Invisible Hours bills itself as “a piece of immersive theater,” and yeah, that sounds about right. Like a historical-fiction take on Clue, you’re invited to a party at Nikola Tesla’s mansion—only to find him dead. Your job is to figure out which of the guests is responsible.
That’s just the start though. Imagine a film you could watch from any angle, see from any character’s point of view, and you’ve got Invisible Hours. You’re the world’s greatest detective, unseen and able to rewind or teleport at will.
Explore the mansion, follow guests around, and the smaller moments you stumble on might completely change your opinion of the story. It’s an impressive bit of writing, and although not all of the acting is perfect I’d still say Invisible Hours is one of the best narrative-driven experiences VR has to offer.
There are a lot of melee combat games in VR, but none quite so satisfying as “gladiator simulator” Gorn. Its physics-heavy fights are absolutely ridiculous, with your foes crumpling in all sorts of stupid ways under the power of your blows, blood exploding out in gobs.
Chop a head off! Chop an arm off! Impale someone on a spear and then throw them over your head! Punch someone in the face with your shield! Kill someone with a bladed Frisbee, like that scene in Commando.
It’s an incredible stress-relief game, is still updated fairly regularly, and you can tell a weird amount of thought’s gone into making every single object exciting. Just make sure you’ve cleared enough room—plenty of Steam reviews mentioning busted windows, walls, and controllers.
I grabbed Duck Season thinking it was a VR version of the classic NES game Duck Hunt. And it is...sort of.
Spoiler: There’s a lot more going on here. Like, a lot more. The game oscillates between nostalgic throwback and weird pseudo-horror—enough so that those who are easily scared should probably steer clear. I think it’s one of the best-crafted VR games made so far though, packed full of small details and secrets, plus seven endings to give you a reason to replay what’s otherwise a pretty short and linear experience.
Highly recommend sitting cross-legged on the floor for the full nostalgia experience.
If you like Bard’s Tale, then Mage’s Tale is an easy sell. Developed by InXile, it’s the same type of corny pun-heavy humor transposed to a VR dungeon crawler.
This is a surprisingly long dungeon crawler too, packed full of the usual hidden secrets, lightweight puzzles, and tons of goblins to kill. There are lots of ways to do the latter too, with a deep spellcrafting system that lets you make everything from green lightning to homing fireballs and more.
Bard’s Tale IV is right around the corner, due to release sometime this year, but Mage’s Tale is a solid VR side-course. My only quibbles: The controls could use some reworking, and the load times are long.
Reality Decks (Rift) and Vinyl Reality
Another Rift/Vive split, Reality Decks and Vinyl Reality both stem from the same core concept: VR DJ. For those who don’t want to buy (or don’t have room to store) turntables, Vinyl Reality and Reality Decks give you access to virtual ones, along with any music you have stored on your PC.
Vinyl Reality is multiplatform while Reality Decks is Rift only, but otherwise there’s not much to delineate the two. Both will teach you the fundamentals of mixing, both are fairly attractive to hang out in, and both use VR controls in smart ways.
Thumper and Rez Infinite
Rez Infinite probably wins the award for “Oldest Game On VR,” seeing as it’s a rework of a Dreamcast/PlayStation 2 game from 2001. Surprise: Despite being almost two decades old, it seems like it was built for VR—a psychedelic combination of arcade shooter and rhythm game that’s overwhelming with a headset on.
The same words could be used to describe Thumper, too. While not officially inspired by Rez the two are uncannily similar, with Thumper featuring the same blend of rhythm and action and speed and trippy visuals, except you’re some sort of weird space beetle flying through a dark void that’s essentially a hell-version of a Journey album cover. It’s...weird.
Both are amazing synethesia experiences that, while perfectly fine on a normal monitor, become 100 times more intense with a headset on.
Rec Room and VR Chat
When Facebook bought Oculus, ostensibly it was because Mark Zuckerberg and Co. envisioned a future of “Social VR.” Thus, Facebook Spaces—like Facebook but for VR!
It’s bad. Luckily, other developers have succeeded where Facebook failed. VRChat, as you might expect, is the more “chat” oriented of the two, essentially a lawless forum board that can be as thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is stupid and unintelligible. Depends on the day. Rec Room is more like a high-tech field trip, with paintball, disc golf, laser tag, and more—games first, hanging out second. Both are free, so not much risk trying them out and seeing what’s your speed.
Either way, William Gibson should be proud.
Wilson’s Heart (Rift)
Wilson’s Heart is one of the most high-concept VR games I’ve played: An homage to 1940’s-era monster movies, set in an abandoned asylum with the usual lightning flashes and rainy atmosphere outside, and rendered all in grainy black-and-white. There are a few jump scares, but mostly this is slow-burn horror, mixed in with some B-movie cheese.
A few sections plod on too long, and the puzzles vary wildly in quality, but there’s a real creative vision behind Wilson’s Heart that’s still all-too-rare in the fledgling medium. It tells a charming story, the environments are top-notch, and the superb Oculus Touch controllers really add to the experience. It's great.
Also, the main character is voiced by Peter Weller of Robocop fame, and the game’s almost worth playing just for his blend of gravelly menace with too-old-for-this-nonsense malaise.
Talos Principle VR
Croteam has been one of the biggest VR proponents, first porting all of its Serious Sam games over and doing a damn fine job of it. But it’s The Talos Principle VR I’m more interested in—a port of Croteam’s 2014 puzzle game, one of our favorites that year and honestly of all time.
It’s just as stunning in VR. The slower, relaxed pace of The Talos Principle is a stellar fit for the medium, encouraging you to wander slowly around Croteam’s lush environments and take in the scenery as you go puzzle to puzzle. Like many VR games, it’s also amazing to see the scale of those environments after seeing them for so long on a flat monitor. Turns out a structure called “The Tower” is a lot more nerve-wracking in VR than it is on a normal screen.
The non-VR version is still probably my preferred way to play, but Croteam’s port is flawless—and one of the best-looking VR experiences too. That alone might be enough to merit checking it out.
L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files
Another weird port, L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files adapts the 2011 crime thriller to VR—complete with the facial animations that made it famous. Those animations don’t seem quite as high-tech in 2018, but what’s here is still a pretty interesting experiment, especially in VR where you can catch every nuance of a lying witness.
The downside of L.A. Noire VR is it’s short. I thought we’d be getting the full game—and maybe someday we will. But for now this is a seven-chapter excerpt of the full game. Everything’s represented, so you’ll do a bit of clue-hunting, some shooting, some driving, and a fair number of interrogations, but it’s easy to feel like the game ends right when it should be ramping up.
Also be warned that Oculus support, while officially added, is still spotty at best.
Bonus: SteamVR Home (Vive)
Before wrapping this up, I just want to give a quick shoutout to SteamVR Home. It’s not really a game or an experience—it’s the landing page you’ll find when you launch into SteamVR. But what started out as a bare-bones copy of Oculus Home has quickly transformed into an ecosystem in its own right, thanks to its tie-ins with the Steam Workshop.
Want your hub to look like Star Trek’s holodeck? Sure. A Star Wars dogfight? That’s there too. The TARDIS, immaculately modeled and with appropriate sound effects? Go for it. There’s a wealth of stuff to explore without ever opening a real game, and some—like a 3D scan of Valve’s lobby—even have an interactive element to them.
I’ve spent a surprising amount of time in SteamVR Home, and it can only get better as new environments are added by intrepid modders all the time.