The concept of virtual reality (VR) has been around for several decades, but, until recently, even the best VR headsets were not very accessible to consumers from either a cost or usability standpoint. Apart from a few cool demos, VR seemed like vaporware. Now, however, headsets are becoming less reliant on external hardware and developers are creating first-party games that take full advantage of the medium. Fans of nearly every genre have excellent choices and should find at least a few games of interest in our roundup.
VR Hardware for Gaming
Our list of VR games covers the top titles for the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift (soon to be replaced with the Oculus Rift S), PlayStation VR, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets. Many of these devices (and the games themselves) have gotten cheaper in the past couple of years, which makes them a more easily justifiable purchase.
If you choose the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift S, the upcoming Valve Index, or a Windows Mixed Reality headset, keep in mind that you also need a powerful gaming PC to push pixels to the headset displays. For the best possible experience, make sure to find systems equipped with speedy CPUs, top-of-the-line GPUs, and a sufficient number of USB ports for connecting all these peripherals. PS4 players are lucky that they don’t have to worry about specs; any PS4 or PS4 Pro will work with the PlayStation VR headset. All that said, new VR products, such as the Oculus Quest, are self-contained units.
What’s Not Here?
The standalone Oculus GO headset is a less pricey entry into the VR fray, but we don’t specifically cover compatible experiences for that system here. Other VR and augmented reality (AR) platforms, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, Google Daydream, and Samsung Gear VR are not included in this list either, as those headsets are intended for a different audience altogether. HoloLens, for example, has more professional and commercial applications. Nintendo Switch has also made a push for virtual reality with its recent Labo VR Kit, but that platform is also beyond the scope of this roundup.
Do you have any favorite VR titles that didn’t make the list or disagree with any of our choices? Let us know your top picks in the comments section. We’ll update this story from time to time, so your choice could appear in the next update.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission
In this action platformer, you must rescue the various members of your crew who are scattered across space. The game offers 20 different main levels and 26 challenge levels, which should keep you entertained for a long time. This isn’t a simple platforming title. The game features 360-degree worlds and offers several different weapons, including throwing stars, a water gun, and a hook shot.
Beat Saber is a music and rhythm game with an active twist. The setup is similar to other music games, such as Audiosurf, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band, but instead of controlling a virtual ship or using fake instruments, you slash your way through a song with virtual laser swords. As the music plays, Beat Saber generates different patterns of color-coded blocks on the screen that you must hit with the correct controller (right or left) as they slide towards you. Obstacles also appear at times that require you to duck or slide away. Make no mistake, Beat Saber is not a game you can play sitting down; it’s a very active experience. If you love music and motion, Beat Saber is definitely worth exploring.
Will you let robots take your all-important paper-stamping and document-filing job? In this game, cost-cutting robots try to terminate your employment by any means necessary. You must fight your way through an office environment to save your job (and your life) using stealth tactics or by resorting to aggressive violence. AI and automation technologies are certainly poised to take over some real-world jobs previously filled by humans, so this game’s hook is all too real.
The life of a goat has never been easy, as you may have experienced first-hand in the one-of-a-kind Goat Simulator. Danger Goat is arguably less bizarre, but with traps, missile, and robots standing in your way, your escape is anything but assured. Don’t be fooled by the bright and pleasant environments; danger lurks at every turn.
EVE: Valkyrie – Warzone
EVE: Valkyrie – Warzone, a space-based dogfighting game, puts you in control of a spaceship in a series of multiplayer and single-player game modes. Multiplayer options include the Team Deathmatch, Control, Carrier Assault, Wormhole, and Extraction game modes. Fight your way through hordes of enemies and avoid collisions and damage at the helm of one of 13 ship types. Progression is flexible, so players can control how they customize their ships as they go along. One of EVE’s strong suits is its excellent visuals; ships feature remarkable detail, and laser projectiles light up magnificently against the backdrop of deep space.
Farpoint is a showcase title for the PS4’s VR capabilities and the first game to use the PS VR Aim, a gun-shaped controller specifically designed for first-person shooters. Sony says the VR Aim is capable of tracking player movements on a 1:1 scale, which creates a more realistic feel to the game’s shooting mechanics. In Farpoint, you must survive deadly enemy encounters while traversing a dangerous alien environment in an effort to discover what happened to the rest of your research team. Farpoint is a relatively short experience, but it’s still worthwhile for PlayStation owners.
