It’s been two years since consumers officially got their hands on virtual reality with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, and in that time a lot of VR games have released. Sure, there may still be no singular headset-seller, but trawl Steam or the Oculus Store and you’ll still find hundreds of hours of entertainment—some of it pretty good!
So where to start? Well, we compiled a list of our favorite Oculus Rift games and our favorite HTC Vive games back in 2016, and some of those (Job Simulator, Tilt Brush, Chronos) are still worth checking out. The Vive Pro’s recent release is a handy excuse for an update though, and below you’ll find an additional (meaning no repeats from the earlier lists) batch of VR games to jumpstart your collection. Note: Some games are exclusive to one platform or the other, and these have been marked where appropriate.
Of course, you’ll need a modern VR headset to experience these. The games and experiences on this list are a mix of games for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
Neither of Bethesda’s ports are amazing made-for-VR experiences. They’re full of control issues, unintuitive interfaces, and other annoyances emblematic of games ported to VR after the fact instead of built for it from the start.
Again, they’re far from perfect—but until VR catches on, these half-baked ports are probably the best we can hope for, at least when it comes to having a “traditional” gaming experience.
The Gallery – Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone
The Gallery is the closest we’ll come to a repeat entry from our original Vive/Rift recommendations. The game’s first episode, Call of the Starseed, was one of the Vive’s standout launch titles. A combination of Myst-like mechanical puzzles with a larger-than-life science fiction story, it was a perfect early example of what VR could do for adventure games.
Follow up Heart of the Emberstone leans into the sci-fi elements, picking up right where the first game ended and whisking players to a wonderfully detailed alien planet. The puzzles aren’t quite as engaging, but I’m mostly fond of The Gallery because whether you’re exploring an alien catacomb or standing in a crumbled space-Colosseum, few VR games do a better job making a space feel real.
Kingspray and ViveSpray
Rule one of VR: For any Oculus Rift exclusive, there is an equal and opposite Vive version. Okay, not all the time, but it happens surprisingly often.
Kingspray Graffiti and ViveSpray are the first ones I remember. Kingspray, a promising graffiti-sim, announced a few months after its debut trailer that it’d actually be an Oculus exclusive. The outcry from the Vive community was immediate, and led to someone throwing together ViveSpray—a rough-edged equivalent.
With Kingspray coming to Vive a few months after its Rift release, the two now coexist alongside each other. I’m no expert, but I’d say Kingspray has better environments and a more intuitive interface, while ViveSpray 2’s paint physics are slightly better. Both are great tools though.
Google Earth VR
No game has held my interest longer than our own planet, traveling city to city and seeing the most wondrous landmarks from humanity’s history, courtesy of Google Earth VR. Zoom from way out in space down to street level, seamlessly. It’s just an incredible experience.
It’s even better now that there’s Street View support, actually. When the game first launched I said that would be an obvious addition—Street View is 360-degree panoramas, a natural fit for VR. Obviously Google felt the same, and by simply holding your hand up to your face you can replace Google Earth’s chunky 3D renders with actual photographs.
Google Earth VR also supports 360-degree photos uploaded by the community, meaning you can even explore the interiors of some attractions. I spent a night admiring the art of the Louvre by way of random people’s photos, for instance.
I first tried out Superhot VR before the Rift was even officially released, back in the DK2 era. All this time later, it’s still one of the most evocative experiences in VR.
Like the original 2D game, in Superhot VR time only moves when you move. This lets you pull off all sorts of dramatic stunts, ducking out of the way of bullets, or even stealing the gun from an enemy’s hand before hitting them with a bottle.
And it’s one of those games that will hold up long-term, I think. Not only is it unique, the minimalist low-poly art is perfect for VR’s present but will still look great in VR’s future too.
Robo Recall (Rift)
Emerging out of Epic’s old Bullet Train demo, Robo Recall seems to stem from a single principle: Make the player feel cool.
And it’s successful too. Albeit setup similar to other VR wave shooters, Robo Recall’s appeal is in adopting an over-the-top action movie ethos where the player feels untouchable. Teleport, shoot, teleport, shoot, and when that’s not enough you can always pick up a robot and use it to knock another’s head off.
It’s silly cartoonish fun, incredibly slick and satisfying to play. And since it’s from Epic, you know it looks damn great too.
Arizona Sunshine felt like a breath of fresh air in late 2016. After nine months of demo-length experiences, finally there was a game with an actual campaign.
