There’s no doubt in the back of my mind that the tasty Summer of VR deal on the current Oculus Rift CV1 has likely tempted thousands into picking up a shiny new VR headset.
Sure, we may still be looking at the teething phase of VR with its high install cost across the tech itself and a PC rig powerful enough to sustain its insatiable thirst for pixels; but for those who’ve just joined the movement – and subsequently played a hand in its future development – you’re likely left wondering how to get the most out of your new, and still very expensive, toy. Right?
Well, good news! We’re literally just joined the craze too! You see, here at GameWatcher, we’re simply a bunch of freelancers. There’s no company account we can take advantage off to score a Rift or Vive for the office on a whim. Heck, there isn’t even an office! We’re all doing this from the comfort of our shabby home-offices – AKA, the bedroom, bathroom or, in an ideal world, the shed out back.
So with a week of VR now behind us, we’re primed and ready to gift unto your our findings – the best VR experiences you can have right now. As a full disclosure, this list isn’t all that strict. We’ve designed it to include not only the best games you can play right now, but the most affordable titles alongside some of the free apps and experiences that may, in theory, not even be games at all. VR is a complicated beast, and a lot of people are using it for varying reasons. We’re striking a balance.
That being said, this is far from an complete list. As we gain access to more and more VR games and experiences, this will grow with our latest impressions. So don’t be surprised if your favorite big-budget game is missing. We’re working on it.
1. Robo Recall
Thanks to the involvement of Oculus themselves, Epic Games decided to throw their shooter know-how into one of VR’s strongest arcade-style blasters. It’s like Gears of War 4 meets Serious Sam with a dollop of The Matrix thrown in for good measure.
Called upon by the Recall group, you’re tasked with blasting down near-endless amounts of rogue androids following a rapidly spreading virus in a world where these friendly machines once went about a human-esque lifestyle. Using the Oculus Touch or Vive Wand controllers, you’re able to quickly teleport around the city fending off robots of all shapes and sizes with guns holstered to your hips and shotguns pulled out by reaching over your shoulders.
Rather than reload, you’re good to just drop them and grab another set – assuming they’ve recharged. Should the bots get too close, you can grab them by the chest and tear off their limbs with your other hand, knocking down the oncoming threat with their body parts. And that even stretches to bullets. Time slows as rounds close in on you, meaning you can weave out of their path, or simply throw them back at the enemy.
Being an arcade-like experience, this one is all about rapid, stylish skills with fine humor and visuals thrown into each robot roundup. It’s fast, invigorating and a little bit terrifying at the same time.
Robo Recall is one of the strongest games on the platform currently, and while It’s technically an Oculus exclusive (and free with the Touch controllers) it’s entirely possible to play this one with the HTC Vive headset through the well-known ReVive method.
2. Rec Room
Here’s one I found myself spending far more time in than I ever expected. Being both free and adopting an aesthetic seen by too many Minecraft-like cash-ins as of late, Rec Room surprised me with its incredibly friendly community and oodles of charm. Consisting of constantly updating mini-games like Disc Golf, Paintball and a medieval/sci-fi action mode, each part of Rec Room is multiplayer madness.
From the start, you’re meeting a giddy voice as you enter the Dorm – a place to pick out your avatar and adorn it with new clothes, hairstyles and other little trinkets. Having free reign to learn the basics of movement and physics while on your lonesome, you’ll want to head out for the Lounge right away. This room wastes no time alerting you to the types of people you’ll find in Rec Room – they’re all comedians in their own right; my first experience had folks flipping bottles, chugging kegs and fighting over the radio or the taste of Lemon n’ Lime squash. Hoping to record it with the in-game GIF camera, I couldn’t work the thing out. But if I had, you’d be sold on this in an instant.
From there, you’re free to do as you please. Invite some strangers to play 9-hole golf with a Frisbee, play paintball across a number of maps (with a really cool sniper rifle) or go on short adventures in the Quest mode where you’re fending off monsters in a theatre performance with a bow or sword and shield. If you’re looking for something more relaxing, there’s a simple game of Charades to wind down the night.