I Expect You To Die
In I Expect You To Die, you are a spy who must escape from a series of life-threatening situations, before time runs out. At your disposal are your wits, problem-solving skills, and telekinesis. So, grab whatever you find in your surroundings; it just may save your life. Finally, you can live out your dream of being a spy without the risk of actually dying.
Why limit yourself to one job, when you could work several more in virtual reality? PCMag has certainly seen its share of weird simulation games, but VR elements add a whole new level of immersion. In Job Simulator, you experience such exciting careers as a mechanic, a gourmet chef, or the most coveted position of them all, an office worker. Make sure to take full advantage of the new and never-ending Infinite Overtime mode.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Do you ever wonder how much you can really trust your friends? Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is the perfect multiplayer game to put your friendships to the test, forcing you to communicate and collaborate with each other to defuse a complex bomb. In this game, players are split into two groups: one Defuser and several Experts. Defusers can see and examine the bomb, but cannot access the manual. Experts can read the manual, but cannot see the bomb. Players must exchange information, guide each other through defusal steps, and keep track of progress if anyone wants to make it out alive. Keep in mind that bombs have a countdown timer and will explode if you make too many mistakes along the way.
Lone Echo is an immersive, single-player experience, in which you, as an AI entity named Jack, must help your captain unravel a dangerous mystery. The game takes place on a space ship orbiting way out near Saturn and is rife with photorealistic graphics, freeform movement, and tight VR-tuned controls. There’s also interactive dialogue options to further enhance the experience. A sequel is in the works.
Minecraft exists on nearly every platform you can name and the game is no less prevalent in the VR space. For the uninitiated, Minecraft is an exploration, creation, and survival game all rolled into one with a distinct, low-poly aesthetic. The game adds a series of control enhancements for the VR platform, including 3D audio, a virtual living room mode (for a break from the first-person perspective), VR Turning (snaps head swiveling motions to increments to prevent disorientation), and VR Controls (makes in-games tasks easier to manage). Minecraft VR also supports multiplayer game modes, so you can enjoy the experience with your friends.
In this enchanting adventure game, you accompany a mouse named Moss, who, after accidentally awakening an ancient magic in the forest, must embark on a journey to save her uncle. Along the way, you solve puzzles, fight enemies, and explore whimsical environments. The inviting animated art direction and impressive lighting effects are sure to delight players of all ages.
No Man’s Sky
After a disappointing launch in 2016, many people wrote off No Man’s Sky. Now, after years of consistent, major updates, the latest of which is a new VR Mode, No Man’s Sky is worth reconsidering. The basic goal of the game is to reach the center of the universe, but that sells the experience short by a long shot. Along the way, you can explore as many of the game’s innumerable procedurally generated planets as you want, build a home base, and battle enemy ships in space.
Project Cars 2
Project Cars 2 straps you into the driver’s seat in a realistic, circuit racing experience. The game recreates the sensation of real-world driving down to the last detail, from breaking assistance systems to the positioning of your hands on the steering wheel. You can even disable the HUD if you want to go for absolute realism. The visual and environmental effects of Projects Cars 2 are what make it stand out. The textures of its 180+ car lineup, for example, look superb, while the weather and terrain systems add a level of sophistication. Consider hooking up pedals and a steering wheel to inch closer to your dream of owning a high-tech automobile.
The cult classic rail shooter, Rez, is now available for VR platforms. Rez is the story of a computer virus (Swayzak) on a mission through the network of a system called Project-K to save Eden (the system’s controlling AI) from self-destruction. On your way to Eden, you must destroy whatever obstacles that get in your way, whether that be a pesky firewall or another virus. Rez Infinite faithfully recreates all five original levels of gameplay and adds Area X, a new level that gives players full freedom of movement. This latest version also features full 1080p textures and 3D audio (which should only enhance Rez’s much-extolled and rhythmic soundtrack).
Robo Recall is an action-packed gallery shooter designed for use with the Oculus Touch controllers. In the midst of a robot uprising, you must take down all the enemy combatants with a variety of weapons (as well as up-close combat) as a new member of RoboReady’s Recall Department. Defend the city streets and rooftops by clearing infested areas of violent bots. Robo Recall stands out for its slick visual effects and fast-paced action. Players in pursuit of high scores should try out advanced combat techniques and upgrade their weapons. If you want to survive the game’s increasingly difficult challenges, you need to stay focused in the face of the autonomous onslaught.
Ubisoft’s Space Junkies is an arcade shooter set against the backdrop of space. In the game, you battle enemies with futuristic weapons inside orbital arenas, which affords you full (and ever-disorienting) freedom of movement. You can fight enemies 1-on-1 or team up with a friend to take on pairs of combatants. After all, more players means more multiplayer mayhem.
