2016 was the year consumer-grade VR went from being something most of us had just read about to something appearing in stores and at home. In the past, articles on VR proclaimed, “You can’t transfer the effect to a flat screen, you have to trust us!” and “It’s magical, we promise!” But the praise was impossible to verify, because you probably couldn’t put your own eyes into expensive glasses. Even as one of VR’s biggest early fans, I empathize with that caged hype feeling. Enough! Let’s see how this stuff actually turns out.
High-end consumer-grade VR systems are finally coming in significant numbers, right next to amusement park installations, free retail demos, and even half-decent smartphone installations (from Google Daydream to a newer, slightly sharper Samsung GearVR). Enough VR content came out this year to earn a full best-of report for 2016. Since the industry is still in its infancy, I’ll skip the list format and choose to break this down into a few sections, including projections on what to expect from VR in 2017.
Best current system?
We’ve already written a few guides comparing the “big three” VR systems, such as the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR. (That designation comes from how all three are powerful enough to display “real” VR content, complete with comfortable head tracking, and all three come with solid controllers.) Ars has yet to declare a winner in the VR competition. race, and I’m not going to change that call.
Each system has its advantages. PlayStation VR may be the best bang for your buck, especially if you already own a standard PlayStation 4 console. (You’ll be able to forgo the PlayStation Move motion bars in no time, as many of the best games don’t need the wands.) PSVR’s tracking can be terribly shaky, either because of lighting or because of a random desynchronization of the entire system. But the headset is arguably the most comfortable of the three, and it’s without a doubt the friendliest for anyone who wears glasses.
The biggest problem: PSVR’s tracking stability drops significantly when you get up, which is where the other two expensive options take a lead.
First generation Oculus Rifts and HTC Vives have their own problems, and in our dream world we would get a set that combines the best of both. The Rift has a more comfortable headset; the integrated headphones are dynamite; and the (optional) motion-activated Touch controllers feel better than the Vive’s wands. However, the Vive’s tracking boxes are superior, both for how well they track a user in real space and because they don’t require a direct USB connection to your computer. Vive .’s games are also all built with a motion tracking expectation, and the screen is a little clearer.
Click here for a longer hardware comparison, which takes an in-depth look at the installation process of each system, among other factors.
Gunplay dominated the first official year of VR, mainly for practical reasons. Primarily, developers for Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR made games with the expectation of seated players and gamepads, meaning cockpits, cockpits, cockpits. On the Vive side, the system’s default wands are meant to replicate hands. But with a headset on, Vive’s grip-and-trigger setup feels pretty much like guns.
Eve Valkyre wins as the best sit-down cockpit shooter of the year in VR, both because it’s damn good and because you can buy it for all three systems. This space deathmatch shooter doesn’t offer much depth, but its mix of slick interface, comfortable gameplay and bombastic combat makes it a clear leader in the “I want VR to feel great and simple right away” department. Honorable mention goes to a special X-Wing mission on PSVR, free to owners of Star Wars: Battlefield on PS4. It’s short but oh so sweet, and it makes us hopeful that EA will squeeze out a full-fledged VR game while it’s still star wars playing rights.
The stand-and-shoot VR genre now has no fewer than four top candidates. (Seriously. So many guns this year.) The first, Space Pirate Trainer (Vive, Oculus Touch), is the best in a huge field of similar arcade games in which players destroy waves of computer-controlled enemies with a variety of weapons. SPT launched as a sublimely tuned rush of fast-paced action, especially with its bullet-time “you’re about to die” moments. The game has only gotten better after a series of patches and the addition of weapons such as a grenade launcher, an electric whip and a scatter-happy shotgun. The sound design, enemy cartridges, responsiveness of each weapon – no other VR arcade shooter comes close.
Next is super hot VR, which is currently an Oculus Touch exclusive. What was already a sensation as a standard keyboard-and-mouse affair is turning into a sentence-overloading masterpiece in VR this year and one of the best honest “full VR games” (unlike so many fast-paced arcade experiments). Kyle Orland’s year-end flyer about super hot VR has more information about the “time moves only when you move” gimmick of the game.
My other two stand-and-shooter picks are online multiplayer games. Float Junkers (Vive) wins despite user-unfriendliness. New players will not be persuaded with a tutorial or mission introduced naturally HJdifferent systems: firing guns, picking out gear, driving a floating refueling platform, and using scrap to build defensive cover. The sheer physicality is also daunting; no VR game on any platform requires so much real-life movement. But ye holy gods, man. Once you know Float JunkersIns and outs, you’re in for one of the most exciting deathmatch experiences ever made (which has only gotten better in recent months thanks to an ever-expanding weapon selection). Building, driving and duck-and-cover around your own rickety hover tank really works, thanks to surprisingly reliable netcode performance.
The only multiplayer shooter to compare this year is REC Room (Vive, Oculus Touch), which for some insane reason is still completely and completely free. After landing at a nearby recreation center with an auto-generated copy of other online players, you can choose from a few hard-coded multiplayer games (paintball deathmatch, racquetball, “3D charades”) or just play around with games such as basketball and table tennis. (This is similar to the game) Destinylobbies, but REC Room‘s lobbies actually have fun things to do.) REC RoomThe paintball mode is fun because it allows teams of players to VR teleport around massive deathmatch arenas and destroy each other while picking up new weapons on the ground.
REC Room is clearly still in tuning mode, with things like ammunition regeneration, object physics, and teleportation delays constantly in motion. But the fun factor and player population is currently high and easy to recommend, especially with its incredibly low learning curve.