I recently got access to the Valve Index and have been making my way through Steam’s large VR catalogue and uncovering some of the best experiences you can have with a headset.
Before I got an Index, I’d already played a fair bit of VR on PS4 Pro so I’ll include a couple of games from there that I’ve enjoyed, and I’m roping in Alex to tell us about the Oculus Quest games at some point in the future. For now we’re leaving those out.
I’d like to talk a bit about the Valve Index before I kick things off, though, because goddamn, that headset is incredible. Not only does it support the best-looking VR games I’ve ever seen, but the controllers, which track each of your fingers, are a revelation. I’ll never get over seeing my virtual hands move in sync with my actual hands.
That out of the way, here are some of the best VR games to play in 2020, in no particular order. Let us know your recommendations in the comments!
No best VR games list would be complete without Beat Saber, a rhythm action game that’s basically “What if Guitar Hero, but lightsabers?” It might sound dumb, but it’s some of the most fun you can have with two hands and a massive device strapped to your head - unless you’re into bondage.
There’s a full on campaign where the game switches up the variables, making levels where you can hit the incoming blocks from any angle, or levels where you have to wave your arms like a car showroom balloon man. While some scenarios work more than others, it gives you plenty to work through and teaches you the nuances of the scoring system, which is as much about following through and clean hits as it is about timing.
Then there’s free mode where you can compete against pals in your living room, controlling the variables yourself. There’s always new tracks being added as well, even if you don’t bother with artist-specific DLC drops.
If Beat Saber is, “What if Guitar Hero, but lightsabers?” then Pistol Whip is: “What if Beat Saber, but guns?” You automatically walk through levels like in a lightgun game, shooting men as you go. But you shoot in sync with the music for a bigger score, each bullet to the beat.
As you slaughter your way through, you duck under columns, sidestep others, and dodge bullets like you’re The One. It’s incredibly entertaining and all-encompassing, the music pounding in your ears and marrying your movements. Reloads are accomplished by simply pointing your pistol to the ground, and you can smack goons who get close with the handle of your gun, hence the name. Games like this are the evolution of the arcade shooter and this is the best one you can play.
Boneworks isn’t the game I’d put on to showcase VR to a person who hasn’t experienced it before. It’s kinda clunky and unwieldy, but it’s an actual, proper game with puzzles, combat, and freeform expression. It’s about the closest we have to a VR immersive sim and is worth persevering with, even when your arm - yes, you have arms in this one - gets stuck in a wardrobe (and that’s why most VR games don’t simulate arms).
According to rumours, Boneworks heavily influenced the direction of the upcoming Valve game, Half-Life Alyx. You can see why when you get stuck into one of its physics and climbing puzzles. Even though you’re up against polygonal humanoid drones, there’s something shocking about bludgeoning someone to death with your actual hands, creeping up behind them and raising a blunt instrument before striking down. Each point of contact on these enemies even has its own physics, so you can grab their jaws when they’re downed and make their mouths move while screaming, “I’m a dead idiot” in a dumb voice. We’ve all done that, right?
Stepping up the hyper-violence, there’s Gorn, a coliseum battler where you can smash the eyeballs out of people’s heads and bat them in mid-air. Gorn’s cartoon aesthetic somehow makes you feel less bad about this than you do for sneaking up on someone in Boneworks and bashing their head in. I think it helps that these roidheads are out to murder you in brutal fashion, too.
There’s a massive array of weapons to dick about with here, including swords, clubs, maces, spears, nunchucks, axes, and polearms. My personal favourite is the flail, which you can spin above your head before unleashing it onto someone’s face at full speed. With the Valve Index speakers, it sounds like it’s whirring by your ear and the crunch when it lands is sickening. Good family fun.
It’s Tetris on drugs. Just, for a minute, imagine playing Tetris, but you’re in another world, where digital dolphins splash in and out of water that isn’t there, and every block thrums with the beat of the music. It’s like having an outer body experience.
There’s something very chill about Tetris anyway, but this manages to pump up the chill factor to 11, fully wrapping you up, swaddling you in a comfortable Tetris blanket. A part of my brain is still there, floating.
Subnautica, if you haven’t played it, is a unique survival game. Its world is mostly water, you’re left to figure things out for yourself, and there’s a deep mystery that keeps you paddling through. It’s extremely satisfying to work your way up from the landing pod to a massive submarine full of switches and levers. One of my best recent game experiences was seeing a massive creature called a reaper leviathan, turning off the lights and engine in my cyclops sub, and sitting there in the dark as the leviathan snaked around my machine.
Now you can feel what it’s like to sit in the middle of the food chain on an aquatic planet in VR. You’ll need a traditional controller, but it works well and makes the scale of the world feel even more scary and oppressive. The only downside is that the constant looking up tends to give you neck ache in real life, which I guess is better than being eaten by a steroid fish.
If you can wrap your head around playing this extremely complex space sim with a controller, VR is the way to go. Imagine the scene: you’re sitting there in the cold, dark expanse, checking your ship’s systems by physically looking around your craft. Once you’re set, you trigger your drive and stars speed towards you as you’re sucked into a new solar system.
As soon as you exit the jump you are greeted by a hulking star that fills your entire vision. It’s bigger than anything you’ve ever seen and its mass is pulling you in, forcing you to scramble and turn your ship around to escape its pull. This is the closest you’ll ever come to your sci-fi fantasies.
Blood & Truth
Another full game, but this one built specifically for VR (and exclusively for PSVR), Blood & Truth is Lock Stock and 5,000 smoking barrels - a British gangster movie with the body count of a Rambo film. One of the things I love most about Blood & Truth is how much variety it packs into its runtime, even though it keeps that body count ticking up.
There are daring car chases, jumps from falling cranes, flashbacks to a warzone, and a particularly good set-piece where you shoot at goons from a DJ booth where, yes, you can piss about with the mixer and scratch on the decks. While it’s not perfect (occasionally you will shoot your crotch when trying to holster your gun), it’s a fun action game where you’re right inside the action.
Superhot. Superhot. Superhot. There’s nothing like Superhot. Here’s an action game where you perceive time differently to how you do in the real world. Here every movement you make causes the world and enemies to move around you. If you stay still, so do your foes and so do those bullets speeding towards your head. Maybe you’ll dodge them, maybe you’ll slash them out of the air with a sword, or maybe you’ll block the bullet with a thrown glass bottle.
There’s barely anything in video games that’s as satisfying as snatching a gun out of an enemy’s hands and using it to blow their head into particles. Few games make you feel as cool as this, VR or otherwise, even if you do look like a complete clown to anyone watching from the real world.
Batman: Arkham VR
It’s not so much a fully-fledged game as it is an experience, but there’s a lot of novelty to be squeezed out of being the Batman in Arkham VR. You throw batarangs, solve puzzles, and dick around with a piano in Wayne Manor. You physically put on the cowl and flex your batmuscles in a mirror. You get jump scared by Killer Croc, and you experience some asylum weirdness with the Joker.
The only thing stopping this game from being an all-timer is the lack of combat and driving sections. It’s criminal that Rocksteady gave us a Batman game in VR and didn’t let us drive the Batmobile or punch anyone in the face. Bad, Rocksteady. Bad.