The best VR games
We’re only just scratching the surface of what virtual reality will eventually be able to do. But when we sat down to round up a list of the best VR games, it was a little surprising how much high-quality (if still a little primitive) content is already out there. Let’s break down the best VR games you can play today.
Vanishing Realms (HTC Vive)
If we had to pick one game to show off the potential of VR gaming, it would be the HTC Vive’s Vanishing Realms. As a Steam Early Access game, this isn’t even a complete product yet – but no matter, as it still tops our list. Walk around these virtual environments, using your own feet to walk, your own hands to wield swords, shields and a flesh-piercing magic wand, and you have today’s brightest glimpse into the future of gaming.
Like many early Vive games, Vanishing Realms supports room-scale VR and uses a teleporting mechanism for movement around the wider virtual world.
Defense Grid 2 (Oculus Rift)
Before the Oculus Rift launched, if you would have asked us to predict what our favorite Rift games would be, we’d have guessed Lucky’s Tale, Eve: Valkyrie or … just about anything but this tower defense game.
More than any other title, though, Defense Grid 2 shows us how knock-your-socks-off great strategy games can be in VR. It makes sense: platformers and third-party action games don’t really have any practical reason to be in VR (other than why not?). But strategy games, where panning and zooming are so much more convenient because they’re tied to head and body movement, are simply better in VR than they are anywhere else.
The Gallery: Call of the Starseed (Vive)
Almost on par with Vanishing Realms is the Vive’s first killer adventure game, The Gallery. The first chapter of the episodic series, Call of the Starseed, is a bit like getting sucked into one of those 90s-era adventure titles you used to play on your PC after school (well, if you’re of a certain age). The slower-paced exploration, object-collecting and puzzle-solving staples of the genre become fresh all over again when you feel like you’re really there – standing on the beach, combing sewers and traversing a mad professor’s underground lair.
Like Vanishing Realms, The Gallery is another room-scale/teleporting Vive game.
AirMech: Command (Rift)
Our second favorite Rift game follows a similar formula to the first: strategy game that’s much better in VR than it would be anywhere else. Here you take classic real-time strategy gameplay (building and deploying units, moving them carefully to best overtake your opponent) with the unique twist of controlling your own jet/robot mech who adds an action-packed element to the mix. It also helps that he’s basically a superhero in your RTS world.
Final Approach (Vive)
Air traffic controller meets orchestra conductor in Final Approach, where you trace paths for planes and helicopters swirling around you – using the Vive’s room-scale and motion controls.
This one is much more fun than its lame-sounding descriptions would have you believe.
Job Simulator (Vive)
Speaking of games that sound ridiculous but end up being loads of fun, Job Simulator drops you into environments like an office cubicle, convenience store counter or mechanic’s garage, to perform seemingly mundane day-to-day tasks, as simulated (not so well) by the robot overlords that run the world.
How is this kind of game possibly enjoyable? First, manipulating simple objects with your hands (motion controls) in VR can be a joyous experience in itself. But there’s also a GTA-like sandbox element where, when you no longer feel like following instructions, you’re free to raise all brands of mayhem – chucking coffee mugs at co-workers, microwaving silverware or pouring sriracha sauce into a car’s oil tank. Now we’re talking.
The Lab (Vive)
Valve knocked it out of the park with its first VR game, a collection of mini-games along the lines of Wii Sports (only much better). Favorites include an archery defense mini-game and an Angry Birds-like tower smashing game where you load and fire the catapult using your own body.
From the files of good games that don’t really have any practical reason to be in VR, Chronos takes a Zelda-like adventure/role playing game and puts it on the Oculus Rift. If we moved all of these games onto 2D screens, this would be one of the best, but it doesn’t really gain anything by being in virtual reality (other than the hey, this is neat! factor that all VR adds).
Viral (Gear VR)
One of our favorite mobile VR games is an on-rails, physics-based shooter where you fire balls at little red and green robots that flail like rag dolls when you take them out with a well-placed hit. It’s hard to explain why, but this gameplay is immensely satisfying.
Hover Junkers (Vive)
One of the Vive’s best multiplayer games, Hover Junkers puts you on a hovercraft in a virtual post-apocalyptic wasteland where you get into shootouts with other players riding their own hovercrafts.
