-weapon-heavy combat works much better than Bethesda's Skyrim port, and the bullet-time effect of the VATS combat system is empowering and never gets old. Fallout 4 in regular reality is hundreds of hours of fun. In VR, that experience becomes radder than a radscorpion.


6. Robo Recall

Platforms
Oculus
Release date
01/03/17
Developer
Epic Games
Publisher
Epic Games

The only thing more rapid fire than Robo Recall's gun violence is its hilarious one-liners. Much like a Blade Runner, you're a smart-mouthed robot programmed to obliterate hordes of your malfunctioning brethren via extreme prejudice and dual-wielded guns (that endlessly respawn into your hip holsters). Emptied one piece? Hurl it into an enemy's face and quick-draw a fresh attitude-adjuster. Or you can always reach out and biff somebody with a haymaker.

If pistols aren't doing the job against shielded foes, reaching to either of your shoulders will arm you with your pre-selected rifle or shotgun. Speaking of arming, using teleportation nodes you can flank your enemies, dismember them and beat them to death with their own limbs. Or, if you're in a Moe from The Three Stooges mood, you can grab enemies and knock their heads together. Robo Recall is short, but there's a lot of enemy attack pattern variation to cross you up, and, honestly, no VR-shooter has managed to deliver this much intensity and humour.


5. The Elder Scrolls Skyrim VR

Platforms
PSVR
Release date
17/11/17
Developer
Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher
Bethesda Softworks

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. Somebody at Bethesda saw that sad state of affairs, dragon shouted “oh, game on”, and now we all have the medically-ill-advised opportunity to spend hundreds of hours playing Skyrim in virtual reality. Yes, this is the complete, epic fantasy masterpiece with an unparalleled sense of scale, depth and immersion. From battling ancient dragons to exploring rugged mountains and putting baskets on NPCs heads so you can steal their stuff.

How does it translate? Well. The DualShock 4 is definitely the preferred option, because teleporting about and the novelty of waggle-to-win swordplay with Move controllers gets old pretty quick. That said, using your head to intuitively aim ranged weapons feels great in either control option, and it's just such a glorious sensation to finally be in the world of Skyrim. Every version before this might look a shitload better, but they feel like exploring via Google Street View compared to the there-ness of VR.

4. Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality

Platforms
HTC Vive, Oculus
Release date
20/07/17
Developer
Owlchemy Labs
Publisher
Owlchemy Labs

Fair warning: you'll get so much more out of Virtual Rick-ality if you're a sharp-eyed fan of the TV show (and, really, why haven't you binge-watched this series yet?) If you are already on board, great! Expect all the references. Like using your Morty hands to pick up the latest issue of a Ball Fondlers comic, trying to open fake doors or just getting chewed out by Rick because you're not using the plumbus in his garage correctly.

So what the heck are we looking at in gameplay terms? It's more or less a themed version of Job Simulator: you're a series of expendable clones working for your mad scientist grandfather. The experience kicks off with day-to-day busywork (like doing laundry) and this quickly ramps up to solving puzzles, environmental exploration and the occasional shooting gallery. That may not sound like a Morty mindblower on paper, but the on-point comedic writing of Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon turns the mundane into the magical. Funniest game in years. And now I just need somebody to make Roy.


3. Lone Echo

Platforms
Oculus
Release date
01/07/17
Developer
Ready at Dawn
Publisher
Oculus Studios

If we're being brutally honest, the first wave of VR games were little more than tech demos. But, now that the depths of the medium have been plumbed a little, we're starting to see higher-quality, full-experience games like this, the story-driven Lone Echo (and its multiplayer component Echo Arena). This surprisingly emotional tale puts you into the role of Jack, a robo companion of Liv, a human astronaut who's troubleshooting a failing spaceship orbiting Saturn. In no time you can expect to get “jet hands” propulsion that delivers wonderful zero-G flight, light puzzling and, in a VR rarity, you're given a voice and dialogue options.

Unfortunately, your conversations don't branch the events into new and meaningful paths, but there's a decent five-hour campaign here that will test your hand-eye (jet-hand-eye?) coordination in some tough “the walls are lava” moments. Throw in the aforementioned multiplayer offerings – that include a bunch of ridiculously entertaining 3v3 Rocket League-style modes – and this really is an out-of-this-world package that runs rings around the competition.


2. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Platforms
PSVR, HTC Vive, Oculus
Release date
24/01/17
Developer
Capcom
Publisher
Capcom

Capcom’s greatest series returns to terrifying form thanks to a trip to Louisiana to meet the Baker family, who stalk you around their fixer-upper mansion. While playing five hours in first-person perspective is obviously a new way to experience this series (and can be spew-worthy if you're a VR newbie), Resi 7 is still very much about ye olde school survival-horror values. Tense exploration, piddly personal inventory space, limited save opportunities and the state of available ammunition frequently diminishes your options to bludgeoning or harsh language. Control-wise, the DualShock 4 copes well with both ranged and up-close combat - you'll not miss your PS Move controllers.

The third act shifts gears into some guns-blazing action that's reminiscent of more modern Resi titles. Not a deal-breaker, but the lovely stealth intensity is sorely missed. (Note: if you're after that kind of kick-ass, punch-zombies-in-the-face action, there's some free Chris Redfield DLC worth equipping.) Whatever your preferred approach to awful situations may be, Resident Evil 7 delivers. Capcom successfully reanimates a dead series and, if you have the requisite stomach and brown undies for it, this is a must for VR horror fans.

1. Minecraft VR

Platforms
HTC Vive, Oculus, Gear VR
Release date
04/09/14
Developer
Mojang
Publisher
Mojang

They say perspective improves everything, and with Minecraft VR I couldn't agree more. Even the most jaded block-building tree-puncher with hundreds of Minecraft hours under their belt will have their mind blown when they finally get to be “in” Mojang's masterpiece via the magic of VR. Suddenly the most simple things you've done a million times over – climbing up a mountain, evading creepers or even burrowing down to lava – are now utterly captivating.

For the uninitiated who have been living on Mars for a decade, in a cave, with their fingers in their ears, Minecraft is like playing Lego. Yes, Lego, but in a large sandbox world where you'll also need to plunder the natural environment for resources, bash animals on the head to deprive them of their delicious meats and avoid explosive ghouls who come stalking at night. You get all of that old addictive gameplay in VR, plus creature comfort options that minimise motion-sickness, and even a button that will take you out of “your world” for a second so you can sit in a virtual living room of sorts to stop looking at your virtual TV and get your bearings. Yes, Minecraft VR is basically Inception and it's easily the best way to play this games industry giant.

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