The future is here, and it’s virtual.
The explosion of virtual reality, with three major, viable VR platforms already available and others on the way, has opened the door for independent developers looking for new territory on which to plant their flag.
Even this early in the life cycle for this still untested technology, there’s a surprising wealth of quality experiences available. That said, there are also a lot of chaff, one-off tech demos or proof-of-concept games that may look impressive, but that are short on depth.
With that in mind, I set out to separate the wheat from the chaff and assemble a curated list of the best indie VR games that you can pick up right now.
#Superhot was one of my favorite games of 2016, and the move to VR has been one of the smoothest, most successful ports yet. While the base game did a great job of conveying the sensation of twisting time and being an unstoppable assassin, in VR that sensation is greatly amplified.
The immediacy of VR couples with the incredible stunts that Superhot’s brand of bullet time lets you pull off to make players feel like the stars of their own choreographed action sequences. Plus, there’s something deeply satisfying about carelessly tossing aside an empty shotgun or pistol or, better yet, whipping it at the head of an enemy with fatal results.
#WaywardSky solves the pervasive VR design dilemma of “What is the player?” in a novel way. Instead of choosing a single perspective and fixing the player in it for the entirely of the game, Wayward Sky cycles through a number of them based on which is more appropriate for the task at hand.
At times, it pulls back to flatter its bright, art deco visual style with a broad third-person camera, while at other it zooms down to present the action through the eyes of its protagonist. The mix of simple puzzles and traversal challenges are interesting enough to keep players engaged while providing a smooth through line to experience all of the game’s gorgeous settings and characters.
One of the few fully featured RPG experiences available in VR, #Chronos also provides an elegant solution to the problem of perspective. It sets its camera in a fixed position in each area and allows to players to pan it naturally by using their head, handing off to another camera whenever the player moves to another discrete space.
More importantly, though, the game is fun and attractive, with beautiful, detailed renderings of fantasy stalwarts like minotaurs alongside bizarre cybernetic creatures that are more electronic than flesh. The action is smooth and well animated, recalling action-RPGs in the Dark Souls mold, and the dark fantasy setting is charming and evocative without feeling oppressive.
#Thumper, on the other hand, seems to designed from the ground up to oppress, with its hammering, relentless soundtrack and looming, horrible demon visage. It’s an indication of the quality of the gameplay and the unified aesthetic, then, that it never feels so off-putting that I wasn’t hungry to reach the next level.
For those unfamiliar with the core premise, Thumper is a “rhythm violence game” in which you play as a chrome beetle, hurtling along a track towards, from all appearances, Satan’s gigantic face.
You smash through obstacles, twist and turn, always trying to desperately match the beat of the clanging, metallic soundtrack. It’s stressful, legitimately terrifying, and some of the most fun you can have with goggles strapped to your face.
Space Pirate Trainer
While Superhot VR makes you feel like a badass, polygonal secret agent, Space Pirate Trainer makes you feel like the hero of your own 80s arcade cabinet — or maybe an unreleased Tron sequel.
You deploy an arsenal of weaponry from laser projectiles to grenades to gun down a fleet of hovering mechanical assault drones, all the while defending yourself with a translucent energy shield. The action is furious and relentless, to the point that an hour or so with Space Pirate Trainer ends up feeling like a pretty decent cardio session.
While it’s not the deepest experience available for VR, it’s so fun you’ll find you won’t care, and you'll keep coming back to it regardless. Also, as someone whose lizard brain is tickled whenever numbers fly out of exploding enemies, Space Pirate Trainer delivers those little hits of dopamine I crave.
What are some of your recommendations?