Picking the best VR games at the moment is tricky because many of the best VR experiences aren’t the best games, and vice versa. For example, much as we love Team Fortress 2, you don’t half get motion sick running at the scout’s speed in VR.
Other experiences are like hands-off coaster rides – Sony’s The Deep, for example – which one would hardly want to call games. Oculus‘ story studio takes that idea one step further, employing ex-Pixar staff to create bespoke first-person VR entertainment.
Even those games that are good fun are often just demos, for products that will be released when the Rift, Vive and the rest are all on sale. We’ve picked the five games we’re most excited about seeing, and the 10 games that we think are best now. If you disagree, let us know in the comments.
VR games on our radar
It’s official: the world’s most popular block-em-up is coming to VR. Minecraft Windows 10 Edition is being developed for the Oculus Rift, but you won’t need to splash out $599 / £499 / AU$649 (the cost of the Rift) for the experience. That’s because it’s also heading to Samsung’s second-generation Gear VR, with all of the Oculus version’s features in tow. We’re not sure what we’re looking forward to the most — legging it from creepers in the dead of night or burrowing into the landscape like goggle-wearing, pickaxe-wielding mole. A bit of both, probably.
There will probably come a time when we’re sick of zombie games played in VR; for now, though, the thought of getting close enough to smell the rotting flesh of the undead hordes is strangely alluring. In development by Vertigo Games, Arizona Sunshine is shaping up to be a graphically impressive, fast-paced zombie shooter. As one of the first SteamVR games, it will use the HTC Vive’s motion controllers to let you blow chunks off approaching enemies. Do you run, or do you gun? Arizona Sunshine looks set to make you consider your choice very carefully.
System Shock 3
As if System Shock 3 being announced wasn’t exciting enough, the studio developing it, Otherside Entertainment, may be giving it the VR treatment. Little is known about the sequel to the excellent (and very scary) System Shock 2 other than it will once again feature SHODAN, the murderous AI antagonist that stalked your every move back in 1998.
Otherside Entertainment recently created a survey to ask gamers what platform they prefer (be it consoles or PC), so there’s a chance that System Shock 3 could come to consoles (and their associated VR headsets) as well as the PC this time around.
Rigs: Mechanized Combat League
If you’ve never wanted to pilot a massive mech in VR then you’re probably a liar. Either way, you’ll get your chance in Rigs: Mechanized Combat League, a Project Morpheus FPS heading to the PS4.
Set 50 years in the future, you control ‘Rigs’ — piloted, highly-tuned, athletic machines that compete in a futuristic, weapon-based sport. Of course, your robots have lasers, rockets and plasma cannons, which means you’ll also need jump jets to avoid getting killed all the time.
Set in massive multi-floor arenas, its backdrops of Dubai and Rio look gorgeous, and we can’t wait to see how its gameplay fares.
One of the huge draws of VR is immersion, something that upcoming space exploration game P.O.L.L.E.N has in abundance. It’s a slightly different affair to the Alien: Isolations of the world in that there are no monsters to speak of. Instead, it’s all about adventuring and places a focus on picking up and observing objects to find clues and discover what happened aboard the mysterious space station you’re exploring.
In development for two years by Finland-based studio Mindfield Games, P.O.L.L.E.N reeks (in a good way) of classic science fiction movies like Solaris and Space Odyssey. Its gorgeous graphics and an intriguing narrative could make it the modern VR equivalent of the classic adventure game Myst from 1993. Only more, er, spacey.
While Eve: Valkyrie looks to have the most promising combat, Star Citizen is hoping to have the most comprehensive space experience.
As an unofficial follow-up to the Wing Commander series, the game is promising to combine gutsy first-person shooting on space stations and planets, exploration of its crazy-large universe in a variety of hand-crafted spaceships, and a huge storyline with a cast of movie stars.
The VR experience is still unclear, but will probably work along the lines of Elite’s – head-tracking, whilst you use a joystick or gamepad to control your craft.
No platform is complete without a pant-wetting horror experience and Dreadhalls is planning to provide that. Along the lines of Amnesia, you’re an unarmed explorer in a series of procedurally-generated tunnels attempting to simply find your way to the exit.
Sadly, the maze is filled with a variety of monsters, like gargoyles that only move when you’re not watching, and spooky little girls. Objects in the maze can help you, but ultimately it’s a game about hiding and running away. For a more involved dungeon crawling game, Oculus’ own Hero Battle sounds promising.
Robinson: The Journey
There are few details on Crytek’s first VR game yet, but given the firm’s history we can be assured that it’ll be outrageously beautiful with a terrible story.
