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The 23 best VR games for PC

Send your brain to these other dimensions

best-vr-games

Here they are then – the best games to play in virtual reality…and those games are “watching football,” “drinking”, “a nice cup of tea”, “fleeting emotional connection to another human being” and all those other everyday activities you believe to be real, as opposed than a simulation you have been experiencing since you first plugged your frail, mollusc-like form into a headset 19 years ago. SPOOKS!

But, should you persist in maintaining this fantasy, let’s go one level deeper and talk about the entertaining, satisfying or otherwise nifty games available for what is the current VR state-of-the-art in your imagined world: the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. The rival headsets are getting on for a couple of years old now, and in that time there’s been what can feel like a ceaseless storm of new games for them. How to choose, how to choose? Well, start here. These are not the only good’uns, please understand – but they are our favourite virtual realities right now.

The Climb

The Climb [official site] is one of the most effective meeting points between high concept experience and substantial game that I’ve tried to date. It’s a rock-climbing simulator, set in a small series of suitably fantastic-looking backdrops (thank you kindly, Cryengine), and that immediately saves it from the sick-making movement issues that can plague so many other games which shoot for a first-person experience. All the movement comes from the arms and shoulders here, and in short sharp bursts rather than sustained running.

The brilliance of The Climb is that it feels so physical, even without Touch controllers (though more so with them). When your character lunges up and out for a far-off grip, you shunt your torso with them. This is a standing still game, but the Rift’s motion sensor keeps tabs on where your head is – and if it’s not close enough to that grip, you’re going to miss, and might well fall.

Oddly and mercifully, the vertigo is not as acute as the shots and concept might suggest, so this isn’t a game to be afraid of – but it will give you a surprising work-out.

Supports: Oculus Rift.

Minecraft

An official add-on for Minecraft [official site], the building/fighting game your damn kid spends every second of their time watching faux-jolly videos about. Unofficial mods, such as Vivecraft, exist and offer a greater range of features and hardware support, but this here’s your easiest option by far. Sadly, it only supports the Windows 10 Edition of Minecraft and is Rift-only, but at least the add-on’s free.

Minecraft landscapes look fantastic in VR, and in the years to come this game of all games is one of the most likely to have a sustained VR life. A blockworld, with all those clear, cuboid edges, somehow seems so much more tangible than the photoreality others shoot for.

However, movement using current VR hardware is a little problematic for now – either immediately nauseating or reliant on awkward, mechanic alternate controls that jump the camera around. YMMV, and expect gradual improvements over time.

Supports: Oculus Rift officially, Vive unofficially with the third-party Vivecraft mod.

Quake VR

Not even slightly official, and you’ll have to jump through a fair few hoops to get it going, but by God it’s a thing of beauty once you do. As with Minecraft, the comparative crudity of Quake’s shapes and architecture makes it seem so much more there than higher-fidelity VR games, plus it feels truly like visiting another place rather than a simulacrum of ours. The speed of the movement – Quake is a far, far faster-moving game than you probably remember – is likely to do a number on your guts, but damn, it’s worth it. You can download it here and we wrote more about it here.

Supports: Oculus Rift only; end-user modification to support Vive may be possible.

Eagle Flight

Ubisoft’s initial foray into VR should have been called Assassin’s Screech, involving as it does a detailed recreation of a European city (Paris, in this instance) with icons strewn all over it. Also, eagles, right? Eagle Flight [official site] is a simple but strong concept: you are a big bird, you fly around an enormous outdoor space. Job done. Then it lobs in a post-apocalyptic theme that entails elephants and giraffes patrolling around Paris. This is a game where you can fail a level by accidentally flying into a flamingo.

It’s pretty, but the compromises required to achieve decent performance on VR are evident, and a head movement-based control system doesn’t quite pull off the full-body freedom the concept seems to suggest. It’s also landed on a tilt-rather-than-turn movement control to try and assuage motion sickness, but this is unnatural and uncomfortable.

Eagle Flight makes a decent fist of trying to drape Videogame around Experience, with race modes, feather collection minigames and even multiplayer score attack fare, but you’ll still feel you’ve seen it all very quickly. Definitely worth having in your VR repertoire, but not enough to spur a hardware purchase.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift (Also requires UPlay account).

