The top five most important VR games of all time
VR gaming has barely existed for half a decade at this point, only a blip in video game history, and yet it has already had such a string of innovative, timeless, and important games that we can point to which have changed the entire industry. We’re going over what we think are the five most important VR games of all time.
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Oh, Valve, you mysterious black box of wonders! Sometimes we hear nothing but Steam updates and Dota 2 items, and other times we’re surprised by a game that introduces us to a new experience while pushing boundaries. The Lab came out in 2016 when VR was still relatively young and very niche. My first experience with it was at a media job where an early HTC Vive was set up in some empty studio space, and no one really had any idea what to do with it. Sure, it was cool, but there wasn’t much past that – until, of course, we played The Lab.
Valve brilliantly combines a world that people love (Portal) with a series of minigames that explore different genres and systems, and how they work in a VR space. It was kind of like a cheatsheet for games and developers letting them know what was possible and how fun it could be. I still find myself going back to The Lab when I just want to blow off some steam and play around in VR because they managed to build something that feels almost timeless in its purity. Also, you know, Portal is hilarious.
People don’t necessarily remember the first, but they usually remember the first to do it well, and that’s the case with Arizona Sunshine and zombie arcade shooters in VR. The game was released late in 2016 and has since come to every VR platform conceivable, from PS4’s PSVR to the Oculus Quest, and crafted the zombie shoot’em up, à la Sega’s House of the Dead, into VR perfection.
Beat Saber is a game that may seem like it is required by law for every VR gamer, regardless of how good – or bad – they are at rhythm games. I am awful at them, despite playing the drums for many years, which had me predisposed to hating a game that looked like nothing more than Dance Dance Revolution, but with lightsabers. I was so wrong. Well, not about me being terrible at rhythm games, but I was wrong to try and reduce this game to another in a long line of knockoffs. There’s something far more exhilarating about slicing away at colorful objects as they fly full speed toward your face and making sure you’re following the correct pattern, that helps it transcend and become a VR classic. It’s a rhythm game that you are actually inside, and because of that, the whole experience feels more visceral and interactive, highlighting one of the biggest selling points of VR – immersion.
Beat Saber has been getting consistent updates with new songs and experiences since it was released in 2018, and in that time it has come to almost every VR platform in existence. The latest release is a song pack for Linkin Park, so everyone can relive their angsty high school days while wielding a laser sword, just as we’ve always wanted.
I was thinking about why Superhot has remained a timeless classic of VR, from its first release to just a day ago when a buddy of mine sent me seven long, rambling text messages about how exciting the game was after his first time playing, and I think I know what it is. It’s a John Wick simulator. Or, I guess a Matrix simulator, thanks to the bullet time – so, a Keanu simulator. We’re all still ten years old inside, at least on some level, playing with finger-guns, diving around a pillow fort, and karate chopping bad guys like the heroes we see on TV and in movies. Superhot channels that same energy, the Keanu-force, and allows us to feel like a certified, grade-A action hero.
This goes back to the theme of all of these games, which is immersion, where we feel so much like those epic action stars that we don’t necessarily even notice that the red enemies are faceless and that the atmosphere is rendered in only as much detail as you need. Those things that in other games might detract from the experience, allow us to use that child-like imagination and fully place ourselves in the world of the game.
Valve makes another appearance on the list with a game that is redefining what you can do in virtual reality – again. Set in the Half-Life universe, but not Half-Life 3 because 2020 is a cruel year, you play as Alyx Vance as she makes her way through the ultra-dangerous City 17. Valve has done what it does best, making the physics, environments, and controls tell a story both in the game and about the capabilities of the medium itself. If you use the Valve Index headset and controllers, you have unmatched hand and finger tracking, incredible fidelity, and interactivity with the world thanks to the fine details they put in.
When I first tried it, the headcrabs nearly killed me. Not the Alyx-Me, the Me-Me in the real world, as I had basically just blended into the game mentally. This was seamless and enthralling in a way no other game has been in years, and with the bar set so high, Valve is showing what’s possible, what’s next, and why VR matters.
Did we miss something on the list that you think deserved to be there? Let us know in the comments what you’d add and why not just because we’re always looking for more games to play.
For more VR content, check out Newegg's VR Central.