This is how it all began.
For weeks I’d been eyeing up a Nintendo Switch. I knew that my student loan payment date was fast approaching, and I could afford to treat myself to a new toy. The problem was, I kind of didn’t want a Switch, I would just like to have one. You see, I have next to no interest in Super Mario Odyssey (I’ve never liked 3D Mario games), and I already own Breath of the Wild on the Wii U, and frankly, I don’t think much of it. Really, the only thing I want a Switch for is to play Bayonetta 3 when it releases in what will probably be a year’s time.
During these weeks, I also thought about how cool it would be if I could justify the price of an HTC Vive — Which I couldn’t, because they are far too expensive. Enter the Oculus Rift!
The Rift currently sells at a very reasonable price (within the VR market) of £399. For this price you get the headset, two tracking sensors, two touch controllers, and six VR apps (a mix of games and utilities).
My first impressions with the room-scale Oculus Rift were far better than I had expected, and as such I went a little bit crazy and ended up spending another £100+ on additional games, all of which I suspected I would thoroughly enjoy, and ultimately did. What follows is a list of every game and app I’ve experienced so far.
Google Earth VR
Google Earth has always been a really cool thing. It gave nerds like me access to a spy-satellite playground that we’d been searching for since we were kids watching Hollywood hacker movies. Being able to zoom into the house you grew up in, then enter a view from the street outside, was mind-blowing — to an extent. An extent which has now been surpassed by flying around the streets in VR.
The Earth-to-City zoom is still much the same in VR as it is on a screen, but then you flatten the Earth, and suddenly you’re standing atop a gigantic model village of wherever in the world you like. Zoom in further, and in street view you’re free to move as if walking through a scene in which time has frozen for everyone but you. It’s Enemy of the State meets Bernard’s Watch, and it’s breathtaking.
As if Superhot wasn’t cool enough as it was, now you get to literally be the Superhot dude, moving your body in bullet-time, dodging bullets, ducking behind cover, and throwing ninja stars. Being able to literally reach out and grasp your hand, resulting in you seeing the game reflect that by stealing an enemy’s gun from their soon-to-be-dead hand, is an experience that nobody should go without. Superhot VR is one of the best examples of VR game design out there right now, and it’s the first thing I’ll show to anyone who tries my Rift.
Robo Recall is the result of a VR experiment turned into a full game, all courtesy of Gears of War developer Epic Games. Bullet Train was a demo that the team made to demonstrate what cool stuff you could do in VR when developing with Unreal Engine 4, but it took off to such a degree that they went and made a hell of a game out of it. By reaching down to your sides, you draw your pistols. By reaching over your shoulders, you draw your shotguns. You can grab your enemies tear them limb from limb, followed by a vicious attack on their allies with said limbs as impromptu melee weapons. You can grab bullets out of the air, and throw them at destructive velocity at an enemy of your choice. It’s a wave-based shooter at its core, but performing all of these actions in real time feels so freaking good. And as a huge bonus, this whole game is included with every purchase of Oculus Rift + Touch.
Oculus Medium & Quill
Sticking with apps that come bundled in, here we have a 3D-modelling program that literally lets you sculpt anything you want, and then export it as a usable asset for things like game engines, if you were so inclined, and a 3D illustration program that lets you draw three-dimensional art. I’m not a great artist, but I showed this thing to a lifelong artist friend of mine, and his mind was blown out of the proverbial water. I got the immediate sense that he could spend days in this virtual workroom, creating masterpieces. He quickly realised how this wasn’t just a cool addition to the art world, but provided a whole new medium for artists to engage in.
Lone Echo & Echo Arena
Lone Echo is a single-player game, wherein you play the role of an AI, capable of transferring yourself between various labour robots, on a space station in orbit of Saturn. Your only companion is a Human named Olivia, and she’s getting ready to leave for another post. An anomaly is detected over one of the rings of Saturn, and it plays havoc with the station’s systems. As the AI, you are tasked with repairing the space station, investigating the anomaly, and trying to complete your primary mission — to keep Olivia sane.
