After 30 years of stuttering and halting, virtual reality is finally a reality, thanks to the inflow of billions of dollars of hardware investment from top technology firms. Facebook has its $600 Oculus Rift — add $200 for Oculus Touch controllers — and HTC has its $800 Vive and its optional hand controllers for those who either have a turbocharged PC or are willing to spend another $800 or more on that hardware. Sony makes it a little simpler for 50 million players who own PlayStation 4, offering either a $400 PlayStation VR or a $500 set of camera and PlayStation Move controls that you'll use to play games. And just about anybody can pick up a mobile VR system like Google Cardboard, Daydream View, or Samsung Gear VR for less than $100. Here are five fantastic VR games for these platforms today.
This is one of the few VR games that allow cross-platform play, which is particularly important considering the small audience of players who own a headset. Werewolves Inside is a VR interpretation of a classic party game commonly called Mafia or Werewolf. Five to seven players will gather and play around a virtual campfire in the medieval town of Gallowston. Each player will automatically be assigned one of 11 positions, such as Drifter, Saint, Villager, Tracker, Gossip, or Werewolf. The idea is to hunt the werewolf in the allotted time. It's a game of illusion, dialogue, and movements (which come alive through hand controls) that beautifully brings you to another place and time and ensures that no two games are the same. It's also a glimpse of what social VR will become in the future, as technology advances and more people make a virtual plunge. [Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and HTC Vive, $30; ubisoft.com]
2.Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One X-Wing VR Mission
Unfortunately, one of the coolest virtual reality experiences out there is just one task. But someone who has a PlayStation VR can reveal this game to anyone who comes by. Electronic Arts and DICE developed a full multiplayer match last year with Star Wars Battlefront. This year, they've been collaborating with Criterion Games to add an exclusive, free virtual reality mission to the game that places you inside the X-Wing as a rookie pilot of the original Star Wars Trilogy. It's closely linked to the upcoming Rogue One movie, but with just 15 minutes of gameplay, it won't show any spoilers for the blockbuster film. You're going to cross the asteroid field and take on TIE-Fighters, the fantasy of any kid who grew up watching George Lucas's original movies. There's a lot of replay value here, but now the dream is when EA can create a full-fledged Star Wars VR game.
3. The Climb
The Climb is a game that either heals your fear of heights or sends you into a frenzy. It's one thing to watch a movie like Everest on a big screen. It's quite another to be high above the valley floor, clinging to rocks for your survival. To truly experience virtual extreme solo rock climbing, you need the Oculus Touch or HTC Vive controllers to control your hands as you scale cliffs and mountains fully. (The Xbox One controller doesn't immerse you at the moment.) Real mountain ranges across North America, Europe, and Asia have been used to bring this photo-realistic game environment to life. Until you try to climb in Tourist mode, you can upgrade your training skills to Boulder mode, which involves perfect technique and quick scaling. [Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, $50; theclimbgame.com]
4. Hover Junkers
Up to eight players will hop into the action of this multiplayer flying fighting game that takes place on a junk ship that is the size of the room-scale space you set up in your home with the Vive. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where wars are fought over desert wasteland by men and robots aboard hovering junk ships, the action is quick and frantic in this multiplayer shooter. Besides having various arms that you can use with both hands, duel hovers junkers can come to you from all sides, forcing you to run continuously, leap, duck, and fire in all directions. You get an excellent workout together with a fun game that's always different thanks to its multiplayer focus and a variety of game modes. A version of Oculus Touch is scheduled to be released in 2017, but this game demonstrates the room-scale experience of Vive. HTC Vive, $35; hoverjunkers.com]
5. The Arcslinger
Google has updated its Daydream View virtual reality game. The $80 goggles also have exclusive games that take advantage of hand controls and head tracking capabilities. One of the cooler games is the Western futuristic first-person shooter The Arcslinger. Equipped with Angelheart's upgradeable weapons, the players assume Valiant's role and must take down Gold Smoke and his band. The story unfolds across 15 stages of shooting action through a range of landscapes. And the game keeps things interesting through several upgrades to the gun, called Arcs, that trigger special powers. This game makes excellent use of the motion controller for targeting and offers a fun story complete with top-notch video game voice actors like Nolan North. [Google Daydream, $5; play.google.com]