Oculus Rift is mind-blowing (if you don't barf)

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

The Oculus Rift is aptly named, because it divides the world into two camps: Those who are stoked for this headset to be the first successful attempt at making virtual reality (VR) mainstream, and those who have to rip away the headset before they barf. With its high-resolution screen, top-of-the-line tracking sensors and lightweight chassis, it’s either the best or worst VR experience you’ve ever had.

Most people (myself included) need time to acclimate to virtual reality. When you have a screen strapped to your face, little things like artificial motion blur or a few milliseconds of lag on the motion detectors can be profoundly unsettling.

The Rift headsets you can buy right now are only prototypes. The finished version should be available next year with a slew of improvements: better screens, lower sensor lag, and a greater range of motion detection, so you can do crazy things like slide your head sideways. Or not.

After trying the Rift dev kit with a few of my friends and coworkers, I’ve learned that the best way to prepare your body for the disorienting VR future is to play around with short bursts of a few different Rift-enabled PC games. Here are a few of my favorites, along with instructions on how to make them play nicely with your new Oculus Rift headset.

Ease into VR with Euro Truck Simulator 2

Silly as it sounds, there’s no better way to test out a new VR headset than to play this charmingly mundane shipping simulator.

Almost everyone knows how to drive a truck, at least in theory. If nothing else, you know what a truck looks and sounds like, and you have a pretty good idea of what it should look like to drive one down a pleasant country highway.

If you have trouble getting used to VR, try taking a few short drives in Euro Truck Simulator 2 to get comfortable with head tracking and tricking your eyes into focusing on objects displayed at different distances on a screen that’s an inch from your face.

Hitching up Euro Truck to your Rift is pretty simple: Buy and install the game on Steam, then right-click the game in your Steam library and select Properties. Pop over to the Betas tab, opt into the one that says Oculus, then create a shortcut to that version of the game on your desktop. Right-click the shortcut icon, select Properties again, and add -oculus to the end of the command line listed in the Target window.

Make sure your Rift is hooked up to your PC and calibrated appropriately, then launch ETS2 from that modified shortcut. If you run into any issues with distortion or nausea, you can find a wealth of tips and guides to editing the game’s display settings on the official forum.

Now make yourself sick with Strike Suit Zero

Okay, raise your hand if you miss space dogfighting games like X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter and Freespace 2. Now put that hand directly on your mouse and click one of the many Buy buttons on the Strike Suit Zero website, because it’s probably exactly what you’re looking for. It’s even better in the Rift, since it allows you to get accustomed to moving your head around quickly to track targets in 3D space.

Tailoring your Rift to Strike Suit Zero is a cinch: Just make sure the Rift is hooked up and ready to go, then launch the game and enable the Oculus Rift option in the settings menu. If your Rift gets confused about exactly which direction is forward or starts to drift when you aren’t moving your head, hit the G key, while looking forward with your head level, to re-center the headset.

Take a lap with iRacing

If you like to watch supercars take left turns at breakneck speeds you’ve probably heard of iRacing, which recently patched in Rift support. For the uninitiated, iRacing is a subscription-based racing sim that lets you suit up in the fire-resistant racing onesie of a Grand Prix or NASCAR driver.

Modding your Rift headset for iRacing is a snap: Just make sure the Rift is connected to your PC and configured as an extended monitor, then launch iRacing as normal. The game should detect the headset and offer you the option to play in Rift mode, which lets you re-center the display at any time by pressing the semicolon key (you can customize this in the settings menu.)

The developers of iRacing did a thorough job of patching their game to support the Rift, and both the in-game garage and the various vehicle cockpits are easy on the eyes. If you do feel motion-sick while racing in the Rift, try disabling VSYNC in the iRacing options menu. The game will look worse but run more smoothly, which can go a long way toward settling your stomach.

Get your hands dirty with Surgeon Simulator 2013

Surgeon Simulator is a silly game that’s funny because it’s so technically complex. You’re tasked with performing surgery on a hapless patient with nothing but a surgeon’s tools, a gamer’s fine motor skills, and a virtual hand that can be controlled with frustratingly exacting mouse and keyboard commands.

You move the hand with your mouse, rotate it by holding the right mouse button and mousing around, and open/close each individual finger by depressing the Q,W,E,R, and Space keys. Trying to perform a heart transplant as a bumbling surgeon who can’t seem to figure out how his fingers work is a deliciously dark bit of comedic gameplay, and it’s that much better when you strap on your Rift.

Getting your hand in the game is simple: Just connect your Rift to the PC and calibrate it, then launch Surgeon Simulator. Open the Experimental option from the in-game clipboard menu and enable Oculus Rift mode. It works pretty well, and since Surgeon Simulator 2013 runs on the same Source engine that powers Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2, you can also use your Rift while playing those games as well.

Pilot mechs in Hawken

I love Hawken. It’s a free-to-play PC mech game that lets you and your friends stomp around in giant walking tanks blasting the parts off each other, and it’s a blast to play with the Rift.

Unfortunately, Hawken won’t automatically detect your Rift headset—yet. The game was recently patched to support the Rift, but you have to launch a special VR version of the Hawken client. To do so, create a modified shortcut: Open up your file explorer and navigate to the directory where Hawken is installed and find your Hawken executable, which should be named “HawkenGame-Win32-Shipping.exe” or something similar. Create a shortcut—in Windows you can just right-click the icon and select Create Shortcut—then right-click that new shortcut and open the Properties menu. Append -vr to the end of the command line and change the shortcut’s title to something like “Hawken as it was meant to be played” or “Hawken VR” to differentiate it from the main game.

If you’re using the original Rift dev kit you should also hit F5 once the game launches and type togglevisor to switch off some of the interface, as its 720p resolution doesn’t play well with Hawken’s visor interface. If the entire world looks skewed, try typing ResetMotionInput when you’re sitting straight with the Rift facing directly forward to reset the default orientation of the game’s interface.

Hawken’s VR mode is a work in need of serious progress. You may run into display bugs, and since the game seems to automatically set the default “forward” for whatever angle/direction the Rift is facing when the game loads, it’s easy to muck up your perspective accidentally and make everything look nauseatingly distorted. But when everything works right, you’ll feel like a pilot rattling around in the belly of a walking tank the size of a building.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon