Of the 41 launch-window games for Oculus Rift – 30 of which will be out on launch day – I reckon I've played slightly over half of them, including 10 in one day on Monday. Some of the stuff I've seen recently is so much more exciting and impressive than VR games were a few years ago. The 8 games below are my current favourites, and the ones that I think would be most likely to persuade doubters that VR is more than a gimmick – or that, hey, if it is a gimmick, it's a pretty bloody great one.
The premise of this one is so natural for VR: you are an eagle, and you fly by tilting your head around. The controller provides some nuance (you can adjust your speed with the triggers and screech with the X button) but the principle of Eagle Flight is completely natural. The setting is an abandoned Paris, overrun by nature, 50 years after humanity has left it alone. There are deer running through the streets.
Exploring the city is fun by itself, but race and hunting challenges give Eagle Flight some structure. One you get the hang of the controls, you can start wheeling around the city at speed, ducking through gaps in the buildings. The highlight for me was the 6-player multiplayer mode, where teams of three compete to pick up prey and return it to the nest. I preferred being a bird to being a spaceship, even if I did feel rather unsteady on my feet once the headset was removed.
Eagle Flight is a launch-window game, but has no concrete release date yet.
Esper 2 is a small-scale, gently funny, greatly entertaining VR game. It'll be less than a tenner, and it is a puzzle game that gives you telekinetic powers. It's such a bit-size experience, which is advantageous for those of us just getting used to the idea (and potential physical discomforts) of these headsets.
There are a couple of other puzzle-adventure style games in the Oculus Rift launch line-up; I Expect You to Die, in particular, looks very stylish. But Esper 2 is my favourite, because it's so simple, and because I've been trying to move objects with my mind since I first read Matilda when I was about six.
Esper 2 is out March 28th.
Dead & Buried
Here's a thing I can't get used to with VR: you can actually move around. Most of the early VR demos I played had me sat down in a chair, and that is probably the most comfortable way to experience it. At least, that's what I thought until I tried Dead & Buried, which is a gun-slinging cover shooter where you play an undead cowboy.
This is another team game; I played 2 versus 2. It also uses the Oculus Touch controllers, which I love. You have a couple of revolvers down by your sides, which you can grab and shoot with, and every time you die you respawn somewhere else, where there might be a new gun to reach out and grab.
What I didn't realise until about two minutes into the demo is that you can move and duck behind cover, lean out from behind pillars, and generally feel like a total badass. Finally, a reason to do squats in the gym: it'll prepare you for throwing TNT out from behind a barrel while you hunker down in cover.
Dead & Buried is planned for sometime this year, presumably around the time the Oculus Touch controllers come out.
This is a fixed-perspective third-person action-RPG game with a tiny flavour of Souls about it. Combat feels weighty and consequential, you die easily, and the idea is to work your way slightly further through creepy environments every time before you fall victim to some demon.
When you enter a new area, you can look around freely, peering over walls or around corners so that you can see things before your character can. Fighting with a sword and an axe felt significantly different, and it was clear even from a half-hour that there's a lot of crafting and equipment and modification to get stuck into. This would work as a non-VR game, but it wouldn't be nearly as interesting or involving.
Chronos is a launch game, out on March 28th.
Related: How I Felt After an Entire Day of VR
This is a fantastic example of a great idea for a VR game, because good lord, I would never free climb around an actual mountain in real life, have you seen how incredibly dangerous that shit looks? I stop at throwing myself down mountains strapped to bits of wood in the winter. But I love the idea of free rock-climbing, so The Climb fulfils a fantasy.
Crytek's climbing game feels really physical, despite the weirdness of only being able to see your hands rather than your whole body. The views are incredible. It really shows off how far the Oculus Rift display has come since the early days, when everything was blurry and pixellated. When you're about to fall, this is scarier than any of the horror games on the Rift. (jk, I've not tried the horror games, because to hell with that nonsense.)
The Climb comes out in April.
Fly to KUMA
Unlike most of the other games on this list, Fly to KUMA is a cheap and cheerful little game by a Japanese developer, in which you must guide an adorable little troupe of tuxedo-jacketed pink bears across little geometric levels so they can get to their space-ship. It is extremely cute. When you lean in to have a look at them, the wee bears turn their faces towards you and wave. So you feel like an absolute bastard when you accidentally send them plummeting to their deaths.
In the levels I played, you have to manipulate geometric blocks with the controller in order to build paths for the bears. It's like Lemmings, basically, but cuter. It is a little fiddly to play, but it's a good example of the ways that VR can enhance the kind of game experiences I already enjoy, as opposed to revolutionise them.
Fly to KUMA is a launch game, out March 28th.
Edge of Nowhere
Insomniac's VR effort is an atmospheric adventure game that has you, an explorer, venturing out into the frozen wastes – but it quickly takes a turn for the creepy, and the surreal. Edge of Nowhere is about as scary as I can take in virtual reality. I don't watch or play horror games or films even with a comforting few feet between myself and the screen, because I'm a huge wuss, so actually immersing myself in a horror VR experience is definitely too much to ask.
Anyway, Edge of Nowhere is scary, but tense scary, mysterious scary, rather than gory. I can get into that, and it's the coolest narrative experience I've yet seen on Rift.
CCP's space dofighting game was the very first thing I ever played on a VR headset, three or four years ago. Fun story: the first time I tried it, I was standing up, and when I looked down to see that my virtual legs were sitting, my actual legs gave out from under me and I feel over in front of a roomful of people.
Valkyrie is my favourite of all the Oculus Rift space games because the way it controls feels so natural and free – and because, against the odds, it doesn't make me feel sick. The full game has a proper story mode as well as a progression arc that upgrades and customises your little ship, but what excites me most about it is that it's the fulfilment of all the Wing Commander fantasies I had as a teenager. Flying and fighting just feels so real.
EVE Valkyrie is bundled with Oculus Rift pre-orders, our March 28th.