And that’s still where this zombie-infested desert stands. It’s not a very creative premise nor a life-changing application of VR, but headshotting a horde of approaching zombies is a time-tested delight and Arizona Sunshine gives you plenty of opportunity to do so—plus more scenery and motivation than your average wave-shooter.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew
If you ever fantasized about sitting on the bridge of the Enterprise and boldly going where no one has gone before, Star Trek: Bridge Crew is a dream come true. It gives you and a few friends the chance to embody roles on a starship of your own—one person as captain, another as engineer, a third as helm, and a fourth as tactical officer.
Each has a different set of controls, and so while the game consists mostly of turning dials and flipping switches the catch is getting everyone to work together—making sure the engineer powers the engines before helm tries to go to warp, for instance.
It’s a bit light on content, but with three committed friends Bridge Crew is still an amazing experience for Star Trek fans.
Using high-res 3D scans of objects from museums around the world, developer Finn Sinclair has constructed a sort-of greatest hits collection where the Mona Lisa lives alongside Michelangelo’s Pieta. The faux-museum also takes advantage of its digital state, constructing exhibits that would never work in real life—like a recreation of the dig site around the Terracotta Army, or a hallway that lets forth onto a life-size reproduction of the Great Buddha of Kamakura, outdoors and sitting placidly in the snow.
It’s a cool experience, free, and another stunning example of VR’s educational potential.
Lone Echo (Rift)
Early on, one of the most promising VR games was Adr1ft, which had you floating around a derelict space ship in Earth’s orbit.
Lone Echo takes those ideas and expands on them, with Oculus Touch support allowing you to reach out, grab the walls of the Kronos II space station, and then launch yourself off them like a human torpedo. It’s one of the coolest movement systems I’ve seen, and with a surprising amount of depth too. That, plus brilliant views of Saturn and a full-length story make Lone Echo one of the Rift’s strongest exclusives.
The multiplayer Echo Arena is worth checking out too—a zero-gravity sport, reminiscent of the classic battle scenes from Ender’s Game.
Next page: More of the best VR games and experiences
Invisible Hours bills itself as “a piece of immersive theater,” and yeah, that sounds about right. Like a historical-fiction take on Clue, you’re invited to a party at Nikola Tesla’s mansion—only to find him dead. Your job is to figure out which of the guests is responsible.
That’s just the start though. Imagine a film you could watch from any angle, see from any character’s point of view, and you’ve got Invisible Hours. You’re the world’s greatest detective, unseen and able to rewind or teleport at will.
Explore the mansion, follow guests around, and the smaller moments you stumble on might completely change your opinion of the story. It’s an impressive bit of writing, and although not all of the acting is perfect I’d still say Invisible Hours is one of the best narrative-driven experiences VR has to offer.
There are a lot of melee combat games in VR, but none quite so satisfying as “gladiator simulator” Gorn. Its physics-heavy fights are absolutely ridiculous, with your foes crumpling in all sorts of stupid ways under the power of your blows, blood exploding out in gobs.
Chop a head off! Chop an arm off! Impale someone on a spear and then throw them over your head! Punch someone in the face with your shield! Kill someone with a bladed Frisbee, like that scene in Commando.
It’s an incredible stress-relief game, is still updated fairly regularly, and you can tell a weird amount of thought’s gone into making every single object exciting. Just make sure you’ve cleared enough room—plenty of Steam reviews mentioning busted windows, walls, and controllers.
I grabbed Duck Season thinking it was a VR version of the classic NES game Duck Hunt. And it is…sort of.
Spoiler: There’s a lot more going on here. Like, a lot more. The game oscillates between nostalgic throwback and weird pseudo-horror—enough so that those who are easily scared should probably steer clear. I think it’s one of the best-crafted VR games made so far though, packed full of small details and secrets, plus seven endings to give you a reason to replay what’s otherwise a pretty short and linear experience.
Highly recommend sitting cross-legged on the floor for the full nostalgia experience.
If you like Bard’s Tale, then Mage’s Tale is an easy sell. Developed by InXile, it’s the same type of corny pun-heavy humor transposed to a VR dungeon crawler.
This is a surprisingly long dungeon crawler too, packed full of the usual hidden secrets, lightweight puzzles, and tons of goblins to kill. There are lots of ways to do the latter too, with a deep spellcrafting system that lets you make everything from green lightning to homing fireballs and more.
Bard’s Tale IV is right around the corner, due to release sometime this year, but Mage’s Tale is a solid VR side-course. My only quibbles: The controls could use some reworking, and the load times are long.
Reality Decks (Rift) and Vinyl Reality
Another Rift/Vive split, Reality Decks and Vinyl Reality both stem from the same core concept: VR DJ. For those who don’t want to buy (or don’t have room to store) turntables, Vinyl Reality and Reality Decks give you access to virtual ones, along with any music you have stored on your PC.