Herobound: Spirit Champion (Gear VR, Rift)
From the same developer as Chronos, Herobound: Spirit Champion is like a more childlike version of that title, with a cute little cartoon goblin traversing dungeons, solving puzzles and taking out hordes of undead skeletons and werewolves.
If you buy a Gear VR, this one is a free download.
Selfie Tennis (Vive)
Be careful you don’t get too carried away in this one, as you’ll be flailing your Vive controllers around your space like you’re Serena Williams. As long as you don’t destroy your room in the process, Selfie Tennis – you play both sides of the net, hence the “selfie” part – is great fun.
Darknet (Gear VR, Rift)
One of the Gear VR’s best strategy games, Darknet sits on a hacking thematic backdrop with holographic visuals representing the enemy networks you pwn one by one. Great for longer sit-down sessions, this one is easy to get caught up in.
Land’s End (Gear VR)
Land’s End takes the Gear VR’s limitations (no body tracking, entry-level horsepower) and, within those confines, crafts a slower-paced, atmospheric work of art that’s as much about taking it all in as it is solving puzzles.
Smash Hit (Gear VR)
Similar to (or riding the coattails of?) Viral, Smash Hit is another on-rails, physics-based, fling balls at stuff game. Only it trades rag-doll robots for panes of glass, which are, for some reason, extremely rewarding to smash to bits.
Lucky’s Tale (Rift)
Based on our event demos, we half expected Lucky’s Tale to be a generation-defining game – along the lines of Super Mario Bros. for the NES. But once we brought it home, the game’s pacing was disappointingly slow (perhaps necessarily, to avoid motion sickness). It also doesn’t help that you have to go back and replay levels that weren’t especially exciting the first time around.
That’s why Lucky’s Tale isn’t a platform-defining killer app. But it makes our list anyway, as it’s still fun to play a Mario-like 3D platformer – a very polished one at that – in VR.
Eve: Valkyrie (Rift)
Another game that Oculus hyped up in advance of the Rift’s launch, Eve: Valkyrie ended up getting boring far too quickly. Space dogfights in VR sound great, but not when it feels like the Groundhog Day of video games, repeating the same battle over and over.
Like Lucky’s Tale, though, just because Eve: Valkyrie fell short of our lofty pre-release expectations doesn’t mean it isn’t worth playing.
Fantastic Contraption (Vive)
In Fantastic Contraption, you walk around a floating island, constructing bizarre cars that will return your precious jelly ball to its long-lost jelly home. The quirky premise is just a surface facade for a smartly-designed engineering game using the Vive’s room-scale and motion controls.
The Climb (Rift)
Imagine getting soooo close to the peak of the mountain you’re scaling, only to fall hundreds of feet, breaking bones all over your body and only narrowly escaping with your life. That’s not only one possible scenario in The Climb, it could also be a metaphor for the game itself (admittedly a melodramatic one).
The so close part comes from the game’s stunning visuals and perfect for VR premise. The fall comes courtesy of the developer’s decision to stick with gamepad controls, instead of much more logical and intuitive motion controls. Climbing a mountain where you use your body to stretch, but triggers on a gamepad to grip? This one should have gone back to the drawing board after Oculus’ and HTC’s motion controllers were announced. Still fun, but a missed opportunity to plant its flag near the top of the best VR games.
Tactera (Gear VR)
Just released this week, Tactera is a holographic tabletop RTS game. These games need positional tracking to really soar, though, so if you own a Rift you may want to hold out for that version that launches later on.
Elite: Dangerous (Vive, Rift)
Going off of sheer detail and sense of immersion, Elite: Dangerous could be one of our top picks. But it’s a little hard to recommend to anyone but the most hardcore pilot sim fans, as the learning curve is extremely high. When I sit down to play a video game, I don’t mind going through a teaching process, but spending days, maybe weeks, learning how to properly fly and land my ship – and even then realizing the only way to do it justice is to buy an extra flight stick accessory – well, that’s a bigger chunk of my life than I want to devote to a single game.
If you’re into that kind of thing, though, Elite: Dangerous is role playing in the most literal sense: making you feel like you’re really a space pilot, with all of your travel happening on a real-time, 1:1 scale.