It seems like the debate surrounding whether or not Virtual Reality is a passing fad or the future of everything isn’t going to end anytime soon (which ironically kind of answers that debate, but let’s not go there). People and companies are using VR technology for all sorts of things and it’s still not entirely clear just how permanent of a fixture they’ll become, however, one area where VR has been undeniably successful, is in games.
While VR is far from being the future of gaming as a whole for a myriad of reasons, developers have been able to create some absolutely incredible games for the platform that simply wouldn’t be possible without Virtual Reality technology. VR in games is something unique and wonderful, so I thought now would be a great time to celebrate that by running down some of my favourite VR games that I’ve played over the past few years.
Before I start, I just want to mention Boneworks, it looks amazing, but I haven’t had the chance to play it yet so I can’t give it anything more than an honourable mention. Sorry.
8 – Universe Sandbox² VR
One of the biggest things that VR can achieve that regular gaming can’t is to create an incredible sense of scale and Universe Sandbox is easily the game that shows that the best.
This is a game that lets you mess with planets, solar system and even galaxies in pretty much whatever way you want. The tools are very in-depth but quite simple to get your head around as long as you’re familiar with how gaming menus work. You want to delete the Sun from the centre of the solar system to see what happens? Easy. You want to overflow the Earth’s oceans and then crash it into the moon? Not a problem. You want to create a teapot the size of the Earth and throw it into Jupiter? Come right this way.
What absolutely puts me in awe with this game though is when you zoom in and out to scale the planets up and down. You can have an Earth spinning in front of you that’s the size of a basketball, or you can push it all the way up until it’s a planet-sized planet sitting right in front of you for you to just stare in awe at; and when I saw awe here, I really mean it. When I first started looking at stuff like that it was genuinely a bit unsettling to look at just because of how bloody massive it was, my tiny human brain almost couldn’t comprehend the scale of the thing.
Then I threw the TARDIS at it and played pool with Jupiter’s moons. So a pretty mixed afternoon overall.
7 – Accounting+
I only wanted to include one of these “comedic adventure experiences” in this list and I ummed and erred over which one to include. I considered Job Simulator, but it’s been around so long that the joke’s a bit played out and I think most people are at least aware of it, so I went for Accounting VR instead.
Written in part by Justin Roiland (of Adventure Time & Rick and Morty fame) the game is top-notch with its comedy at almost all times. Originally released as a fairly linear experience, it has since been expanded greatly into a game with a whole host of different weird and wonderful comedic scenes for you to play your way through.
It strikes a brilliant balance between watching characters interact with each other (and you) and getting you to do fairly simple tasks in the VR environment, which range from a police shootout at high speed along a highway, to literally summoning Satan round the back of what looks like a McDonalds.
I could go on, but saying any more would spoil it and the original, more linear, version of the game is available for free on Steam, so you should go play it.
6 – TARDIS VR
It’s a TARDIS. In VR. Need I go on?
Doctor Who has tried to create a couple of official VR experiences over the past couple of years, but I really feel like any of them have quite reached the heights of being amazing, they tend to just be very simple experiences where you do a couple of really simple tasks while you watch a not all that interesting (if very pretty looking) story unfold in front of you. So a wonderful person who goes by Feroxxy decided they were going to create a big TARDIS of their own for us all to have a look around, and release it for free.
It is still technically in alpha had they’ve put the project on an extended hiatus, but for the low, low price of free, I’d say it’s absolutely worth checking this out because it is by far the best Doctor Who themed VR game out there. There are all sorts of little treasure troves of interesting stuff laying around the place from the various episodes where we’ve seen a little deeper inside of the TARDIS. You can even fiddle with just about everything on the console and even travel to a couple of small locations from the show’s past.
Once again, I don’t want to spoil it, but I assure you that if you’re a Doctor Who fan, you’ll get a kick out of this one.
5 – I Expect You To Die
This is a game that brings together a unique combination of chaotic gameplay with a very lighthearted and charming style that is able to draw me into just about any game I play.
This game is essentially a series of escape rooms that are each only about 5 minutes long, but they get very frantic very quickly and it’ll often take you much longer to solve some of the puzzles. The spy theme is on point and the game puts you in plenty of classic spy-themed situations, such as hacking into a spy-car and driving it out of a plane that’s in the air, or escaping a capsule that’s stuck at the bottom of the ocean.
While the setting and many of the interactions in the world are very fun and silly, the game still makes sure to throw into the deep end to see whether or not you can swim. Once you start the ball rolling in any of these scenarios it can be very hard to stop it and it’s likely that you will go through multiple failures on your way to averting disaster.
I Expect You To Die is responsible for some of the most insanely chaotic moments I’ve had while playing a VR game, it constantly keeps you involved with the action and also makes sure your brain remains active as you attempt to solve its puzzles.
4 – Creed: Rise to Glory
I really didn’t expect this one to be so compelling, but I always have an absolute blast with it.
