After a long road, the PlayStation VR (first unveiled in 2014 as Project Morpheus) has launched, bringing high-end virtual reality gaming to the masses.
Well, the masses that own a PS4 and have at least $400 to spare. But y'know.
I've been spending hours upon hours with the PSVR strapped to my head (good thing it's pretty comfortable), trying out as many games as I could get my hands on. While I haven't been able to spend ample time with every game that launched with the system, here are some quick thoughts on what I think are the highlights of the lineup so far. If you've got a PSVR and are looking for your next best experience, it might be one of these.
The PlayStation VR has what I think is the strongest lineup of launch games of any VR headset yet on the market. Much of that can be attributed to the simple fact that Sony is the latest developer out of the VR gate (and thus many games that hit the PC in the past have been ported to the PSVR), but it's also a testament to the fact that Sony has done this whole "video game hardware launch" thing before.
Here's what I've been having the most fun with:
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
One of the best asynchronous party games in recent memory, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes tasks the player wearing the headset with disarming a bomb. Problem is, the player has no idea how to do that, forcing them to rely on friends who can quickly flip through the bomb disposal manual (shown on the TV, though you can also read it online or print it out) to give instructions.
"Is there more than one yellow wire? Does the serial number contain a vowel? OK, then cut the fourth wire. Just trust us." It can be stressful, but in the best way.
Technically, you can play the PC version of this game without a VR headset, but then there's a greater temptation to cheat by having multiple people look at the bomb on the computer screen. Also, the VR version lends itself to great immersion as the player with the headset can really feel like they're alone in a room with only the voices of their friends in their ears.
Made in Austin by Owlchemy Labs, Job Simulator has long been a shining proof of concept for some of the fun things VR can let you do. In it, you work your way through several jobs like office worker and auto mechanic, all of which are spruced up by ridiculous tasks and engaging humor.
Working your way through all the game's tasks can be a relatively short-lived experience, but it's a fun and clever sandbox that makes for a wonderful introduction to virtual reality any time you're introducing the hardware to somebody new.
Rez first came out on the Sega Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 in 2001, but in a weird way it feels like it's been waiting for VR this entire time. While the base game is the same as it was 15 years ago, virtual reality adds a surprising amount of immersion and fun to this trippy, musical shooter experience. There's new content, too, with a brand new section of gameplay (Area X) designed with virtual reality in mind.
A single playthrough of the game is pretty short, but it's the kind of game that's worth replaying multiple times.
Thumper is one of the most stylish (and fun) rhythm games in recent years, combining intense music (that really thumps. Get it?) with a dark, somewhat horrifying atmosphere. It's great even without the virtual reality component, but immersing yourself in the game's fast and oddly threatening world is the best way to play.
Batman: Arkham VR
It may not have slick combat, a wide open world to explore or the dozens of hours of content that the other Arkham video games have provided, but Batman: Arkham VR is a surprisingly engaging investigation story that, at its best, makes you feel like a pretty great detective.
Much of the experience is more of a brief roller coaster ride than an actual game, but Arkham VR encourages you to go back through its chapters to find and solve puzzles that The Riddler has left behind.
Also, the story is surprisingly interesting, and makes for a worthwhile trip to the series' take on Gotham city one last (?) time.
This game makes a great case for why we need a ton of point-and-click adventure games in virtual reality. The controls are incredibly simple (just, y'know, point and click), and the isometric view of the world looks awesome — like you're peering into a smale scale model of a real city in the sky. It's one of the more relaxing PlayStation VR games available right now, as well as one of the most engaging.
Like many of these early PSVR games, though, it's a short-lived experience if you only plan to play through it once.
Headmaster might be the best soccer game for people who don't like soccer (or, heck, maybe even for people who do). It's a hands-free game that focuses entirely on heading — hitting the ball with your head. Things start simple, requiring you just to hit the ball into the net and occasionally hitting some targets for extra points. But things quickly get more crazy, and before you know it you'll be bouncing balls into giant renditions of beer pong and bowling. A solid sense of humor and style rounds out the package and encourages you to keep coming back for more.
Superhypercube will hook you right off the bat with its striking neon visuals (which look awesome in the PSVR headset), but it will keep your attention with its addictive, arcade-like gameplay. The goal: Properly rotate an increasingly-complex shape so that it can fit through a hole in the oncoming wall. The problem: You can't see the hole in the wall unless you constantly lean your body to get out of the way of the shape itself.
At $29.99, it's a bit pricey considering there's only one mode and nothing to unlock. But if you're the kind of person that loves chasing high scores and comparing those scores to your friends, then the game probably would have sucked more than 30 bucks out of you at an arcade anyway.
In the 1980s, Battlezone blew minds with the way its wireframe vector graphics gave players the illusion that they were driving a tank and blowing up enemy vehicles (in impressive 3D clarity for its time). In 2016, Battlezone on the PlayStation VR feels similarly cool. The gameplay is relatively simple (with mostly the same goal as the 80s versions: Blow up other tanks), but being able to look around your tank cockpit takes awhile to get old, and being able to check your surroundings faster than your turret can rotate is an important skill to have.
It's also fun online, though best with friends. So far, everybody else playing multiplayer has spent a lot of time muttering to themselves about how awesome the game looks in VR, but not nearly enough time actually being good at the game and not using up all of the team's lives.
The best part about Playroom VR? It's free. But it also showcases some fun examples of asynchronous multiplayer with VR, where the player wearing the headset has a different goal than all of the players using the TV. Some of these games are better than others, and its unlikely any of them will be a Game of the Year contender for you, but it can still provide a lot of fun. And you can't beat the price.
VR isn't just about games. In addition to the stuff above, consider checking these out:
Allumette is an animated short film loosely inspired by The Little Match Girl by Hans CHristian Andersen. It's a touching story that's free to download and worth a watch in VR.
Harmonix Music VR
The studio that brought you Rock Band and Dance Central has created a collection of music-based experiences for VR. It won't hold your attention nearly as long as the big-budget rhythm games they're known for, but it's got four experiences that can make for a relaxing getaway when you're done diffusing bombs or being Batman.
One of these experiences, "The Trip," is purely a music visualizer that tells you to sit down and turn off your brain. The best thing in the package, though, is "The Easel," which is like a poor man's Tilt Brush (Google's art creation software that's not currently available for PlayStation VR). You can draw and pain trippy visuals that move in time with the music, letting you feel creative while you bob your head to the beat.
You can even create a playlist of your own music (which is fortunate, because you likely won't recognize any of the included tunes), though sadly streaming services like Pandora aren't supported.
Several non-VR games have additional (and optional) VR modes attached to them.
100ft Robot Golf
Though I don't love it nearly as much as the developer's last game, Roundabout, 100ft Robot Golf can coast a long way on No Goblin's sense of style and humor. Golf commentary from the McElroy brothers (of the hilarious podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me) is nearly worth the price of the package alone.
The VR mode is actually not the best way to play the game (which is like golf, only more race-like. And with huge robots. And you can destroy buildings. And there are dogs that pilot a robot), but it's a nice thing to mess around with once or twice.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Here's the thing: You should be playing Rise of the Tomb Raider anyway. It was one of the best games of the year in 2015, when it was exclusive to the Xbox One, so if you missed it back then, now is your chance to play it on the PS4.
The included extra chapter, Blood Ties, is a story-only journey through the Croft manor playable entirely in VR. There's a chance it will make you motion sick (as the game itself warns you over and over again), but it's more content with Lara Croft, so I'll take what I can get.