The best thing about Rec Room is just how happy everyone is. People will immediately wave in your direction, dance when bested at Paintball or try to make small talk through the in-game chat system. And if you want to keep to yourself, you can mute your mic by holding your hand to you mouth or silence others with a ‘talk to the hand’ gesture. The watch on your wrist does all the rest, and I swear poking this with my index finger felt real.
And best of all – it’s completely free. Leveling up and completing goals awards you with lootboxes with a very satisfying ‘peel to open’ mechanic. Watching everyone unboxing new clothes between paintball rounds was like a VR Christmas. Everyone wants a new hat.
3. Dungeon Chess
Given permission from Wizards of the Coast, Dungeon Chess is VR’s official answer to Dungeons & Dragons content.
It may not be a true tabletop D&D experience, but if you’re looking to play the occasional round of one of lifes oldest strategy games without having to find a real-life opponent, you won’t find one better than this.
Dungeon Chess features familiar D&D creatures as your well-known Chess units, and while the faces of your opponents may be little less than out of place floating masks or a robot that just won’t stop giving you the single eyebrow raise, it’s two playrooms and interchangeable artwork set a quant mood for those nights where you’d rather just sit there and enjoy a more laid-back VR experience.
With 9 AI difficulty levels, you’re certainly not bound to PvP, either - and it should be able to give even a seasoned player a decent challenge. It may not be the most robust or invigorating VR experience, but sometimes that’s just what you need. It’s real cheap, too.
4. Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition
We’re likely still at the point of Minecraft obsessives shouting from the rooftops about how the Java version is still the best yet, but with cross-platform support across a number of versions, Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition in VR is far and beyond the most engrossing time you’ll have in Minecraft – until the AR version makes another appearance, at least.
Built from the ground up, Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition is free for anyone with a Minecraft PC account and a Windows 10 machine. This version, like the console counterparts, drops Java to make it far less finicky when it comes to frame rates. For those who get a little motion sick, Minecraft VR can be played in a stylised Minecraft home on a screen scaled to that of a decent sized television.
For the rest of us, however, a simple touch of a button pulls us into the screen, giving us the full VR experience. Playable with both hand-tracking or a traditional controller, there are dozens of options to ensure your time spent walking around your Minecraft world are as comfortable as possible. And flying through the sky in Creative Mode will almost certainly make your legs feel a little wobbly.
Swing your arms to dig through a cave, or just use head-tracking as a way to take in your surroundings while you hit bricks the way you always have – it’s completely up to you. Either way, after years of playing Minecraft, VR puts you far closer to it than you’ve ever been.
5. Bigscreen Beta
Potentially not even in Beta by the time you’re reading this, Bigscreen is a free app you can find in both the Oculus And Steam VR store that does the exact same job as some of the more popular paid software.
In the early years of the Oculus Rift development kits, somehow one of the more impressive uses of VR was to simply surround yourself with your PC’s desktop. By manipulating the peculiar sense of scale achievable within VR, it’s possible to emulate multi-monitor setups in your headset or blow up the image to look like it’s running on a 100” cinema screen.
Bigscreen features a plethora of features and tweaks for you to set up your ideal virtual office. Work from a modern penthouse suite or up in space, if you’d like. Curve the screen to surround your view and immerse yourself in some high-quality video or just chill out in the cinema with your favourite movie. There are even online lobbies if sharing a show with new friends is your thing.
Otherwise, find your favourite scene, conjure up a massive screen and use a mixture of ReShade and SuperDepth3D to inject a bit of VR love into just about any game you own. It’s similar to a program called VorpX – only free. Skyrim VR? Resident Evil 7 VR? Planet Coaster? You can have it.
I’ll admit, one of my biggest reasons for buying into Virtual Reality was the dream of a stand-out rhythm game. Each VR platform has plenty of music visualizers to take you on an otherworldly trip with your tunes, but there aren’t too many games that actually enable you to play along - even far less are really polished up.
