Unless you're a game developer, you're best off waiting for Oculus to put the finishing touches on its thinner, lighter, higher-resolution consumer version of the Rift. However, that doesn't mean its developer kits aren't absolutely amazing to have a go on, and we've been fortunate enough to take a number of games for spin. Here's what's really tickled our retinas thus far.
You can play the demo version of SuperHOT now at superhotgame.com, and we recommend you do: it’s an interesting and very stylish take on first-person shooters. What sets SuperHOT apart from the crowd is time: it moves only when you move. Run towards your enemies and they’ll be able to shoot you without much trouble, but stand still and bullets travel through the air like coins falling through treacle. You don’t get much in the way of weaponry in SuperHOT, but manage the time dilation right and you can weave through a hail of gunfire to despatch them.
What Oculus brings to this, apart from a far more immersive first-person experience, is a finer level of control. You can physically lean to one side to avoid bullets in a way that isn’t possible with a flat display. This makes bullet-avoidance more intuitive and more economical: because you’re immersed in VR, you have much better depth perception and you only move as much as you need to avoid being shot in the face, before turning and watching with great satisfaction as the bullet flies ponderously over your shoulder.
We hadn’t really thought about Oculus Rift as something you could use to play platform games, or really any game that doesn’t use a first-person view, but this charming little jumpabout shows virtual reality can be a lot more versatile. We didn’t see much new in the game itself –you play a cartoon fox who sproings about a multicoloured world that will be familiar to anyone who’s played Crash Bandicoot – but the viewpoint, floating like a disembodied ghost behind Lucky, is new and exciting. It does feel weird for a minute or two as your brain adjusts to this new form of perception, but it soon becomes natural. Looking around also becomes a highly intuitive means of controlling the game: there are a few points when you have to take aim at something, and you do so by looking, without the game needing to tell you.
One of the things we were most impressed by in Lucky’s Tale was the main menu, a Super Mario World-esque map that you zoom in on just by leaning in towards it and peering around like a curious giant. It made us think about the possibilities for strategy games and even board games in virtual reality. Imagine hovering over your army in a next-next-gen Total War, or even a futuristic Risk, for that matter.
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The graphics in this WW2-themed MMO are faithful rather than impressive, there’s almost no storyline and it doesn’t lend itself to a quick 20-minute play. But while lengthy tank battles will remain the preserve of flatscreen players, we took one of War Thunder’s fighter planes for a spin in Oculus and it was enormous fun.
Flying games (and racing games) are perfect for VR, because they’re about moving around while sitting still, and that’s also exactly what you’re doing in VR. You remain seated, holding controls just in front of you, but you get a great impression of movement. In the WW2 fighter’s cockpit the Rift makes things easier, mainly because you can look out of the window. Positioning your plane in the right spot to swoop down on your enemies is one of the trickier parts of flying games, and it’s a lot easier to pinpoint ground targets when you can just lean over and have a look. In a dogfight situation, too, it’s handy to be able to fly while looking over your shoulder. The one upgrade it really needs is hand tracking: on the demo we played, we had to reach blindly for the flight stick and the throttle, so some virtual hands to use the virtual controls would make things a lot more convincing.
One of the first games to really show what this new generation of virtual reality was capable of, Valkyrie’s intergalactic dog-fighting is simple but effective, a bit like the X-Wing games of the ‘90s. Rift support allows you to look around the cockpit and even down to see your virtual, space-faring legs ( just don’t attempt to move them, or you’ll look ridiculous).In combat, the Rift shows its potential not just as a display, but as a controller: aiming missiles is taken care of simply by looking at what you want to blast out of the sky, and looking at it until it explodes.READ MORE: Oculus founder Palmer Luckey speaks to Stuff
On a flat screen, this game is scary. When you’re trapped in virtual reality, it becomes a nerve-jangling brownquake of terror.The immersive graphics and sound do a horribly good job of convincing you that you really are locked in a drifting spaceship with a hissing, invincible nightmare made from knives and acid. But the real terror comes from the physical movements you have to perform. In the flatscreen version, you press a button to pull up your proximity sensor and watch the deadly green blob that represents the alien’s location. In the Oculus version, you have to physically look down to see the sensor. This feels wrong at an instinctive level, because you’re turning your body away from the unsafe space that harbours the claws and teeth from which you’re hiding, exposing the top of your head and the back of your neck. Erk.