There has never been a time when more virtual reality games and experiments were in development. VR is finally here (if off to a bit of a slow start due to the price of the headsets), and less than a year after the consumer releases of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift there are lot of great games to play. We've chosen a selection of our favorites, which we'll continue to update as we experience more new dimensions throughout 2017.
Already a great rhythm hell game in flatspace, Thumper is even more trance-inducing in VR. It's not very mechanically complicated—tap to the beat and slide around corners, at least at first—but it's brutal. As James put it, Thumper is "a psychedelic journey through impossible geometry and a crunchy, slippery, overwhelmingly oppressive force." In VR, it becomes a waking sound nightmare I should want to escape, but don't. —Tyler Wilde
Cyan has built a wonderfully detailed world for you to explore in Obduction, and exploring it in VR lets you notice all the tiny touches that you might otherwise skip by. A spiritual successor to Myst and Riven made by the original development team, Obduction is filled with environmental puzzles and clues hidden in plain site to help you solve them. , I said that it “remains faithful to Myst without feeling dated,” and that goes doubly in VR. It feels like you are actually in and exploring a classic Myst world, but there’s nothing old-fashioned about physically leaning your body in toward something to get a better look.
But the reason Obduction really works well in VR is because the original Myst movement scheme was practically tailormade for Virtual Reality. You jump between set points in the world, then have time to look at your surroundings and take everything in. The mechanics and pacing of the game didn’t need to be compromised at all to make it ideal for VR. You can also run around normally if you have a stomach of steel, but Cyan has made each point you can hop to feel interesting and intentional, rather than just another dot on the path. —Tom Marks
Developer: Gunfire Games
Link: Official site
Compatibility: Oculus Rift
Chronos is one of the finest examples of an existing genre being imported into VR and gaining an immense boost of immersion in the process. As I wrote in my review: "This is a tried-and-true action RPG in the Zelda vein, with timing-heavy combat and puzzle solving that feel more than a little familiar. But Chronos did something for me that Zelda never could. That no game I’ve ever played on a monitor or TV has ever done for me. Even when I’m utterly absorbed in a game’s world, I don’t feel like I’ve been transported inside my monitor. But that’s what it feels like to play Chronos in VR. I was there, and I didn’t want that experience to end."
This is a meaty 15 hour adventure, with an interconnected (and often beautiful) world to explore and demanding, timing-based combat to learn. It's all a bit simplified compared to an RPG like Dark Souls, but the experience of playing in VR makes every minute engaging. Of the Oculus Rift launch lineup, this is the only one I'd call an absolute can't miss. —Wes Fenlon
Developer: Frontier Developments
Compatibility: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive
The first commercial game to offer native VR support, Elite: Dangerous is still the best example of the power of the tech to date. Strapped into the detailed cockpits of its ships, from bulky battleships to nimble fighters, dogfights are intense. It’s like being in the best Star Wars space battle ever. It’s also practical, because you can move your head to track enemy ships as they scream past you. Look down and you’ll see your pilot’s body, and their hands will mirror your own if you’re playing with a flight stick. You can even stand up and walk around your cockpit, providing it’s big enough to do so.
It’s not all about the thrill of dogfighting, though. Elite is impressive in VR no matter what you’re doing: from docking to gazing slack-jawed at stunning cosmic scenery. You’ll never forget the first time you fly into a planet’s ring system. Millions of slowly spinning space-rocks fill your field of view, and you can’t help but just stop and stare. The galaxy is beautiful on a regular 2D screen, but in VR it feels truly massive. Jumping to other stars and docking feel more intimate and intense too when they’re happening right in front of your nose. When you jump to another system, you feel yourself leaning back in your chair as the stars streak past your windows.
It helps that Elite’s flying model is so impressively detailed. The ships feel weighty and realistic, and how they handle varies between models. Flying a Hauler, a chunky entry level trading ship, is a very different experience to buzzing around in an Eagle fighter or a Cobra. In VR, this distinctiveness is even more pronounced. Make sure you play with headphones, because the sound design really helps sell the illusion: especially the engine sounds.
Elite: Dangerous is something of a pioneer when it comes to making comfortable, convincing virtual reality experiences. Many other games have included native support for VR headsets since its release, but none have surpassed it. It’s a rare example of a game that you’ll actually want to play for long periods of time in VR, rather than just as a novelty. Watch out, though: it’s a game where you spend a lot of time spinning to figure out where you’re going, and coming back to the static, non-rotating real world can have a strange dizzying effect if you’ve been playing for a long time. —Andy Kelly
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Keep Talking is the most family-friendly bomb disarming sim you can play today. Family friendly because some participants aren’t expected to play the videogame portion of the game at all, required instead to flip through a thick physical bomb disarmament instruction manual (that you need to print off yourself), screaming out directions while a lone player frantically flips and studies a virtual explosive device. The VR component isn’t the most immersive experience out there, but isolating yourself in a room with a complex bomb puzzle goes a long way in developing tension. It’s also a nice way to prevent cheaters from sneaking a peek at the manual themselves. And if you don’t have a VR headset, you can still play with a good old-fashioned monitor. Everybody wins (if they don’t explode). —James Davenport