Space Pirate Trainer
Space Pirate Trainer is an arcade shooter perfectly suited to the VR platform. In the game, your task is to shoot down incoming space enemies using your dual blasters (and other weapons or upgrades you pick) along your way to the top of the Space Pirate leaderboard. Keep in mind that you won’t get very far without actively engaging with the game. That’s right; you have to physically dodge and avoid incoming attacks, in addition to returning fire at droids. Space Pirate Trainer obviously takes place in space, and employs a vibrant and realistic art style that fits well with its fast-paced action.
Subnautica is an adventure and exploration game set in the near future. After a passenger spaceship crash lands on an ocean planet, called 4546B, your player is left stranded and unreachable due to an ancient alien defense system stationed on the island, called the Quarantine Enforcement Platform. Eventually, you receive instructions on how to escape the planet, but before doing so you must disable the defense system. In the meantime, you must also maintain your character’s health and build tools and infrastructure with the resources from the 4546B’s aquatic environment. As you progress, you’ll start to uncover more of the planet’s ancient narrative. Subnautica’s vast ocean system is a visual treat, so make sure to spend some time with the nautical wildlife.
Superhot is a time-bending and stylish shooter; when you stop moving, so too does the world around you. The gameplay and feedback loop is quite addictive. In particular, levels load and restart quickly, which makes it easy to stay focused on the challenge at hand until you prevail and move on to the next stage. To complete a level, you need to defeat all of the bright red enemies barreling towards you, who in turn, are trying to eliminate you. Players must use their wits, fists, guns, swords, and any other objects (items like coffee mugs and water bottles are fair game) to stun, and ultimately obliterate attackers. Keep in mind that a single bullet can eliminate both you and your enemies, so keep tabs on every weapon discharge.
Tetris has existed in many forms over the better part of the last three decades. Tetris Effect is the latest iteration, and perhaps, one of the best ever. The game’s complementary visuals and sound help propel you forward through the games three modes: Journey (standard Tetris rules with themed stages), Effects (Tetris challenges), and Mixed Effects (gameplay variables change sporadically during gameplay). As you progress, you unlock new effects and stages.
Crytek’s The Climb is an excellent example of using VR to effectively translate a real-world experience. In The Climb, you scale a series of precarious rock faces. You command your pair of virtual hands with a regular controller, or better yet, with the Oculus Touch controllers. Gameplay reflects actual climbing experiences (especially vertigo), so chart your path to the top carefully and use chalk to help retain your grip as you go along. The Climb currently features two climbing environments, the Bay and the North. Per The Climb’s site, the Bay is roughly based on Vietnam’s Halong Bay, while the North takes inspiration from the Arctic Circle. Whichever locale you choose, Crytek’s engine is capable of creating breathtaking vistas.
Ever wanted to revisit Aperture Labs after completing Portal 2? Valve’s The Lab returns you to the infamous former shower curtain manufacturers’ facility for a series of room-scale VR experiences. No, you don’t get to revisit the role of Chell. Instead, you get to explore a so-called pocket universe of Aperture Science. Some of the experiences include training tutorials (you can become a Calibration Trainee or repair robots) otherworldly endeavors (get up close with the solar system or dive into postcards of exotic locales), and interactive games (defend a castle with a bow and arrow or take on the role of an ace space pilot in an arcade dogfighting experience). All are excellent introductions to Valve’s VR world.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR Edition
Skyrim remains one the most ambitious open-world games, even without VR capabilities; this version of the game adds an extra sense of immersion. Traverse the lands of Skyrim, interact with NPCs, and equip your character with weapons, armor, and spells. Ultimately, you are tasked with defeating Alduin, a so-called world-eating dragon, though you can equally spend your time exploring and completing side missions for townspeople. Even if you have already completed the game on another platform, Skyrim’s VR edition should keep you tied over until Elder Scrolls VI (announced at E3 2018), eventually releases.
The Talos Principle VR
If intellectual puzzle games appeal to you, prepare to sink many enjoyable hours into The Talos Principle VR. In the game, you play as an intelligent, anthropomorphic robot tasked with navigating mazes and obstacles across a series of mysterious environments laden with modern technology. Players can also go exploring off the beaten path to unravel some further backstory. As you progress through the narrative, you discover secrets about your world and yourself, all of which factor into a momentous decision. The game also looks beautiful, with highly realistic textures and lighting throughout.