To be clear, I know basically nothing about boxing, but everything from the Wii Sports to Kinect Sports has taught be that furiously flailing my fist in order to punch virtual men in the face is great fun, although, if there’s no structure to it, the fun doesn’t last all that long. That was the key problem with both Wii Sports & Kinect Sports, the fact that the best strategy was always to just wildly flail and the AI would never get a chance to attack and you’d be guaranteed to win.
Creed: Rise to Glory is able to find a much more nuanced position on this and it actually creates quite a challenging experience that works quite well for a workout if you’re in the mood for it. I may be hitting my opponent with a mostly random rhythm and only blocking in a panic when I realise I’ve used up all my stamina, but boy do I feel like I’m being a real skilled boxer, coming up with strategies and adapting on the fly.
Each fight is just enough challenge for it to feel so fantastically cathartic when I eventually win and each victory motivates me to push onwards into the next fight. If you’re looking for a boxing game, this one is easily the best choice.
3 – Blade & Sorcery
Do you play games to feel like a badass? To cut through enemies in the most brutal ways possible? To become the lord of death? No? Well, you will once you’ve played Blade & Sorcery.
I’ve played my share of violent games and when it comes to the level of gore & violence that you see in the game, this one isn’t actually that graphic. However, the sensation of physically running your sword through someone’s body, then them falling to the ground as you pull it out is weirdly haunting and surprisingly empowering. This game lets you be the absolute monster you would be if video games were how the world really worked.
Every strike you make feels so forceful and powerful that you almost get into that mindset of a medieval action hero, slicing limbs and cutting through armies. If you’re still not convinced that this is the most empowering game ever, I’ll leave you with a moment that was perhaps the most amazing I’ve ever felt while playing a game; because I don’t think anything sums up the joy of playing in VR better than leaping off of a cliff, using your axe to hook onto a zipline, dropping off the zipline halfway, landing on top of someone and embedding your axe in their skull, before doing a 180, pulling a dagger out of your belt and it going through another enemy’s eye socket.
…this is usually where I’d summarize my point, but I think that says all I could ever want to.
2 – Superhot VR
I’ve never felt like moving my body is so much of a puzzle.
It may not seem like it on the surface, but what really makes Superhot great is how you’re constantly having to think a few steps ahead of each move. The slowed time concept gives you almost as much time as you need to think about each series of movements and despite having to focus on reacting to what’s going on, you’re forced into a proactive mindset to avoid certain doom.
Stick this formula into VR and you’ve got something so incredibly unique and special that I almost can’t comprehend what makes it so great. It’s still that idea of thinking a few steps ahead and making precise movements, only now those precise movements are going to have to be made by your body. It’s easy to avoid movement when you’re using a keyboard or controller, but when you’re in the situation yourself and every little wasted movement you make costs you precious seconds of reaction time, the stakes of the whole thing become so much more.
I’ve never felt so aware of every movement I’m making while in VR. It almost feels like the game heightens my senses, I become aware of almost everything that’s around me as I quickly calculate the best movements to escape the current situation. These plans almost never work and I probably look like a twat while executing them, but who the hell cares? I’m an action hero in slow motion and that’s what matters.
1 – Beat Saber
(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)
The concept is so simple as it’s just like any other rhythm game, except you’ve got to move your arms to hit the blocks instead of just pressing buttons in time with some music.
This game as a mastery of its sound design, making sure that every slice of a block has an extremely satisfying sound to it, helping to create this cool factor as you slice left, right and centre, even when you know that to anyone watching outside of the headset, you just look to be flailing around wildly. Even the sounds and music on the menus create an intense sense of atmosphere as you stand in what seems to be the most neon warehouse to ever exist.
A lot of VR games that I enjoy are games that I think would still work fairly well without the VR component. While games like Job Simulator and Budget Cuts would need some tweaking, I don’t think the VR element is specifically what makes them as good as they are. Beat Saber is very much the opposite, I’ve never particularly cared for rhythm games, nor am I all that good at them, but when you take that concept and put it into VR suddenly it becomes one of the most all-out fun experiences I’ve ever had.
I don’t know what part of how my brain works causes this, but I am so much better at Beat Saber than I am any other rhythm game I’ve ever played. I’m miles away from being among the best of course, but I can play on the higher speeds and difficulties and not struggle massively as I play and I think the sense of pure fun the game as injected into it is a big part of that.
On top of all of that, it works as an exercise game, but it doesn’t frame it as one. I’ve never got along with games like Ring Fit Adventure or Wii Fit because they make sure to let you know you’re doing exercise the whole way through, but in Beat Saber you just start flailing your arms and suddenly you’re drenched in sweat and have lost about 20 pounds without even realising it.
Beat Saber is a game that realised the massive potential that an existing genre of games could have in VR and made sure to tailor the experience perfectly so that it couldn’t possibly work without it and that is fundamentally what I believe makes a good VR game.
And that’s it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this, please let me know what your favourite VR games are, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time next week, where I’ll be running down my favourite matches of The Undertaker!