It’s a great story to start, but what really defines the Lone Echo experience is the way they’ve made zero-G movement feel completely natural. Your hands can grab any surface around you, and the slightest push will cause you to move at relative velocity in the opposite direction. Ready At Dawn has created a game here that is not only fun to play but truly simulates movement in the absence of gravity to the furthest extent that we normals will ever be able to experience it. Oh, and the UI is flat-out best in class.
Echo Arena is the multiplayer component that was spun off to become its own thing. You still play a robot, and the movement remains unchanged, but you are a player on a sports team, and your objective is to get a disc from one end of the arena, past the opposing players, and into their goal. It’s the Blitzball simulator you didn’t realise you wanted.
Raw Data is — in many ways — a lot like Robo Recall, in that it’s a wave-based shooting gallery. The difference here is that there are four classes to pick between for your character: a pistol specialist, a demolitions expert, a laser-sword-wielding ninja, and a sci-fi archer. This option for character classes is cool and all, but what really makes the difference is this is also a four-player co-op game. Four peeps, each playing a different specialisation, all having a blast killing robots. I haven’t dug nearly as deep as I want to into this game, but the initial impressions are strong. My only concern is that its greatest appeal may lie in the multiplayer aspect, and I’m somewhat lacking in friends I regularly game with who also own a VR set on PC.
Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality
I’m going to forego a list place for Job Simulator because it’s good, everyone knows it’s good, and that’s old news. What I do need to shout loud about is that team’s latest game, based on Rick and Morty. To call this a Job Simulator skin would be, well, fair to be honest, but what a skin it is! Okay, real talk, if you don’t think Rick and Morty is funny, this game is going to fall really, really flat for you, but if you’re down with The Council of Ricks and Mulan Szechuan sauce, this is going to pull you into that world like never before. You play a clone of Morty, and while Rick and actual Morty are off on their latest adventure, you’ve been left in Rick’s garage to do the laundry. From there, you’re free to play with Rick’s lab, and help him out from afar as he entrusts you with crucial tasks, like ordering new gadgets, and fixing his computer. Like Job Simulator before it, the premise sounds utterly mundane, but the execution is perfect, and a must-have for anyone wanting to get into VR.
I Expect You To Die
Here we have what is essentially an escape room, turned into a spy comedy. There’s not a massive amount of content in this game, and honestly, the replayability factor relies on how much you enjoy speedrun practice, but for the one blind playthrough, you’ll have a fantastic time. Solving the puzzles in each level is fun enough as is, but the additional tension from the oft-occurring fatal countdowns really makes this a home run. I’d be a happy boy indeed if this team continued to release a new scenario two or three times a year.
QuiVr is perhaps the best implementation of archery I’ve come across in VR, or in any game, to date. It’s another wave-based shooter, but this time you’re packing a trusty bow and a quiver of infinite arrows. As you progress through the levels you’ll unlock new arrow types, causing myriad effects upon the beasties persistently ramming their heads against your gates. It’s yet another example of how a game that would be utterly boring on a controller, works absolute wonders in room-scale VR.
Climbey is perhaps the cheapest-looking game you’ll ever see, but the feel of the gameplay, of the movement, of the… Climbing… is so far beyond everything else out there that it’s impossible to not recommend. My only issue, and it’s a doozy, is that occasionally a collision-detection will go awry and send your character spiralling off in a random direction, but it happens rarely enough that I’m willing to look past it, especially given the low price of entry.
The Mage’s Tale
This game is — shamelessly — a modern VR take of Eye of the Beholder. If you’re into D&D and/or dungeon crawling, The Mage’s Tale is a must-buy for you. The spell crafting system is really fun to experiment with, and the effects those spells have as they play out in a battle are a joy to behold. The puzzles are cool, the secrets are plentiful, and the combat is enthralling. This game lets you live a dungeon crawl, and it really posts a challenge to Wizards of the Coast in the form of, “Hey, WotC, think you can make a better game in the D&D system? Bring it.”