You’re playing as a small boy who’s crashlanded on an alien planet that seems to be inhabited by dinosaurs. It’s notable that Crytek has been separately showing off a VR demo in a similarly lush jungle where you’re hiding out in a T-Rex nest as various dinosaurs menace you.
Crytek promises that "players will become pioneers by interacting with the rich ecosystem around them and unearthing incredible secrets at every turn."
The biggest promise of VR is in story-driven games like Technolust. It’s a puzzle and mystery game, where you explore this brave new world, finding clues and objects to move the plot forward.
Here, you’re in a near-future cyberpunk world where big business has taken over. You can choose to join the resistance and battle large corporations, pop to the arcade to experience new worlds, or just stay at home and watch TV with your AI. This could be the nearest thing we get to Bladerunner – until they adapt it for VR, that is.
1. Elite: Dangerous
It’s been over thirty years since the first Elite was released and original creator David Braben has finally got around to making a sequel (i.e. got the rights back.)
Elite: Dangerous takes the elements of the first game – trading, exploration and combat in a huge procedurally-generated universe – and updates them, so that you can do all those things in an accurate representation of our galaxy in the future.
The game has also added massively-multiplayer gameplay, and industry-standard VR. Sitting in a cockpit in Elite and looking around feel utterly real, and well worth it.
2. Euro Truck Simulator 2
Ever wanted to deliver frozen chickens from Innsbruck to Bad Kissingen in an eighteen wheeler? Someone, who should probably be using their genius for the betterment of mankind, has perfectly replicated the art of being a truck driver, letting players fulfil their long-haul longings.
The VR experience has been updated to work well with the Oculus DK2 and lets you look all around your cab, as well lean out of the window to look behind you. You’ll still crash your semi into the hard shoulder on a regular basis, but that’s your fault, not the game’s.
3. Alien Isolation
Creative Assembly’s masterful conversion of the Alien movie into a survival game was an unexpected success of last year, allowing players to take the role of Ripley’s daughter, attempting to survive another xenomorph event and discover what happened to her mother.
The long-promised Oculus support wasn’t released with the game, but exists in the game’s code and has been reimplemented by modders. It makes for an utterly terrifying and hardcore experience, with players trying to stealth their way through the grimpunk space station, but it’s mostly short-lived due to the alien’s efficiency.
4. Surgeon Simulator 2013
Just like Alien Isolation, there are aliens in Surgeon Simulator 2013, but this time you’re the one taking them to pieces.
One of the few comedy games of recent years, SS13 is all about your incompetence in performing advanced surgery (including heart and brain transplants), which is only exacerbated by the VR interface.
The game supports VR natively in Oculus Rift and uses Razer Hydras to allow you to attempt heart transplants.
5. Assetto Corsa
I’ve never really been a petrolhead – though I do know that red ones go faster – so I can’t comment on how good a game Assetto Corsa is.
Suffice to say that my Petrolhead friends say it’s one of the best car games out there, and the reviews agree. The key point is its moddability, which has allowed gamers to add all sorts of fancy new cars and tracks onto its superb driving system.
It supports Oculus natively and, like Elite, it makes perfect sense to be able to look around when racing, whether rallying or in an F1.
6. Dear Esther
VR is wonderful at providing a sense of presence in a world – but not so good, as yet, at interacting with it. Which is perfect for ‘walking simulators’ like this.
Dear Esther is an exploration game, where you walk all over a remote Scottish island, plumbing its depths and heights, as your character whinges about his life. It may sound like an art-house adaption of a J.G. Ballard novel, but the game is utterly beautiful to wander.
7. Shufflepuck Cantina Deluxe VR
The unofficial sequel to 1989′s Shufflepuck Cafe takes the physical game of Shufflepuck (AKA Air Hockey) to the furthest possible point.
Shufflepuck Cantina takes place in an interstellar casino, where you play against a charismatic range of aliens and robots with a huge array of special moves on a range of bizarre tables.
The casino is just charming to wander, packed with unearthly sights and detail, and fun challengers to natter to. Warning: you’ll need to shut your eyes for the control-free intro, as it’s utterly nausea-inducing.
8. Dying Light
The unofficial follow-up to Dead Island from the creators of the same game was a surprisingly good take on the zombie survival action game, mingled with gruesome melee combat, fun parkour and a ton of other bits nicked from Dead Rising.
The VR version is still a bit shonky – the menus and buttons are unreadable and the camera control needs work – but it’s a wonderful world to wander around, before zombies tear you apart. There will almost certainly be a separate VR release when the Vive and Oculus launch.