Tilt Brush

The gold standard of VR, but with it we’re dragged into the ongoing debate as to whether the hardware’s future is really much to do with games. Tilt Brush [official site] is a painting tool, although to call it that is to undersell the sensation it gives that you are sculpting in the air with actual magic. One of the key reasons why a whole lot of techfolk lost their minds during the initial Vive demos is the moment they stepped back from a simple shape they’d painted in the air with the Vive wands, walked around it and saw it turn into near-tangible 3D fireworks.

Of course, Tilt Brush really requires some artistic skill – or at least great enthusiasm – in order to be at its best, but you can download others’ work from the built-in gallery and lose yourself to wonder.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

Job Simulator

This set of comedy mundanity vignettes is something of a posterboy for modern VR – for reasons pure and reasons disappointing. Job Simulator [official site] is funny, but more importantly it understands that the nature of wearing a plastic box on your head and waving plastic sticks around is a) to be encumbered and b) to recreate only coarse approximations of reality. And so it is that, primarily, you knock things over, set things on fire and generally break things via designed cack-handedness, in a boxy, joky alt-future where robots rule the world and are bemusedly recreating long-forgotten human jobs such as frychef, bored clerk and car mechanic for their own entertainment.

It’s a giggle, for about two hours, and then you’ve seen it all. That’s VR gaming’s key problem, and sometimes I darkly lay the technology’s so-far failure to launch into the mainstream at the feet of the throwaway precedent set by Job Simulator during the Vive launch. But, first time around, it’s irresistible, and definitely something you’ll bust out every time you want to show off your face-tech to visitors and terrified relatives.

Supports: HTC Vive only

Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope

Possibly a more prophetic name than intended, given I fired up this spin-off of Croteam’s tongue-in-cheek, everything-up-to-11 shooter at a time when I felt disillusioned by the minigame-centric approach taken by so much VR software. Serious Sam VR [official site] is a total riot, and if you want a first-person gun for VR, this is king of the hill.

It’s a giant-scale throwback to lightgun arcade games, but thanks to the Vive controllers it goes one step further and essentially becomes a finger guns game, in which you mow down vast and endless hordes of ridiculous and ridiculously gigantic monsterfolk. In terms of defining the future of the medium, no, not at all; in terms of having a damned good time for quite some time with your Vive, yes, absolutely.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

American Truck Simulator

The best game you’ve (probably) never played is a surprisingly good fit for VR, given how intricate it can be – flying in the face of apparent current wisdom that VR games have to be as simple as possible. American Truck Simulator [official site] is exactly as it sounds, but it’s up to you whether that entails precision driving and tuning or just a jolly lovely road trip across a shrunken but still impressive California, Arizona and Nevada (more to come) while blasting a radio station of your choice. In VR, you get a driver’s seat view and the ability to look around freely, which is a godsend at busy junctions.

The steady movement and vehicular nature of ATS also saves it from the physical dissonance/ motion sickness problems which dog anything that tries to replicate leg-based movement – this is one of the longer-haul VR prospects around. Headset + wheel + thermos full of coffee is a beautiful way to spend an evening.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

TheBlu

If you own a Vive, TheBlu [official site] might just be the first thing you fire up to show the thing off to anyone who’s visiting, particularly if you want to try and convince that you haven’t made a terrible purchasing decision when they spot the goggles in the corner. To call it a game is pushing it: this is strictly tourism of the undersea. The Blu really goes for it visually and sensorily though. This is a far cry from the boxy shapes and flat textures of so many other VR titles, working hard to be a wraparound ocean world that fills your head with dreams of where technology will one day take you. It’s also some of the finest use of the Vive’s room scale conceit there is – this feels a takeover of your space, not a mere projection onto it.

Don’t expect to go back to The Blu often, but enjoy the short ride and the surprise blue whales while you can.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

Virtual Desktop

While we’re doing the whole ‘not really a game’ thing anyway, let me tell you about the number one most essential VR software purchase you must make if you own either headset. Virtual Desktop [official site] is as it sounds: a giganto-recreation of your Windows desktop within your goggles. In theory, it’s like having a massive wraparound monitor, removing the need to have any screen at all on your desk, and you get to throw windows around your head in a vaguely Minority Report style [this is how I edit your work now – ed]. In theory, the headsets’ resolution makes text very hard to read unless you lean in or zoom close, and even the stoutest consitutions will be feeling uncomfortable after a couple of hours, but VD remains extremely useful nonetheless.