Speaking of mage games, how about one from beloved developer Insomniac?! The Unspoken does something I really hoped someone would eventually do, and it turns out they already did it — Spell gestures. The whole combat system of this game is based around making gestures using your touch controllers, with each combination having its own pros and cons. It’s designed first and foremost as a PvP game and a really fun one at that. Already there have been invitational championships held, and while the game is not all that fun to watch others play, it’s perhaps the most fun I’ve had controlling any VR game. You’ll really feel like you’re practising spellcasting for epic battles. Better still, Insomniac has recently released the first single-player chapter of their arguably bolted-on campaign, but good news! It’s really cool too!
Edge of Nowhere
Insomniac’s other VR experiment is a third-person horror adventure. I came into this game under the premise of ‘This game makes you feel like you’re in an Uncharted game, but also it’s scary.’ The reports weren’t wrong, that’s definitely a comparison worth making, but what nobody told me — a Lovecraft enthusiast — is this game is literally based in the Lovecraft Mythos. This is the one game I will not discuss story spoilers about, because it’s half the reason to play it, but what I will say is I’ve not beaten a game, any game, in two sittings in a long time. Edge of Nowhere really kept me entranced.
From Other Suns
I’ve barely scratched the surface on this one, but it’s a surface I intend to scratch until I reach the bone. Imagine you’re playing FTL, one of the greatest rogue-likes ever made. Now imagine you’re playing that game from the first-person perspective of one of the crew, say the Captain. With me so far? Okay, so you’ve got a game wherein you’re maintaining a healthy ship, a crew to keep up with repairs, you’re fighting off pirates both through space battles and on board each-other’s ships, all in first-person. Already this is incredibly cool, but now let’s add co-op multiplayer. Still not enough? How about a weapons and loot system that closely emulates that of Borderlands? This game is the biggest surprise I’ve had so far. It’s arguably the game with the most potential I’ve come across, and it is the very game that made me sit down and finally start writing this article I’d been planning for a week. One play session in From Other Suns has turned me into a giggling child who wants to tell everybody in the street, whether they know me or not, that I love this thing. At this point I don’t even care if it turns out to be super repetitive, I just want to play more of it. I’m going to do so the second I hit publish on this piece.
- I didn’t really see the point in adding Job Simulator to the list, but it’s great.
- Soundstage is a really interesting proof of concept for a music-making app in VR.
- Designing levels in Unreal Engine 4 in VR is in its infancy, but the potential is sky-high.
- Minecraft is even more relaxing in VR.
- The nVidia VR Funhouse is a cool thing, albeit very basic and not particularly fun beyond the initial run.
- Google Blocks is another art app that I’ll never be good enough to enjoy to its fullest potential.
- Rec Room is a joyous mess but will be at its best with friends.
- Elite Dangerous and Subnautica are both still incredibly immersive games in VR, which hasn’t changed all that much since my experience with the Oculus DK2.
- I have yet to play anything of Lucky’s Tale, Dead & Buried, or Toybox, all of which come bundled in with Touch.
These past ten days have renewed and rejuvenated my love of gaming in a huge way, in a way I didn’t think possible. Not four weeks ago, I was becoming convinced that I’d forever be that guy that has his handful of comfort games, and no future game will ever encroach upon that turf, but this experience has shown me otherwise. I have opened my heart to new things again, and it’s all thanks to a stupid box you put on your face.
Tags: Climbey, Echo Arena, Edge of Nowhere, From Other Suns, Google Earth VR, I Expect You to Die, Lone Echo, Oculus Medium, Oculus Quill, Oculus Rift, QuiVr, Raw Data, Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality, Robo Recall, Superhot VR, The Mage's Tale, The Unspoken, Virtual Reality