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The best VR games

Virtual reality is wild -- and these games are the cream of the crop. They're the best VR has to offer.

Even though most VR experiences are pretty short and don't justify repeat viewings, these 35 games drew us in and kept us coming back for more.  

You won't find everything amazing in VR here, because we didn't include apps like Tilt Brush or super-linear one-and-done experiences like Batman: Arkham VR. We also didn't include Minecraft VR, because -- awesome as it is -- it's not the best way to play that game.

If you've ever asked yourself, "what's worth playing in VR?" these games might be your answer. We'll revise this list as new titles come along.

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Photo by: Josh Miller/CNET

Thumper

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR

You're on the highway to Hell, banging your head to the beat. Your steed is a silver beetle traveling at the speed of sound, on a collision course with the Devil himself. He's throwing every obstacle in your path, bending the fabric of space itself to stop your deadly charge. Press buttons, to the beat, to dodge his traps and destroy him.

I just made half of that up, but it describes Thumper to a T. It's fast, furious and fantastic. You can play it without VR, too, but it's just not the same.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Drool

Lone Echo

Oculus Touch exclusive

My human body is gone, but I don't even care. Instead of flesh, bone and sinew, my hands are made of titanium -- I can even see the mechanical tendons flex when I bend a finger. They've got built-in thrusters and plasma cutters, too, which is handy because I'm in zero-G, trying to repair a space station.

This is Lone Echo, and it's already my favorite VR game, bar none. It perfectly embraces VR's strengths and limitations with its zero-G movement, where you have to literally grab onto parts of the station to pull yourself forward. Reaching out to interact with objects is eerie, but natural, and production values are top-notch. It's a VR world that feels convincing because it feels lived in. 

And that's without mentioning the multiplayer mode, Echo Arena -- it's like the Battle Room from Ender's Game, only with a disc instead of guns.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Ready at Dawn

Fruit Ninja VR

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Touch, PlayStation VR

"Fruit Ninja? Seriously?" 

Yes. Believe it or not, Fruit Ninja makes for a brilliant VR game. With a pair of motion controllers, swinging a Japanese katana to slice and stab scores of juicy, helpless fruit is a real treat. It's peaceful, relaxing and violent all at the same time. 

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Halfbrick

Space Pirate Trainer

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Touch

When I put people into VR for the very first time, Space Pirate Trainer is one of my go-to titles. It's a highly addictive game where you shoot waves of flying robots with twin laser pistols that transform into shotguns, grenade launches and gauss rifles at the push of a button, while using your actual body to dodge enemy laser beams. 

Oh, and you can pull out a reflective shield or energy whip. 

Trailer here.

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Photo by: I-Illusions

Space Pirate Trainer (continued)

Here's Conan O'Brien playing Space Pirate Trainer.

Fair warning: several of VR's best games are about shooting waves of enemy robots. It's kind of a theme.

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Photo by: GIF by Sean Hollister/CNET

Obduction

Playable on: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR (Aug. 29)

Remember Myst, the incredibly photorealistic (at the time) puzzle adventure that made CD-ROM drives a must for personal computers back in 1993? 

Obduction is the next game from that same team, with that same eerie sense of being transported to a mysterious world filled with interlocking puzzles to solve. 

You don't have to play it in VR, mind you, but the feeling of being inside such an alien yet familiar world is pretty intense and well worth a look. Teleporting around to move can be a bit jarring at times, though, and the touch controls can feel clumsy.

Trailer here.

360-degree video (view in Cardboard, Daydream or Virtual Desktop)

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Photo by: Cyan

Audioshield

Playable on: Oculus Touch, HTC Vive

Can VR be good exercise? Absolutely. 

Audioshield, from the creator of Audiosurf, is like Guitar Hero meets Tae Bo. You literally punch your way through incoming beats of music -- any music of your choice. (What's on your hard drive?) We'd recommend something thumpin' for the best workout.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Dylan Fitterer

Rec Room

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Touch

It's the Wii Sports of VR, and my colleague Dan Ackerman says it's the most fun he's had yet. It's a completely free-to-play (for now) online multiplayer lounge, dressed up like a school gymnasium, filled with sport games to play. Even just juggling in front of peers is amusing, but the teleportation-filled paintball game is the real entree. 

