Oculus Rift is great – especially now it’s got Touch controllers. The Vive got their first, though, which means it’s HTC’s machine that’s currently winning the VR war.
While both Rift and Vive have Steam support – with its whole section dedicated to virtual reality – Vive is the product of collaboration between HTC and Valve, so it tends to benefit more from the raft of Steam titles.
But how do you narrow down that long, long list to the essential games that you can download right now? Why, you simply continue reading this very feature!
Here are the 15 games to download as soon as you get your Vive out of the box.
Additional words by Chris Rowlands
Valve’s involvement in making the Vive is most obvious when you play The Lab – a set of mini-games set in an Aperture Science lab.
None are more than a few minutes long but in their simplicity they show Valve has really grasped what VR is all about, whether it’s the subtle vibration of the controllers as you hold an arrow tense and ready to fire in Longbow, or the way you put a jelly-like globe on your head in order to launch each game.
The best one is Aperture Robot Repair, a Portal-like experience, complete with an appearance from a worse-for-wear Atlas from the second game, that’s both laugh-out-loud funny and staggeringly well put together. More like this please, Valve.
We’ve played this one a number of times now, and the latest build keeps it firmly at the top of our most wanted list. It’s a dogfighting spin-off from the huge (and hugely complicated) Eve MMO, and it’s ludicrously gorgeous, fast and exciting.
Multiplayer is at the heart of the game, with teams of fighters facing off against each other – though there’s also a single-player story mode, and another mode dedicated to simply exploring the game’s beautiful recreation of outer space.
Battles are awesomely dramatic, beginning with a Battlestar Galactica-like launch from a huge battleship and involving seat of your pants chases through fleets of cruisers.
Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine
You’re standing by a landing pad on the desert planet of Tatooine when the Millennium Falcon lands just feet away. R2D2 rolls out while Han Solo tells you over the radio (you never see him in person) that he’s delivering a gift from Luke Skywalker.
After a spectacular strafing run by a Tie Fighter, said gift – a lightsaber – pops out of the wee droid’s hatch. As stormtroopers disembark from a nearby shuttle, you grab it and instinctively start deflecting their fire back at them.
After a couple of minutes of what is undeniably the coolest gaming experience you’ve ever had, Han gets the Falcon’s guns online and finishes off the remaining troopers. Then he flies away, the demo is over, and you struggle to wipe the smile off your face for a week.
Yes, Trials on Tatooine is short (it’s basically a demo of what Vive can do) but it’s a great way to channel your inner Jedi. Oh, and it’s free.
Read more › HTC Vive review
Perched on a grassy platform, floating high in the sky with nothing but a green, cat-shaped toolbox for company, your job is to assemble a machine to move Thing A to Place B. Sounds easy, right?
Well, despite the cutesy visuals, Fantastic Contraption doesn’t hold your hand. We spent far longer than we’d care to admit manipulating and maneuvering items before frustratingly sending our machine trundling off the edge to its doom.
Playing Fantastic Contraption is a bit like being inside one of those physics-based mobile games like Cut the Rope or Contre Jour, while some truly ingenious mechanics show how VR could really revolutionise how we play games: to access menus you pick up and put on an in-game helmet, which temporarily changes what you can see.
Imagine a cross between Guitar Hero and Fruit Ninja and you’ve almost got Audioshield – a rhythm game that’s powered by the music on your hard drive or tracks pulled in from Soundcloud.
With a shield in each hand, the game turns the tunes into volleys of coloured blobs that you must fend off with the shield of the corresponding colour.
Clearing an incoming flock of the same colour with a sweep of your arm is oddly satisfying and being able to add your own songs means its lifespan is essentially infinite.
This is the game to use when you want to show off your new VR toy to someone who doesn’t really play games.
The concept is this: the year is 2050 and robots now do all of the blue collar work. To learn what it was like to do a job, humans enter a simulator and are given an interractive history lesson by JobBot. Yes, this is really, really silly stuff.
It’s all about using the Vive controllers to interact with your environment – whether that’s completing the tasks that JobBot gives you (photocopying some work, reaching the mythical ‘inbox zero’ via indiscriminate use of the delete button), or just messing about with all of the objects around you. Why not try photocopying the stapler, tossing paper aeroplanes at your robo-colleagues or eating a mouldy doughnut from the bin and throwing it up all over your cubicle?
There are four jobs to do, including office worker, diner chef and mechanic and, while it won’t offer much in the way of replayability, thanks to a brilliantly observed script each one is equally hilarious.
This is another game whose appearance on VR is as an addition to an already huge and hugely successful title – and it’s all the better as a result.
The Deluxe Edition contains a load of extra content above the original title – and let’s remember that this is the game in which you can explore the entire Milky Way, mining, fighting and trading at your leisure.