It’s probably the best tool going for movie watching – be it traditional video rendered on a not terribly sharp but nonetheless cinema-scale ‘screen’, or fancy/sordid 360 and/or 3D video – and for simply playing traditional games on a virtual giant screen. Steam’s built in ‘cinema’ is a bit of a nuisance in many ways, whereas this just lets you use your PC like your PC and deal with no middlemen.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

fantastic-contraption

Fantastic Contraption

Until such time as gogglevision is augmented with full positional finger tracking (and fingertip-based haptic feedback), this is as tactile as VR gets. And, beautifully, in Fantastic Contraption’s case, that means “extremely tactile.” This is VR at its most toylike, a corncupia of assembling, stretching, rotating and reshaping minute parts as you invent bizarre DIY vehicles to navigate across physics-puzzle levels. VR is famous for making us look like plonkers as we swipe and bat at imaginary things, but in FC’s case, you’ll look even worse – hunched over, poking, prodding and pulling with the tiniest of action, as if autopsying an invisible bee.

It’s that sense of actually making and changing things which makes this so very memorable – and then the charm of pressing a button and seeing the whole machine attached to it move in, hopefully, more or less the right direction. But that sense of tactility, of fiddling with buttons and levers, extends even to the various menus. Push/pull/press/stretch/attach/dismantle! This is like going back to our first, wonder-filled visits to a science museum.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

holopoint

Holopoint

There are a lot of worthy things or practical things or highly ambitious things in this round-up, but one field that VR excels in – in the right state of mind or with an audience – is straight-up fun, and it’s this that the next couple of entries are about. Holopoint [official site] is virtual reality archery, which in a sense endorses the sense that VR is the newest evolution of the Wii. It’s the manual, physical action that really sings here – drawing back, taking aim and letting go, a real sense of bodily involvement in a way that waggling a motion controller to simulate a gun is not.

The structure is that of a wave shooter, with you desperately nocking up new arrows as assorted, holographic ninja and samurai advance upon you – but where many physicsy games want to giggle about how clumsy you are with a couple of plastic sticks in your hand, this one is about feeling like a bow-god. It’s yer Hawkeye simulator, basically.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

Fruit Ninja VR

You know what it is. Even Davey Cameron knows what it is, despite being a pie. Fruit Ninja VR [official site] is that one where loads of fruit flies in the air, and you have to try and chop it all in half, but OH NO some of the fruit is bombs. Are bombs? I don’t know. Anyway, the ubiquitous mobile hit makes a clean and effective leap to VR, winding up as a very silly and pleasantly exhausting party game for one, as you hurl yourself around the place, using Vive wands as the handles of swords, and generally having that half-hilarity, half-shame state of mind associated with the Wii at its best.

Bear in mind this is very much a Vive/Oculus Touch title: it needs a room and it needs the motion controllers. It is Not Clever, but it is A Good Time and, yes, you might actually fire it up again from time to time after your first fiddle with it.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

Apollo 11

An under-reported VR highlight, whose greatest strength is in attempting a longform experience rather than brief sight-seeing or short-lived minigames. Apollo 11 [official site] is a studied, measured and sometimes breathtaking recreation of the Armstrong/Aldrin moonlanding, covering the whole journey from take-off to one-giant-leaping. The attention to detail is meticulous: I loved simply nosing at the vast array of dials and switches inside the cockpit. The scenes of distant Earth are beautiful too, although being on the moon itself is underwhelming – Apollo 11 works best when it’s you in a confined space with infinity all around, as opposed to trying to present a landscape.

This isn’t strictly experiential – you can choose to play certain game-y elements, such as lining up landers or searching for samples. That stuff’s fairly incidental, though: this works because it’s long and slow. Strap in for a full evening of spaceflight, and enjoy the wonder of it all.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

ADR1FT

And here’s the exact opposite of Apollo 11 VR: a highly-detailed space travel-based game, but which a) is preoccupied with action and drama and b) can only be played for a few minutes. That latter being because terrible things will happen to your body otherwise. ADR1FT [official site] is by far and away the most sick-making VR game I’ve played, which is a great pity as its Gravity-aping floating through a collapsing space station shtick is striking.

It’s gone to great lengths to make its distressed near-future environments detailed and impressive, and it’s well worth seeing to put paid to any sentiment that VR can only do basic graphics, but do take it easy. Surviving in zero-g is hard enough without wiping vom off your spacesuit.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

Elite Dangerous

Continuing our space kick, here’s Elite Dangerous [official site], one of the poster boys for spaceship-based virtual reality. The flying/mining/trading/fighting MMO (singleplayer of a sort is available, but really, it’s an MMO) has supported VR since Oculus devkit days, and what we get now is robust and slick, and blessedly nausea-free. That said, that pesky resolution handicap on current VR hardware means long-term play is rather difficult, due to the importance of fairly tiny-menu text.