Vinyl Reality is multiplatform while Reality Decks is Rift only, but otherwise there’s not much to delineate the two. Both will teach you the fundamentals of mixing, both are fairly attractive to hang out in, and both use VR controls in smart ways.
Thumper and Rez Infinite
Rez Infinite probably wins the award for “Oldest Game On VR,” seeing as it’s a rework of a Dreamcast/PlayStation 2 game from 2001. Surprise: Despite being almost two decades old, it seems like it was built for VR—a psychedelic combination of arcade shooter and rhythm game that’s overwhelming with a headset on.
The same words could be used to describe Thumper, too. While not officially inspired by Rez the two are uncannily similar, with Thumper featuring the same blend of rhythm and action and speed and trippy visuals, except you’re some sort of weird space beetle flying through a dark void that’s essentially a hell-version of a Journey album cover. It’s…weird.
Both are amazing synethesia experiences that, while perfectly fine on a normal monitor, become 100 times more intense with a headset on.
Rec Room and VR Chat
When Facebook bought Oculus, ostensibly it was because Mark Zuckerberg and Co. envisioned a future of “Social VR.” Thus, Facebook Spaces—like Facebook but for VR!
It’s bad. Luckily, other developers have succeeded where Facebook failed. VRChat, as you might expect, is the more “chat” oriented of the two, essentially a lawless forum board that can be as thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is stupid and unintelligible. Depends on the day. Rec Room is more like a high-tech field trip, with paintball, disc golf, laser tag, and more—games first, hanging out second. Both are free, so not much risk trying them out and seeing what’s your speed.
Either way, William Gibson should be proud.
Wilson’s Heart (Rift)
Wilson’s Heart is one of the most high-concept VR games I’ve played: An homage to 1940’s-era monster movies, set in an abandoned asylum with the usual lightning flashes and rainy atmosphere outside, and rendered all in grainy black-and-white. There are a few jump scares, but mostly this is slow-burn horror, mixed in with some B-movie cheese.
A few sections plod on too long, and the puzzles vary wildly in quality, but there’s a real creative vision behind Wilson’s Heart that’s still all-too-rare in the fledgling medium. It tells a charming story, the environments are top-notch, and the superb Oculus Touch controllers really add to the experience. It’s great.
Also, the main character is voiced by Peter Weller of Robocop fame, and the game’s almost worth playing just for his blend of gravelly menace with too-old-for-this-nonsense malaise.
It’s just as stunning in VR. The slower, relaxed pace of The Talos Principle is a stellar fit for the medium, encouraging you to wander slowly around Croteam’s lush environments and take in the scenery as you go puzzle to puzzle. Like many VR games, it’s also amazing to see the scale of those environments after seeing them for so long on a flat monitor. Turns out a structure called “The Tower” is a lot more nerve-wracking in VR than it is on a normal screen.
The non-VR version is still probably my preferred way to play, but Croteam’s port is flawless—and one of the best-looking VR experiences too. That alone might be enough to merit checking it out.
L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files
Another weird port, L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files adapts the 2011 crime thriller to VR—complete with the facial animations that made it famous. Those animations don’t seem quite as high-tech in 2018, but what’s here is still a pretty interesting experiment, especially in VR where you can catch every nuance of a lying witness.
The downside of L.A. Noire VR is it’s short. I thought we’d be getting the full game—and maybe someday we will. But for now this is a seven-chapter excerpt of the full game. Everything’s represented, so you’ll do a bit of clue-hunting, some shooting, some driving, and a fair number of interrogations, but it’s easy to feel like the game ends right when it should be ramping up.
Also be warned that Oculus support, while officially added, is still spotty at best.
Bonus: SteamVR Home (Vive)
Before wrapping this up, I just want to give a quick shoutout to SteamVR Home. It’s not really a game or an experience—it’s the landing page you’ll find when you launch into SteamVR. But what started out as a bare-bones copy of Oculus Home has quickly transformed into an ecosystem in its own right, thanks to its tie-ins with the Steam Workshop.
Want your hub to look like Star Trek’s holodeck? Sure. A Star Wars dogfight? That’s there too. The TARDIS, immaculately modeled and with appropriate sound effects? Go for it. There’s a wealth of stuff to explore without ever opening a real game, and some—like a 3D scan of Valve’s lobby—even have an interactive element to them.
I’ve spent a surprising amount of time in SteamVR Home, and it can only get better as new environments are added by intrepid modders all the time.
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Hayden writes about games for PCWorld and doubles as the resident Zork enthusiast.
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