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Oculus Quest review: Facebook's new VR headset is the best thing I've tried this year

So, what are the games and apps like? 

The Quest will have over 50 games and apps at launch, according to Facebook, including Google's Tilt Brush, Lucasfilm's Vader Immortal, and AAA VR games including Job Simulator, Moss, Beat Saber and Superhot. I've had a chance to play nearly all the launch titles so far. Curious? Here's thoughts on every one I tried.

  • Beat Saber, a lightsaber music rhythm game that's already been a hit VR game, is fantastic on Quest.
  • Harmonix' Dance Central shows how addictive motion-based dance games in VR can be. I got exhausted fast, but it's fun (and it has lots of recognizable music tracks).
  • Superhot VR is one of the best VR games ever made. It's a series of bullet-time sequences in which quick reflexes are needed to defeat sudden surprise attacks. The extended demo I played on Quest is perfect, and feels like what I played on PlayStation VR.
  • Dead and Buried 2 feels like a console game, but maybe one from a generation ago. The multiplayer shooter zips around through massive arenas. I played, had fun and didn't get nauseous.
  • Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs is Angry Birds in VR! It's as good as the version I tried before, and similar to the AR app available on iPhones.
  • I Expect You to Die is a James Bond-style puzzle thriller. It's another early hit VR game, and makes the transition really well.
  • Wander isn't a game, it's a 360-degree Google Maps-connected app that doesn't gain much from Oculus Quest.
  • Bait! is a fishing game that I loved playing on the Oculus Go and Lenovo Mirage Solo. The improved Quest controllers make it better.
  • Creed: Rise to Glory is a port of the boxing game on PlayStation VR and PCs. The Touch controllers make good virtual boxing gloves, but the graphics feel dialed back.
  • Racket Fury: Table Tennis VR is a ping-pong game, and it's one of the best examples of how well Quest can simulate action games.
  • Space Pirate Trainer is a dual-gun arcade game, where you shoot spaceships. It's simple and fun, and works as well as other PC and console versions.
  • Journey of the Gods has simplified graphics, but a clever story involving growing and shrinking into god-sized and normal-human forms.
  • Face Your Fears 2 is full of spiders and terrifying things to make you jump, and I hated playing it so much.
  • Sports Scramble is like Wii Sports in VR, in the best way.
  • Ballista involves shooting things with giant catapults. I didn't get much further than that, but it's another game that goes for simplified, cartoon-style graphics.
  • Virtual Virtual Reality is a wonderful, weird world-hopping game that debuted on Google Daydream and Oculus Go, and gains some extra movement and improved controls in this version.
  • Apex Construct is a point-and-click kind of immersive adventure set in a ruined robotic world. Finding things and solving puzzles sometimes feels like an escape room.
  • Vader Immortal, the first of a multipart Star Wars experience from LucasFilm, is set around the time of Rogue One, and feels almost like a home version of a theme park ride. The atmospherics are top-notch.
  • Moss has been one of the best VR games on PC and PlayStation VR. A platformer game starring a little mouse who explores tiny dollhouse-like worlds, the game translates amazingly to Quest and feels nearly identical.
  • Rec Room, a free bundle of social games with plenty of chat options, was one of the best things to try with PC VR. The Oculus Quest room controls the same, but sometimes looks a little more pixelated.
  • YouTube VR is a decent app portal for YouTube, plus 360- and 180-degree video viewing, and is easier than using the Quest's browser.
  • Job Simulator was one of the first games I ever played on Oculus Rift in 2016. Owlchemy Labs is now owned by Google, and the nature of job-simulating satire has aged, but the game still feels great and shows off the Touch controllers.
  • PokerStars VR is a free poker game. Poker's oddly compelling in VR.
  • BoxVR, like Beat Saber, involves ducking and moving to a beat, except here you're throwing punches. Workout sessions give it more of the feel of a fitness app (it made me work up a sweat, and was a lot more fun than I expected.)
  • Epic Roller Coasters is a free roller coaster simulator. It made me nauseous, not in a good way.
  • VR Karts: Sprint is the Quest's only driving game for now. It's like a much less impressive Mario Kart. But, the controls feel better than the Gear VR or Oculus Go version.
  • Ocean Rift is an aquatic meet-the-fishes demo that goes all the way back to the launch of the Samsung Gear VR. This version has full motion tracking, but that's it.
  • Shadow Point is another point-and-click 3D adventure, with puzzles that involve holding objects up to create shadows. It has a bit of the vibe of games like The Witness.
  • Drop Dead: Dual Strike Edition is an old zombie-shooting game I played on VR years ago. It's back. How desperately do you want to shoot zombies?
  • Guided Tai Chi: oddly hypnotic. Each hand controller follows black and white trails in the air, following meditative exercises. Looks beautiful. Controls well, but you'll need a fair amount of free space.
  • Fruit Ninja: the old mobile fruit-slicing game comes back in VR with swords, and even though I was ready to hate it, the damn thing charmed me. It's Beat Saber with fruit.
  • Bogo: Oculus' free virtual pet game was one of the first demos I ever tried with Quest. Petting the alien critter and feeding it is more adorable, and convincing, thanks to having full-motion hand controls.
  • VRChat is a mobile version of the popular version of the Metaverse. I had no idea what I was doing most of the time. Mingling with people of all avatar styles in a maze of rooms feels like early chat rooms and Second Life all rolled into VR.
  • Tilt Brush, a mobile version of Google's hit VR art app, is the only art creation tool on Quest at the moment. The controls don't always track perfectly, but on a whole it's a stunning must-get for any would-be VRtist, and has lots of effects and brushes.
  • Penn & Teller VR is a totally unique collection of VR pranks to pull on friends, with a few magic tricks thrown in. It's something I've never seen before.
  • National Geographic Explore VR is a series of missions in wild locations. I kayaked down a river and took photos of penguins by sitting on the floor and moving the controllers...that alone was one of the coolest things I've tried on Quest.

