The 12 best experiences you can have on the Oculus Rift
Did you just buy an Oculus Rift headset? Here are the launch titles we like best.
Rebecca FleenorFormer Project Manager
Rebecca Fleenor was an editorial project manager. She enjoys all things wacky, techie and entertaining, and she's usually off binge-watching films and television shows (and writing them in her spare time).
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
With 30 launch titles available on the new Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset as of today, you may be wondering where to begin. There's a wide range in price (anywhere from $9.99 to $59.99), comfort level and game genre.
In case you don't have the time or money to try them all (who does?) we've compiled this list of our personal virtual reality favorites.
Editors' note: As you scroll down this article page on a desktop Web browser, you should see a table of contents pop up on the left. Be sure to check out our other Must-See VR picks there.
Trippy? Check. Stomach-churning? Check. One of the best Oculus Rift games so far? You bet! The high- production-value space dogfighting game features some of the best gameplay on the Oculus Rift. It comes free to anyone who preordered the Rift, but the Luke Skywalker and Kara Thrace wannabes among us would still pay the $60 if it didn't.
Enjoy solving puzzles? Strategizing? Does the description "cyberpunk hacking in virtual reality" light up your eyes like Christmas morning? Darknet is reminiscent of Hollywood's appalling movie interpretation of "hacking" from the '90s, but it's fun and engaging. You steal data from powerful corporations by looking for the weakest links in their security. In VR, that means you're inside a sphere filled with colorful nodes that you capture with powerful programs.
Attempt to save your homeland by entering an ancient labyrinth that only opens once a year. We must admit, there's always a special place in our hearts for a thoughtful action-adventure title. The game feels a bit like Dark Souls with its unforgiving difficulty level and atmospheric exploring, and it's got a unique leveling system which adapts your hero's abilities from agility toward intellect and magic as the hero ages.
The best part: VR lets you see just how gigantic and grand the environments and bosses really are. When your hero stands on the edge of a cliff, you can clearly see it's an immense drop to the bottom.
You don't really need an Oculus Rift to play this one, but don't let that keep you away. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a perfect party game that only requires one VR headset to play. The person in the headset has to defuse a bomb, but doesn't know how. Everyone else has a page or two of the hilariously complex bomb defusal manual. Learn to communicate or else!
It's not technically Gravity: The Game, but by gosh it's extremely close. Space, memory loss, a wreckage, and often times all you can focus on is finding oxygen to breathe. While other first-person VR experiences tend to focus on shooting or similar violence, the personal story-driven discoveries of what happened to your crew set this game apart. Just be warned, it's not an easy game to play in VR. The Rift makes you feel the disorientation and claustrophobia you might expect to have as a drifting astronaut.
Imagine if you could play a game of StarCraft on your tabletop, with an honest-to-goodness Transformer jet leading your army of toy tanks and soldiers. That's AirMech VR -- and this strategic multiplayer arena game is definitely worth the VR upgrade from what we've seen so far. It's not the deepest real-time strategy game, but it's definitely a beginner-friendly one, and it's a blast to transform your little robot into a jet, scoop up some powerful battle tanks, and drop them into a skirmish.
Pick a car, grab some online friends and enjoy combat racing on a tiny scale. BlazeRush keeps it simple: no health, no brakes, just good old-fashioned vehicular mayhem. Fire solid rocket boosters to stay ahead of the giant crushers, then ram rivals off the track with your bumpers or projectile weaponry. Since you're in VR, you can stand up to get an overview of the track, or lean in close to find the perfect moment to seize the lead.
This is not a game. This is an application that -- if you ask us -- should come with every single Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headset. Just like the name implies, Virtual Desktop lets you access your entire Windows desktop from inside the Rift or Vive. That means there's no need to hook up an external monitor to your computer, or take the headset off your head -- just set Virtual Desktop to launch every time you boot your PC, and the moment you put the Rift on, your desktop will be waiting for you.
You only get one virtual monitor, but you can stretch it around your entire field of view. You can play any PC game on the equivalent of a gigantic screen, or watch 3D videos without needing a 3D TV, and it'll pipe all of your PC's audio through the Rift headphones. Bonus: voice commands let you ask "What time is it?" or launch apps without clicking on them.
Fresh air? Chalked hands? Gorgeous vistas with a sheer drop below? Generally, only if you're an actual mountain climber. The Climb tries to reproduce the heart-pounding tension and the terror of looking down, all from the safety of your bedroom. While we don't think VR should necessarily replacing real-life tangible experiences like climbing mountains, The Climb is a beautiful virtual-reality experience for those who would never risk the actual thing.
We've only seen a small portion of this game, but it's already on our shortlist. Partly, that's because laser rifles and augmented sight are really cool. The other part is that you play an artificial intelligence who can teleport into robot soldiers, flying cameras and other tech in order to move around. The remote hacking is a pretty neat way to deal with the problem that walking around video game worlds can still be fairly disorienting in VR. Plus, the game looks spectacular.
Available: Spring 2016
Edge of Nowhere
An action-adventure game with supernatural undertones. (Well, undertones at first. Once you start battling Cthulhu-like monsters it becomes a little more obvious.) You're an explorer investigating a lost Antarctic expedition, and your rescue mission rapidly becomes more of a fight-for-your-life situation. Very unnerving, but visually pleasing. Like Chronos, virtual reality makes the environments seem more grand -- and terrifying -- than they would on a 2D screen.
We probably don't need to tell you to check out Lucky's Tale, because it comes free with every Oculus Rift. But that means you've got access to one of the best early Oculus titles without paying another cent. It's the Super Mario of virtual reality, in more ways than one -- it literally looks and plays like a good 3D Mario game, and it's the perfect introduction to how VR lets you look around the living, breathing worlds that these game characters inhabit.