This is one of a handful of VR titles that offers months of gameplay, rather than just a quick and dramatic first experience. Yes, you’ll need commitment – and it won’t always be easy – but the rewards will be worth it.
Zombies are cool. Shooting zombies is cool. Shooting zombies in VR is downright awesome. Arizona Sunshine lets you do just that, and even gives you a gun for each hand with which to do it.
Standing in the middle of a dry river bed, you have to keep looking all around you as the shambling undead can approach from any angle. Spot one of the smelly rotters and you use the Vive’s motion controllers to take aim and fire (aiming for the head, of course – you know how this works by now).
It’s supremely intuitive and accurate and when you’re taken to the next scene – a bridge – you’re given a shotgun and uzi for some even more devastating zombie-slaying action. It’s immersive, richly rendered and thoroughly addictive.
How about the other VR headset? › Oculus Rift review
Technically, Tilt Brush is probably more of an app than a game – but it’s also a great tool for showing off what VR can do. Plus, if you’ve got the necessary artistic talent, you can create some pretty unique artwork using it.
Essentially you stand within the 3D canvas, using one controller to paint and the other as a palette. There’s a nice UI mounted on each wrist that allows you to browse the tools at your disposal and the actual painting is a little like writing your name in the air with a sparkler, expect this one doesn’t fade away as soon as you’re finished.
The end result is often like a cross between a 3D hologram and a fireworks display.
The Brookhaven Experiment
First-person tower defence-style games are probably over-represented in the first wave of VR titles but The Brookhaven Experiment stands out from the crowd.
Standing alone in a park after dark, armed only with a pistol and a torch, you face wave after wave of ghouls as they relentlessly approach from the ruins of the post-apocalyptic city that surrounds you. Each wave you survive earns an upgrade of your choice – but the baddies also get nastier.
What makes Brookhaven stand out from the likes of Arizona Sunshine is the creepy atmosphere, exhilarating gunplay and gritty visuals. We particularly liked the way you could shine the torch on the gun as you pull the trigger and see the whole firing mechanism in action. Brrrrrrap!
You might also like › the 10 best Oculus Rift games
Remember how addictive the simplistic fun of Wii Sports was the first time you played it? Rec Room is like that for Vive – only better.
Rock up in the locker room – having customised your character – and you’ll meet fellow gamers from around the world. Drop a fist bump to partner up and, before you know it, you’ll be lobbing dodgeballs and waving paddles like old pals.
The graphics are very Wii and the fun is active, clean and intuitive – making it a hit for the kids and nan alike.
First-person melee combat is an obvious choice for VR – but Vanishing Realms still stands out as a magical take on virtual reality role-play.
Aside from wielding your sword in the face of huge, mythical monsters, the game will see you hunting for treasure, solving mysteries and more – all using real-life movements to control where you stroll through the vast Vanishing Realms world.
It’s the sort of immersive gameplay that VR was made for, with battles that feel heart-poundingly real and little touches that only pull you further in. Really, this is one that has to be played to be believed.
The Solus Project
Single-player adventure games aren’t to every taste, but The Solus Project is less a game, more a story that you play through.
Set on a diverse, apparently empty alien planet, you stroll through your ship’s wreckage in search of survival and secrets – and, while the concept might not be a first, the execution is second to none.
From a dynamic environment and climate that’ll see you running from tornadoes to seamless mechanics and clever room-scale integration, Solus is beautiful to look at and even better to play. Just be ready to lose hours of your life.
Eleven: Table Tennis VR
Pluck your paddle from the air and prepare to serve: Eleven takes a simple concept and makes it devilishly addictive, largely thanks to highly accurate physics modelling.
Seriously, play Table Tennis VR and you’ll soon forget that you’re not really standing in front of a big green table in the garage. Everything from the ball’s bounces to the backspin feels identical to the real thing.
Yes, you could focus on improving your technique but, really, this is just an incredible example of technology emulating reality to the point of amazement. It’s unexpectedly absorbing and bound to baffle elderly relatives, which is always the mark of a game well made.
Imagine Battlefield or Call of Duty. Now imagine yourself dropped into the middle of the battleground. Now strap on your Vive headset and play Onward: you’ll find it’s better than your imagination.
A multiplayer setup means you’ll need skill, teamwork and a bit of luck to get by – and you’ll soon find that first-person shooters are a whole lot more terrifyting when strapped to your face. Sound is used to great, immersive effect, too, with team-mates’ voices and noises coming from all around, drawing your attention and disorientating as in real life.
There’s a steep learning curve but, with natural controls and a community that’s more welcoming than in many online shooters, Onward is one you’ll want to stick with – especially as ongoing development should only make it better.