In nearly every instance, these apps are silky-smooth and look crisp. But graphics tend to be more simplistic, cartoonish. Creed, the boxing game, didn't seem great in an early version. Nevertheless, these games are all way beyond the experiences on last year's Oculus Go. They are closer to console and PC-level VR than anything I've previously played on the go.

But there are graphical limits, clearly. The Quest works wonders with its smooth motion, crisp display and fluid controls, and that helps make up for games that aren't always as rich as they are on PC or console. Many times, I never even noticed.

I can't wait to see what comes next. I'm especially looking forward to the wild live theater experiment of The Under Presents. Watch this space as I test more apps between now and the Quest's launch.

But it's important to note that, by default, the Quest doesn't play all the hundreds of Oculus Go apps that are already available. And it doesn't tap into the whole Oculus Rift store, either. The Quest's App Store is a third space. Hopefully, Go and Rift apps will arrive quickly. But that's not a guarantee, and Oculus is currently curating which apps can make the move.

The Oculus Quest can pair with a mobile app on iOS or Android for viewing the Quest's app library, adjusting settings or browsing and buying new apps in the Oculus Store. It works as easily as it did with the Go last year.

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The future, now

Three years ago, I looked at the Oculus Rift and saw a future split between dreams and reality -- possibilities and limitations. It's stunning how, only three years later, so much can now be done in so small a footprint. If I gave my 2016 self the Oculus Quest, I think he'd freak out.

I've spent a lot of time in VR since then, and AR too. I've had a chance to temper the initial excitement and get used to the leaps into new worlds. But even so, the Oculus Quest is impressive. It's the best thing, VR or otherwise, I've tried in a long time. And it's finally the hardware I imagined back when I read Ready Player One. Those freeform rigs you can just jump into? This is the beginning of that. The ability to hop into another world on the fly hints at where our weird multiverse of realities is going, whether you like it or not.

It's a sign of where things are going, fast. There will be self-contained VR that wirelessly connects to things everywhere, streaming from your phone or computer, or via USB-C. Eye tracking will allow our eyes to zip around and help control worlds without our hands. Voice interaction will improve. And the Oculus Quest's self-contained 6DoF controllers and tracking will become standard in many more mobile devices. Plus, expect the intelligence of computer vision in cameras to improve, and blend the real world with the virtual even more.

The Quest doesn't do all of these things. But it's a big stepping stone. And unlike the Vive Focus and Lenovo Mirage Solo, which also used Snapdragon 835 chips in standalone VR last year, the Quest feels like the perfected vision of that idea. It feels, in a way, like the beginning of the VR and AR Immersive Universe, Phase 2.

What the Oculus Quest doesn't do much is push the idea of VR forward. It's superior untethered VR, but it's not deeply integrated into any existing OS, such as Android or Windows. It's not going to be a social platform, even with Facebook, that users will be ready to dive into. The Oculus Quest's app approach is more game console than phone or PC ecosystem at the moment. Will that work?

Can Facebook find a way to grow Quest into a platform that eventually becomes the successor (or alternative) to the RIft? Are Oculus' VR goggles going to slowly evolve into AR glasses? Will this convince enough people to hop aboard and share worlds together? Will Facebook succeed in keeping its social media platform problems away from the Oculus Quest? These are the unknowns.

But that doesn't take away from the fact that what the Oculus Quest is doing right now is already pretty incredible.

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