UE4 is downloading a large update, so I thought I might spend the time productively and give some quick reviews of VR games I have played on my HTC Vive.
I happen to be very lucky and splurged on getting myself the HTC Vive in a preorder. So I’ve had it for about 9 months now, and Australian shops are just starting to stock it.
I think unequivocally, the HTC Vive is the best VR gear out there. The setup is great. The hardware is top-notch. It is more expensive, but that’s okay. The room-scale experience is great (Oculus’ fixed-position default seems mental once you’ve tried room-scale). And as games get more demanding on hardware, you can improve it – which you can’t really do with a PS4 or phone-based VR. I also bought some Google Cardboard VR sets, and it’s okay for a 5 minute dabble.
If the Vive can have a wireless or at least backpack-mounted interface, then it’ll be perfect. I’m quite pleased to see regular firmware updates to the base stations, headset and controllers.
Enough about hardware, let’s hear about games I liked.
Valve spent a long time experimenting with VR games whilst designing the Vive. The Lab is a polished version of those experiments. There are several disconnected mini games designed to explore the space of game design. There’s an archery tower defence game. A Portal-themed Angry Birds equivalent. A bullet-hell space shooter (which is really wicked in 3D). There’s a few visual explorations like wandering in a postcard, sweeping through a CT scan or standing in space looking at the solar system. The gamey bits are really great and there’s lots to mess about with. Plus it’s free!
Job Simulator puts you in a robot-run world where you run simulations of human jobs from the 1980-2010s. You are guided and graded by robots who know nothing of the human condition. And so, mostly, you make a mess.
On paper this game sounds boring. Fix a car. Photocopy some documents. Serve hotdogs at a convenience store. But it’s fun! It’s about the experience rather than the mechanics. The gameplay itself is fairly simple, but you are given a lot of latitude to mess around however you like. There are many things to interact with and it all feels natural if slightly goofy. So like many jobs, your real task is to fool around within the system.
Holopoint is what the Matrix simulator might give you to train you in archery. You shoot arrows at targets and have to reload by grabbing another arrow from your quiver. But soon enough, the targets start shooting back. They launch a projectile at your head, so you can avoid them by ducking, swerving or spinning around. As the levels climb, samurai converge on you from all angles.
In a good game of Holopoint, it starts to become a dance like all those fight sequences from the Matrix. You loose an arrow, spin to dodge a bolt and then draw to fire quickly on two samurai behind you, and then untwist to take a swift shot at a target hiding in the rafters. You don’t have to be so dramatic (head tilts can suffice) but it feels damn good.
This is VR Dungeons and Dragons (Vanishing Realms, VR… geddit?). You creep through crypts. Have sword fights with skeletons. Put gems into statues to reveal secret treasure… All the tropes. Even having to dodge pendulum axe traps! Oh my knees!
Traditional pen-and-paper roleplay mechanics are pretty much absent, but that’s replaced with neat experiential stuff. You draw your sword from your waist. When you cast a fireball, your hand rumbles with the awesome power. Having to quickly sift through your inventory in your belt while an archer is laying down fire is much more exciting than on a tabletop!
This game is Early Access and could be great given enough resources. There was a decent length intro campaign when I played.
Raw Data is a horde mode game where many robots descend upon you and you have to destroy them all. You can wield a gun (and you have to reload like you’re jamming a clip in). Or you can be a legally-distinguishable-from-Jedi cyber-samurai with a laser sword and the ability to telekinetically push things around with your palm.
You can play this game by yourself or multiplayer. I only play the former, but there seems to be cool class-like setups. Interestingly, Raw Data doesn’t teleport you instantly like other VR games, but does a whooshy projection thing which when paired with a sword that can deflect bullets, makes you feel like a goddamned ninja.
This is more gamey than many of the others on this list. It’s fairly intense, but fun.
Summer camp meets VR! There are several multiplayer VR mini-games, but more importantly, ample opportunity to horse about. Mini-games range from paintball to frisbee golf to 3D Charades. Rec Room isn’t a lean, mean competitive multiplayer game, but an excuse to have interactive fun. Voice chat works great and your simple avatar is able to express a lot of character.
I was sold when you could join a group by fist-bumping (since you can click the grab button to make a fist…) I had fun playing 3D Charades with some random people. I had to do “boa constrictor” and drew a bad 3D snake. But when I jumped into the middle of the drawing and had it wrap around me in 3D… Fun times!
There are some games that are just “experiential”. Waltz of the Wizard is like that. You get to be a wizard in a tower casting spells. You cast spells by dropping (say) an eyeball and a pointy gem into the cauldron, and then pour in some red mana. The spells are cool. Classics like fireball or turning yourself into a giant. You can also make objects ignore gravity, or dance around like a Disney movie. There’s lots going on in Waltz of the Wizard, but you can just mess about. You can spend your time shooting objects with a crossbow if that floats your boat.
The crazy thing about this game is that it’s free! Not as part of a package or anything like that. Straight-up free. There’s nice 3D modelling and voice acting. Many experiential games charge a few dollars admission. Not Waltz!
Google have been playing around with VR and the results are amazing. Google Earth VR is the old Google Earth, but y’know, in VR. The sense of scale is amazing. You can shrink yourself down to normal size (in an admittedly blocky world) or grow large and survey the land. They have several curated tours for you, both man-made and natural. You can change the time of day by just grabbing at the sun and shifting it.
Tilt Brush is something amazing. It’s MS Paint for 3D, in VR and with extra sparkles. You draw in the air with very intuitive controls that might draw ribbons or fire or sparkles. Drawing in space and being able to walk around it is great. VR offers some fascinating experiences and Tilt Brush is one of them.
I’ve also got Audioshield (punch energy balls to the beat), Kingspray Graffiti (do graffiti with semi-realistic spraycans), Fantastic Contraption (make physics gadgets), theBlu (experience some neat underwater scenes) and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (crazy bomb defusal). All of these were decent, but either require more work or just didn’t grab me like the others.
VR is really fascinating. If you haven’t tried it, you need to. Explanations on paper don’t match what it’s like to grab a thing and throw it in a way that feels natural. Or that awkward moment when you go to lean on a virtual table that doesn’t exist in the real world.
VR is great, and I can’t wait to see what else happens in this space.