By God, the space vistas above, below and all around your head are magnificent though, plus sublime stuff like on-board ship’s computer menus automatically popping up when you look left and right. If you have a headset and you haven’t simply drifted around in ED’s space for a while – or better yet, docked at one of its titanic space stations – then you are seriously, seriously missing out.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

House Of The Dying Sun

Completing our short run of space games is this solo-only dogfighter. House Of The Dying Sun [official site] is an accessible but nonetheless highly tactical game, focused on combat first and foremost, and it’s entirely welcoming to elaborate setups including VR and HOTAS. While not as visually breathtaking in VR as Elite Dangerous is, it’s nonetheless an impressively natural fit, plus you get to jump straight into action rather than coast about for hours looking for trouble and/or mining opportunities. The atmosphere’s great, the action taut.

The menus are particularly lovely in VR too, I should add – vast starfields pulsing in the background, and this neat gimmick of switching between a sort of tactical map and straight into the cockpit of your choice – or jumping over to a different one in your squad.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

audiosurf

Audioshield

Not sure I’d deem this the best VR game by any particular metric, but I would say Audioshield [official site] is the most purely joyful time I’ve had with a facebox on. A sequel to excellent 2007 rhythm-racer-match-3 mash-up Audiosurf, whose big draw was that you could insert your own MP3s into and then have the game procedurally generate unique circuits based on the audio, this is more straightforwardly rhythm-action – but what it really is is Psychedelic Super Mega Air Drum Hero Ultra. With a blue shield in one hand and an orange shield in the other, you have to guard against matching-coloured orbs as they swarm towards you in time with the beat of the song (and other elements of it too). It can be tranquil hand-waving if you like, but crank up the difficulty and you’ll be swiping and punching feverishly instead of merely holding hands aloft. Wham wham wham wham wham.

As the song infects your brain, your arms do the dancing. With the right song, it’s simply glorious – making you a slave to the rhythm and getting a pretty serious workout of it too. I just played Elvis’ Suspicious Minds, followed by Sisters of Mercy’s More, and I’ve never been happier.

Its interface may be mucky, its small set of arenas underwhelming, and it’s an honest-to-God travesty that it lacks Spotify support, but nonetheless, Audioshield is the essential VR music game.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

Trackmania Turbo

The deathless (that being because it’s usually perfect) stunt racing game has recently bolted on VR support to its latest iteration, Trackmania Turbo [official site]. This is a rare instance of actively wanting VR to make one feel terrible: to feel like you’re going to lose your lunch on one of its many loop-the-loop tracks is absolutely part of the experience. Trackmania’s always been a rush, but even more so when it’s vertiginous and brain-shaking. Turbo looks lovely in VR too – it doesn’t feel as though it’s been compromised to fit the tech, although admittedly the menus need a bit of work.

Trackmania’s a rollercoaster where you’re in control. It’s not must-have VR because that’s true whether you’re looking at it via goggles or monitors, but it is will-have-fun VR.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

eve-valkyrie-warzone

EVE: Valkyrie – Warzone

There’s no getting around it: VR tends to be a lot more successful when it has you roleplaying as someone who doesn’t have to use their legs. To walk in one direction while moving your head in another is an express train to chundertown – and, as such, vehicular games are perfectly safe. Elite: Dangerous is well-established as the long-haul VR spaceship game, the go-to universe for noodling around and gawping at massive space stations (as well as getting suddenly ganked by bigger boys), but for straight to the metal interstellar action and not too much fussing about controls, Valkyrie‘s yer gal.

Dogfighting’s the name of the game, and though Valkyrie [official site] doesn’t necessarily do much that’s new with the concept, this is very much state of the art VR on the graphical front – a far cry from some of the simple, cartoony fare often seen on this platform. And it makes no concessions because of it. Fast and responsive, with full gamepad support and a big multiplayer focus, including unlocking new ships and weapons as you play: unlike so many other games here, this is straight-up designed to be a well you return to again and again. That said, it recently updated with an option for non-VR play, and hey, that’s pretty good too.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

lone-echo-vr

Lone Echo

So many VR games have hamstrung controls – full analogue character movement rendered impossible in many games due to as-yet unresolved motion sickness issues – but few seek to make a virtue of it. Although Lone Echo‘s selling point is that it’s a sizeable, story-led game set during a space station disaster; what makes it work so well is how it makes cumbersome control part of the fantasy. In low-g, you can’t simply amble around – you need to grab handholds and push yourself bodily. Though, seeing as you are an advanced android known as JACK, you also get wrist-mounted mini-thrusters which allow brief movement when you’re too far from a grip. Thus, Lone Echo’s key challenge is navigation itself – using ledges and edges and LCD screens and even colleague’s shoulders to haul yourself around the space station. And, later on, to haul yourself around the exterior of the station without tumbling into the abyss. This can be hard work at times, but it is absolute fealty to an idea.