After trying out a few available on the Steam store, it was Soundboxing that really won me over. It’s certainly not the best looking of the bunch, but at less than £6 you get solid synchronization with the beat and a damn good workout for very little cash.
Soundboxing is exactly what it says in the title. Rather than just meeting flying orbs or waving your arms around to pull off crazy patterns, Soundboxing turns each song into a sparring exercise where it’s timed to have you punch each note. Making your own beatmaps it as simple as freestyling your way through a YouTube video search of your choosing, but its extensive library means you’ll rarely have to do the work yourself unless you really want to.
There may not be Osu integration like Holodance, but it’s far more precise than Audioshield and demands much more physical activity than the rest thanks to its use of proper boxing techniques like jabbing, weaving and whatever you call the repetitive movement used with those speedballs you see in the movies.
Notes come at you in both green (or yellow?) and red flavors with each matching one of your hands. You don’t have to match them, but the sound of failure makes for a lesser experience. Learning to rally off the right note with the right (or left) hand actually gives your mind a bit of a workout, too.
Just prepare yourself. My first attempt at Soundboxing threw me into a 16-minute Tame Impala Deezer Session. It was an absolute blast and introduced me to a cool band, but boy was I not prepared for nearly 20 minutes of punching right off the bat.
7. Rez: Infinite
On a mission to ‘save’ a rogue AI that’s struggling with the concept of creationism, REZ: Infinite has you flying rapidly through cyber-space firing missiles at whatever’s trying to halt your progress. Shots are fired by holding a single button to lock your aim and fire up to 8 missiles at a time (with no cooldown period) and you’re flown through each stage attempting to reach the boss. REZ is a game that’s been around on consoles for about 16 years now, but this VR release adds a whole new layer to this classic piece of gaming history. Minus the Trance Vibrator, sadly.
With thumping techno tracks gaining an extra layer as you progress further and blast up more attackers, this isn’t a rhythm game, so to speak, but one where you’ll essentially be mixing your own track. Though it’s difficult to say whether its perceivable 3D effect is on par with other games, there seems to be an idea that it’s stronger in the HTC Vive than it is on the Oculus Rift - for whatever reason.
Don’t let that get in the way, though, as whether you’ve played REZ before or not, VR certainly adds a whole other ahem layer to the game. You’ll travel through the same 5 zones you have in the past, but the all-new Area X switches things up with intense particle effects and ability to break free of its usual on-rails shooter action with free-fly instead. If you’re looking for something a bit fancier than a simple music visualiser, or a music game that isn’t trying to tone your abs, this is it. It’s a real treat for the senses.
8. Cosmic Trip
Although the Oculus Rift does indeed ship with an impressive RTS title, we’ve found that Cosmic Trip is a far more unique idea, earning it a spot in our top 10.
At the dawn of the VR movement, most people weren’t thinking outside the box. Rather than highlighting the new concepts VR gaming would allow, they were imagining how pre-existing gametypes would change and function on the new technology. Funktronics, however, put their minds into overdrive to concoct an RTS title that isn’t simply binding the camera to your head and having you command your troops from the sky.
Cosmic Trip is a family-friendly, if not notoriously difficult, real-time strategy game in which you’re placed onto an alien planet and must use machines to create new robotic allies to keep cover you while you rip out corks from alien sludge and throw razor frisbees at alien creatures. As a room-scale experience, you’re taking short steps around a platform and pulling up teleporters from the ground that hurl you various other platforms on the barren planet looking for the source of the ever-spawning sludge. Once found, it’s up to you to bring an army big enough to take the hits while you use your motion controllers to pluck every cork from its massive body.
Cosmic Trip incorporates the micro/macro-management of big-name strategy games like StarCraft, while keeping it family-friendly and very VR focused. A fine choice as a kid’s first RTS title, and a very strong show of force for room-scale, movement-based VR. And at £15, it’s an absolute steal.