Hands on: Minecraft for the Oculus Rift may be the best VR game to date

It's a different experience than Minecraft on the Hololens, although arguably just as powerful.

microsoft minescraft oculus rift feb 2016
Mark Hachman

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While there are literally dozens of games planned with support for the Oculus Rift VR headset, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that few will feel as natural as Microsoft’s Minecraft.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg may have announced last week at Mobile World Congress that Minecraft will eventually make it to the Oculus Rift, but a demonstration last week at an Xbox showcase in San Francisco implies that it will be sooner, not later. Officially, Minecraft on the Rift will debut this spring, Microsoft said. 

When you think about it, it makes sense: Oculus will always need more content to justify its $599 price tag. And Microsoft needs to keep pushing Minecraft as a game and as a platform to justify its mammoth $2.5 billion price tag.

microsoft minecraft hololens crop

Microsoft has shown off Minecraft running on the HoloLens, which offers a nifty top-down view of the environment. But for an immerisve first-person view, you can’t beat the Oculus Rift.

The limitations of VR

Having tested just a few games within a VR environment, I hadn’t realized one of the real issues with VR content: the heads-up display. In Minecraft, your inventory bar, life and armor, and other indicators hover over your field of view. Other games place this sort of information into context: a dashboard in a racing game, for example, or an overlay on your character’s spacesuit helmet. In Minecraft, however, the HUD floats somewhat aimlessly a few feet in front of you.

Minecraft on Oculus Rift

On the Rift, the Minecraft HUD simply floats in space.

It’s not a deal-breaker by any means. But the HUD still stands as a visual reminder that you’re playing a game, rather than virtually wandering within the Minecraft world. Of course, that’s assuming you’ve forgotten you’re already using an Xbox controller to jump, walk, navigate your inventory, and pickaxe through walls.

Minecraft’s exploratory nature, however, feels particularly suited to the Rift headset. Aside from the odd minute or so of combat, you’ll probably be exploring your surroundings in a leisurely manner, rather than trying to keep an eye on dozens of enemies. 

I say this because I did feel a real sense of vertigo when playing Minecraft on the Rift, especially when perched on a “glass” bridge high up in the Minecraft landscape. I say this as someone who has happily peered over the edge of both the Burj Khalifa and Taipei 101, and weathered the original Rift rollercoaster demo with no problems. Microsoft ran the demo on a PC, and Microsoft’s PR representatives specifically told me the framerate was locked at 90 frames per second, the minimum level for “good” VR that eliminates motion sickness.You may have a completely different experience, but it might be something to think about before buying a Rift.

That said, Microsoft did a marvelous job of curating a brief Minecraft experience. There may not have been anything new, but it was still a blast to traverse the small Minecraft level, bashing zombies, detonating dynamite, and riding redstone mine cars from space to space. 

Facebook seems like it wants to push virtual reality as far as it will go. Minecraft seems to be a good first step.

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