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Against Gravity

Rez Infinite

Playable on: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR

There's no describing the majesty that is Rez Infinite. 16 years ago, the original Rez was already a musical mind trip on old-school 2D TVs. Now, the Tron-like environments are all around you. It's like flying through neon code. Update: As of August, it's now available on Oculus and Vive as well.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Enhance Games

Resident Evil 7

PlayStation VR exclusive

The only true AAA, big-budget video game you can play entirely in VR, Resident Evil 7 doesn't disappoint. Despite losing a lot of graphical fidelity when you plug in a VR headset, the game is almost too atmospheric, too scary, because the horror is all around you. You literally can't look away.

Just know you may need a strong stomach as well -- while the game is much improved since its E3 demo, it still made me a bit queasy.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Capcom

Smash Hit

Playable on: Samsung Gear VR

Much like Fruit Ninja, Smash Hit is a relaxing, cathartic game about breaking things that's even better in VR -- partly because you feel like you're more directly engaged, and partly because you can be extra zen when you're isolated from the world.

Here, you're breaking glass with steel marbles instead of slicing fruit. If you don't have a headset, try the regular app for free on iOS or Android, then just imagine it in 3D, all around you.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Mediocre Games

Eve Valkyrie

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR

Zen is the opposite of Eve: Valkyrie. It's a frantic space dogfight where the only moments of peace are when your cockpit shatters and your body freezes in the inky blackness of space. 

But if you've ever wanted to pilot a starfighter, it feels like a dream come true. I still get chills being catapulted out of the launch tube. Plus, you can play six-on-six matches with your friends who own headsets on different VR platforms now. Here's hoping for a decent single-player mode.

Update: Come September, you won't need a VR headset to play Eve: Valkyrie. PC and PS4 players can play on a flat monitor or TV, and they can skirmish with VR players as well. Which could mean easier matchmaking.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: CCP

Superhot

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Touch, PlayStation VR

With or without VR, Superhot has a brilliant conceit: Time only moves when you move. 

Which means you can be utterly surrounded by enemies bristling with machine guns or ones ready to slice you into pieces, and still defeat them all by -- oh so slowly -- brushing their weapons aside, dodging bullets, throwing pots and pans, etc. Every level plays like a puzzle as much as a shooter, and you come out looking like an action hero every time. 

VR just means you do it all with your own hands and head, and you feel that much closer to Superhot's plot -- which I won't spoil here.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Superhot team

Robo Recall

Oculus Touch exclusive

The second must-play game about shooting waves of enemy robots, Robo Recall is fantastic fun. You're a bit like Neo in The Matrix -- you'll teleport into a group of robots, slow down time, pick their bullets out of the air and throw them back. You can also juggle robots with blasts from your own twin pistols, grab their weapons away and even rip off their limbs then beat baddies down with 'em. 

It's not a very deep or long game, but figuring out ways to increasingly stylishly dispatch your foes and compete for high scores keeps me coming back. Plus, Epic's opened up the game to modders. Fans have already added a lightsaber.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Epic Games

Land's End

Playable on: Samsung Gear VR

Whimsical and artistic, this simple but immersive puzzle game from the creators of Monument Valley is a must-play for Samsung Gear VR owners -- if you ask me. This video will give you the basic idea. 

I'd recommend a swivel chair for this one, since you'll need to turn around a lot.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: ustwo games

Star Trek: Bridge Crew

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR

Captain a Federation starship with three of my friends? Yes, please. Star Trek: Bridge Crew puts you on the bridge in one of four roles: Captain, Helm, Tactical or Engineer. You'll plot in a course, raise shields, engage enemies and teleport helpless lifeforms on board, communicating with teammates all the while -- or shouting voice commands to IBM's Watson supercomputer when your friends can't make it.

There's not a lot of depth to the game, and the missions aren't brilliantly scripted, but it can still be loads of fun -- particularly if, like my colleague Ashley Esqueda suggests, you tell yourself a little lie like "I don't trust Vulcans" to enhance your roleplay. 