Subnautica looks like it should be a simple diving game – but then you realise you don’t recognise any of the ‘fish’… or the sky or the sun.
It’s actually a survival game on a distant ocean world, where you have to craft equipment, pilot submarines, and terraform the aquatic undersea for humankind – whilst surviving hostile wildlife, volcanoes, and aircraft-sized jellyfish. It’s still in Early Access, so the Oculus Rift support is limited but effective.
10. Grand Theft Auto V
What could be better suited to VR than a game that simulates real life? Rockstar’s latest cime-em-up doesn’t officially support virtual reality yet, but that hasn’t stopped people hooking the game up to an Oculus Rift DK2 and getting up close and personal with Los Santos’ shady underworld.
In one particular video, which shows footage from a third-party mod that replicates mouse movement control, you can see the Oculus wearer let rip down the freeway on a motorcycle, taking in the environment while weaving in and out of traffic.
It’s eerily effective and almost makes the case alone for splashing out on a headset, a beefy PC and a copy of GTA V. Not sure about the Snow Patrol soundtrack, though.
11. Temple Run VR
You’re probably familiar with Temple Run, the endless runner that has been downloaded by millions of smartphone owners. You’re likely less familiar with the VR version of the game, which was released for Samsung’s Gear VR Innovator Edition.
Taking on a first-person view of the sprint, the game is surprisingly harrowing – mainly because you can look back at the giant artic monster monkey chasing you through the snow-capped mountains. When not admiring the view you’ll have to navigate the track while running, jumping and collecting power-ups to rack up the highest score possible.
12. Shooting Showdown
Shooting Showdown reimagines the first-person shooter concept for VR. You aim by tilting your head to move a crosshair in the middle of the screen, hitting a button on a Bluetooth controller to take out objects strewn across the level. They can be anything from shooting range targets to a robot carrying a bucket or traffic lights that require you to shoot the green light. Regarded as one of the best games for the Samsung Gear VR, its head-to-head mode pits you against human opponents to see who can rack up the highest score.
13. Proton Pulse
You can expect a fair few genres to be "reimagined" for VR in the coming years. Proton Pulse for the Google Cardboard headset has put its own spin on the classic Breakout (or Pong) puzzle game, and it’s psychedelic to say the least. Aiming to frazzle your brain with bright colours 50 levels of thumping techno music, Proton Pulse requires you to tilt your head to direct the paddle and guide the ball into the remaining bricks. It’s much cheaper than a night out and probably just as raucous.
14. Lucky’s Tale
Lucky’s Tale is one of two games (the other being multiplayer dogfighting shooter EVE: Valkyrie) being bundled with the Oculus Rift, and it’s an intriguing little platformer. Think Mario 64 spliced with Crash Bandicoot, viewed with a third-person camera angle that you can manipulate by moving your head, and you’d be halfway there. The VR element lets you peek at more of the level as you go along, which sounds gimmicky but actually introduces an exploration element as you tilt your head to reveal secrets in the level. It may not blow you away like other VR games will, but Lucky’s Tale proves that VR can breathe new life into old genres.
15. Hover Junkers
Hover Junkers started revving our VR engines when its first gameplay videos surfaced a couple of years ago. Its story makes little sense: Earth has nearly run out of water, so naturally everybody is pelting it around on crudely made hover barges firing rounds into each others’ heads. We’ll forgive that, though, as Junkers’ gameplay is manic multiplayer action – and great fun to boot.
Using the Vive’s two controllers and your headset to look and move around, you have to shoot the enemy while taking cover on your barge to avoid incoming fire. The sheer freedom of movement makes the game very different to non-VR shooters – you can troll people by flipping the bird and even shoot yourself in the head, should you wish to. That’s the videogame moment we’ve all been waiting for, right?
16. Eve: Valkyrie
Yes, Eve: Valkyrie will make you feel at least a little bit sick. But isn’t any epic gaming experience worth a bit of pain? What started out as a spectacular tech demo for the developers of Eve: Online has evolved into a fast, squad-based dogfighting simulator set in deep space.
Though the game is far narrower than Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous, it serves up a classic multiplayer experience, with a Call of Duty-style rank progression that allows you to unlock more ships, weapons and equipment the better that you do.
That focus on combat allows the game to be much less realistic and more visceral than its competitors – and it’s more arcadey as a result. It may not be able to deliver long-term thrills, but if you’re looking to be dazzled by what the Oculus Rift has to offer at this early stage, look no further than this.