On top of that, it’s very well performed, with some strikingly realistic (by VR standards) face modelling that encourages forming a human connection with your fleshy companions. Impressive stuff – if a VR headset had launched with Lone Echo [official site], the conversation around the whole technology might be a little different today.

Supports: Oculus Rift only

onward

Onward

Onward [official site] is Counter Strike for VR, where each round one team attempts to arm an objective while the other defends it. It avoids the cartoony look that most VR games go for, and instead acts as an example of how the realistic approach can work. That applies to the guns as well, which all need to be loaded manually and have their various firing mechanisms primed in specific ways. It doesn’t attempt to do anything fancy with movement, but it doesn’t need to.

You know that moment in an FPS when you’re standing next to a corner, convinced that someone is just the other side of it? It’s a common dilemma: whether to leap out and hope the element of surprise is on your side, or to sit tight and wait for them to run into your crosshairs. In Onward, there’s a third option. Without looking, you could stick your gun around the corner and fire – very possibly knocking your would-be ambusher out of the round. That’s the kind of stuff that lifelong gaming memories are made of.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

Rez Infinite

Not too many existent non-VR games have made the leap to gogglevision – not yet at least, though later this year we’ll get versions of Bethesda’s Doom, Skyrim and Fallout games – and there are good reasons for that. Full 3D control is tricky to achieve without causing a mass evacuation of players’ lunches, and usually it either requires an almighty GPU or significant technical reworking to make a modern game run well in VR.

Step forward Rez [official site], the cult-classic PlayStation musical shooter whose combination of a semi-fixed camera and beautiful, abstract, non-photoreal graphics put it in a rare sweet spot. You sit down with a gamepad and allow yourself to be overcome by the sight and sound of it all, a genteel sensory overload – always effective from a beat point of view, but wraparound visuals augment that wonderfully.

And all that’s before you try out the new ‘Area X’ mode, which bumps the look from vaguely Tron-ish neon grids to positively celestial starfields. At its best, VR involves a visit to another, impossible place – and Rez Infinite is exactly that. A must-have.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

SUPERHOT VR

An essence that is, I believe, shared by a great many of the most effective and long-lasting VR games is the simulation of something meaningfully physical. Not minigames or comedy physics or attempts to do ‘real’ games with limited movement controls, but focusing on something that feels as well as looks real. Look to The Climb’s exhausting lunging or Lone Echo’s careful grabbing and pushing – even the comparatively simple ‘you have a sword and you must swing it’ focus of Fruit Ninja. And, at the very apex of it all, there is SUPERHOT VR [official site], the game that says ‘you are in an action movie.’

You really, really are – uppercutting and bottle-throwing and weapon-grabbing and weapon-discarding and weapon-firing and oh so John Woo it hurts. This is a game of sudden, precise and thrilling arm movements, where every action makes you feel supercool. This all works because of SUPERHOT’s take on slow-motion: the entire game moves at a glacial speed unless you’re moving (or throwing or punching or shooting), in which case it goes realtime. This means that every breath you take, every move you make, every bone you break, every step you take is thought-through in advance – which invariably means it’s successful.

Those playground games we played, when every punch KOed and every shot killed imaginary baddies? This is that. (And I should say, there is no shortage of challenge – though every shot might hit, taking people out in the right order and making sure you evade their attacks too is another matter entirely). SUPERHOT is as good as VR gets – and maybe as good as it will ever get.

Supports: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift

For more of RPS’s bestest best games, take your pick from:

The best PC games of all time
The 50 best FPS on PC
The 50 best strategy games on PC
The 25 best co-op games ever made
The best space games on PC
The best non-violent games
The 14 best Metroidvania
The 10 best hacking, coding and computing games
The 25 best horror games on PC
The 50 best free games on PC
The 10 best games based on movies
The 25 best stealth games on PC
The 25 best action games on PC
The 50 best RPG on PC
The 25 best adventure games ever made
The 25 best puzzle games on PC

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