Like Eve: Valkyrie, you can play online with people who own rival headsets. Motion controllers are optional.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Ubisoft

Farpoint

PlayStation VR exclusive

Two scientists opened a wormhole to another galaxy, and you followed them through. Now, you're blasting away at hostile aliens and robots while investigating their mysterious disappearance. 

That (and some high production values) are cool, but the PS VR Aim Controller is what makes it fun: a peripheral that maps so precisely to the in-game guns that precisely blasting away scary space spiders feels downright natural.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: PlayStation

Farpoint

Here's a few people playing Farpoint with that controller.

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Photo by: Claudia Cruz/CNET

Battlezone

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR

Immersive, frenetic and tough as nails, Battlezone isn't just a remake of the old-school arcade shooting game. There's strategy, too, as you pick your path through procedurally generated campaign maps, save up credits for more powerful weapons and coordinate hover tank assaults with up to three friends in online co-op multiplayer. 

What you can't see in this picture: VR gives you awesome peripheral vision to let you pick off targets instead of getting blindsided. 

Video here.

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Photo by: Rebellion

Eagle Flight

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR

You're an eagle, flying through an artistic recreation of Paris in a gigantic aerial game of capture-the-flag -- only the flag is a rabbit that you're fighting over with other groups of eagles as you swoop and soar at incredible speed. There's a short single-player campaign in this game, too, but online multiplayer is the draw.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Ubisoft

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Gear VR, Daydream

One of the very best VR games only requires one person to wear a headset. In Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, one player is in a tiny room, faced with a fiendish bomb to defuse. Everyone else has the hilariously complex bomb defusal manual, and both sides have to describe the bomb, and the instructions, before it explodes. A perfect party game.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Steel Crate Games

The Unspoken

Oculus Touch exclusive

The Unspoken describes itself as "an urban magic fight club," and that sounds about right: you pick one of five different wizard archetypes (the Electromancer was just introduced this June) and fling spells, erect shields and hammer down with deadly ancient artifacts in one-on-one player vs. player duels. 

It's stylish and immersive, but it can be hard to find players in online-only Oculus Rift exclusive titles like this one. Perhaps the recent price cut will help. 

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Insomniac Games

Wands

Playable on: Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream

You don't have to own a powerful PC-based VR rig to fling spells, though: Wands does it just as well (but a little bit different) on a Gear VR or Daydream-ready phone. While the graphics aren't as flashy, they're quite nice for a mobile title, and the game's a bit more tactical: Victory is more about choosing the right combination of spells to trap your opponent than about aiming them well.

Again, it can be a little hard to find a match, but perhaps me calling it one of the best VR games might help.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Cortopia

Dead and Buried

Oculus Touch exclusive

Speaking of excellent multiplayer VR games where it's tough to find an online match, Dead and Buried is very high on my list. It's a Wild West showdown with all the trimmings, with revolvers, shotguns, lever-action rifles, dynamite and more in two-on-two saloon shootouts, train robberies and straight-up quick-draw duels. 

The mechanics are wonderful, with the Touch controllers allowing you to dive for cover, or flip out your revolver's cylinder to reload and have that immediately reflected in the game. And it's free for all Oculus Touch owners, so there's no reason not to give it a try.

Video here.

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Until Dawn: Rush of Blood

PlayStation VR exclusive

If you buy a PlayStation VR, you must try Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. It's a truly scary horror game mixed with a pitch-perfect shooting gallery. You ride a slow-moving roller coaster that takes an unplanned turn into a haunted house, where all manner of sinister things await -- things you might only see when your gun-mounted flashlights are pointed at them. Seven solid levels, hidden secrets, advanced difficulty levels and online leaderboards give it loads of replay value.

The PlayStation Move motion controllers aren't technically required, but it's not worth playing without them.

Video here.

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Photo by: Supermassive Games

Dark Days

Playable on: Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR

Proving yet again that horror games don't need photo-realistic graphics, Dark Days is an absolutely scary psychological thriller set in a creepy desert motel. What is your character, a young woman named Jade, running away from, and what horror have you stumbled into? As you spot clues, she'll tell you out loud.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Parallel Studio

Anshar Wars 2

Playable on: Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR

If I told you that you could fly a starfighter with your head, through an asteroid field, while taking down enemies with lasers and missiles, would you believe me? 

Either way, you should try Anshar Wars 2. It's like being inside a Star Fox game -- plus online mulitplayer and voice chat.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: OZWE

The Climb

Playable on: Oculus Rift

The Climb skews close to a one-off VR experience, because -- while totally awesome -- the initial sensation of "Oh my god, look how high up I am" doesn't last. But climbing up the side of a mount is still a fun, relaxing way to spend some time in a virtual paradise. 

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Crytek

Raw Data

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Touch, coming to PlayStation VR

I promised more robot shooting galleries, so here we go: Raw Data lets you blast them away with gun kata straight out of Equilibrium, or slice through with a cybernetic ninja if you prefer. 

While the plot's pretty silly and you're generally just fighting wave after wave of dumb robots, the wow factor is in the immediacy of your controls -- those skeleton pistols can feel like they're really in your hand, and you have to actually swing that sword -- waggling isn't enough.

Plus, you can team up with a buddy in online co-op.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Survios

Arizona Sunshine

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR

Arizona Sunshine is a fully immersive zombie survival game where you need to explore the world to scavenge precious supplies of the ammo you need to survive, and where every shot counts because guns are realistically inaccurate and tough to reload. It can be a little linear and shallow, but it definitely drew us in. 

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Vertigo Games

Job Simulator

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR

In a world where robots have taken all the jobs, there are no consequences for failure. That's why Job Simulator is so hilarious. Pick an office drone, auto repair worker, short-order cook or convenience store clerk, then "fulfill" an increasingly complex set of orders with clever combinations of the tools and ingredients around you. Or just grab things and throw them.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Owlchemy Labs

Darknet

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Gear VR, Daydream

It's the cyberpunk hacking game you've wanted since you first read Neuromancer. Each network in Darknet is a puzzle, where you need to infect the right nodes to gain control -- and thus earn credits from your efforts to buy the tools you need to own even more of the grid.

One of the first fully fleshed games for VR, it's now available on practically every platform.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: E McNeill

Virtual Virtual Reality

Playable on: Google Daydream

The only Daydream-exclusive game on our list, Virtual Virtual Reality is a real trip. You're a human performing jobs in virtual reality in a future where artificial intelligence rule the world and see human labor as artisinal -- jobs like sticking pieces of toast to a giant intelligent stick of butter. 

And then the cracks in reality start to appear.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Tender Claws

Fantastic Contraption

Playable on: HTC Vive, Oculus Touch, coming to PlayStation VR

In Fantastic Contraption you build zany machines with your own two hands by stretching objects and connecting them together, with wheels, conveyors and other moving parts. Send them to complete objectives on the other side of the island, so you can teleport to the next one. 

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Radial Games

Damaged Core

Oculus Rift exclusive

One of the first VR titles to let you traverse a world without walking or unrealistically warping around, Damaged Core sees you play an artificial intelligence that can possess robots and wireless cameras. Teleport into a enemy robot and use its telescopic sight and deadly laser rifle to pick off your foes, then just warp into a new one when your host is about to expire. 

It's got a relatively lengthy campaign for a VR title, and the Silent Scope-esque sniping is fun. (Yes, it's more waves of robots to shoot.)

Trailer here.

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Photo by: High Voltage Software

Drop Dead

Playable on: Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR

Yep, it's another game where you're shooting at wave after wave of enemies -- but Drop Dead has an actual plot (stopping a mad scientist by traveling through time), characters, decent voice acting and particularly impressive graphics for a Gear VR mobile title. 

It's polished and satisfying, particularly if you're using Samsung's Gear VR controller -- which lets you aim your weapon independently of where your head is pointing.

Trailer here.

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Photo by: Pixel Toys

Did we miss a VR game that's as good or better than anything on this list? Hit me up at sean.hollister@cnet.com. (No, that's not Sean in this photo.)

Disclosure: Sean's wife works for Facebook, owner of Oculus VR, as a business-to-business video production coordinator.

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Photo by: Josh Miller/CNET

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