Google Earth VR - screenshot courtesy Steam

Best Oculus Experiences of 2017

2017 was far closer to the “Year of VR” that everyone promised a year earlier – new head-mounted displays from Microsoft’s spec (Acer, Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung), peripheral updates – HTC Vive Tracker, and major permanent price cuts across all platforms meant higher adoption. Games and apps improved beyond being mere demo-grade downstream shovel-ware as the early developers matured into major players. 2018 will advance all of these elements substantially, and as arcades evolve and Spielberg enters the fray with the spring release of Ready Player One, mainstream awareness will start to trickle in.

Among the offerings that came out in 2017, here are those experiences we found most succinct and worth of your time.

Cat Sorter VR

from Pawmigo Games

Cat Sorter VR game screenshot courtesy Steam
Cat Sorter VR – screenshot courtesy Steam

Despite the goofy premise, this game about taking apart cats and putting them back together again as a worker on an assembly line in some feline equivalent to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory captured the public imagination – and mainstream media attention – in ways that few other VR releases did this year. Helping elevate Cat Sorter VR from a novelty game are the cats themselves, which feature mutations like extra eyes or scorpion tales, making the whole process all the more addictive. This fusion of cute and creepy were enough to garner the Aesthetic Award at IndieCade 2017.

Oculus Rift | 2 GB | $12.99 from Steam

Gorn

from Free Lives

Gorn game screenshot courtesy Steam
Gorn – screenshot courtesy Steam

Though it’s technically still in Early Access, everyone we know has been playing Gorn nonstop this year. Created by the team responsible for indie PC hit BroForce, this gladiatorial combat game provides a sense of gleeful, cartoonish violence that’s so over-the-top it’s somehow almost innocent. Gore plus porn – get it?

Instead of destructible environments and explosions, the theme this time around is spiked clubs and fisticuffs – not to mention ludicrously huge blood droplets spattering everywhere each time a swing connects with a face.

Oculus Rift | 2 GB | $19.99 from Steam

Bigscreen

from Bigscreen, Inc.

bigscreen vr screenshot

Bigscreen is a recently socialized virtual desktop app for Vive and Oculus Rift that lets you echo your desktop in virtual space. You can play games, scribble, throw a LAN party – we have yet to figure out how to not spill Mountain Dew in our lap while doing so – and most obviously, watch movies with others in a virtual theater. Spatialized voice chat ensures you can echolocate your buddies in the metaverse.

You can also manipulate screens with controllers or even Leap Motion‘s IR-based input method. They recently hosted an online viewing party of Top Gun in 3D. Now VR starts to demonstrate how it is unlike any other medium.

Oculus Rift | 1.5 GB | FREE from the Oculus Store or from Steam

Star Trek Bridge Crew

from Ubisoft

Star Trek Bridge Simulator game screenshot courtesy Steam
Star Trek Bridge Simulator – screenshot courtesy Steam

VR’s strength is its use of space to create experience, and what science fiction fan wouldn’t want to visit location as iconic as the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise? Star Trek Bridge Crew gives players the chance to not only explore the bridge but also team up with friends online “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Oculus Rift | 10 GB | $49.99 from the Oculus Store or from Steam

Lone Echo

from Ready at Dawn

Lone Echo  screenshot courtesy Oculus
Lone Echo – screenshot courtesy Oculus

Lone Echo draws on hard science fiction, both classic (Arthur C. Clarke) and modern (The Expanse), setting players to work investigating weird goings-on aboard a space station orbiting Saturn. Apart from its puzzles and evocative renditions of believable technology as well as the awe-inspiring feeling of space, the game excels at locomotion, giving players an experience of zero gravity without the attendant expense of training at NASA or chartering a reduced-gravity aircraft.

If that all sounds too esoteric and thought-provoking, there’s also the included Echo Arena spin-off, a multi-player zero gravity sports game a bit like Ultimate Frisbee.

Oculus Rift | 17 GB | $39.99 from the Oculus Store

Luna

from Funomena

Luna game screenshot courtesy Steam
Luna – screenshot courtesy Steam

An interactive fairy tale from Funomena (best known for such acclaimed works as Journey and Flower), our favorite VR game of the year is so perfect because of its use of space to both tell a story and offer up gaming elements in a space-based diorama filled with wonderful nature pastiches. Its puzzles are fairly easy, but are fun and addictive enough to keep us pulling at spiderwebs not to progress in the game, but just because we enjoyed the sensation so much. Delightful art and a score by Austin Wintory made Luna a memorable and joyous experience.

Oculus Rift | 2 GB | $16.99 from Oculus or from Steam

Other Major Releases of Interest

Rift Core 2.0 update

from Oculus

Rift Core 2.0  screenshot courtesy Oculus
Rift Core 2.0 – screenshot courtesy Oculus

This is no mere update but a sea change, catching up to Steam and Windows MR to allow you to build your own crib the way you like it. The Rift 2.0 Core update adds so many features it becomes an experience all unto itself. Allowing you to bring your own Medium creations into your animated, customized home base adds to the joy. Socialized features and virtual desktops via the new Dash interface make it harder than ever to leave once you’re in. The first steps towards the universe envisioned in Ready Player One.

Oculus Rift | FREE from the Oculus Store (Beta Opt-In Required)

VRChat

from VRChat Inc.

VRChat is STILL technically in Early Access – and even while AltSpace died and cried and then Palmer Luckey considered buying it with cash and then Microsoft actually did and while High Fidelity looks amazing but no one is there and it takes FOREVER to load and while Project Sansar looks even BETTER than that and has cryptocurrency but no one uses it yet – VRChat crept up and grabbed society by the jugular, and now grandmas and kids and drunk uncles all can’t get enough of it. Amazing to see a sleeper pop like this and restore hope for us all.

Oculus Rift | 1 GB | FREE from Steam

Google Earth VR

from Google

Google Earth VR - screenshot courtesy Steam
Google Earth VR – screenshot courtesy Steam

Although VR implementation for Google Earth actually arrived in 2016, this year has seen major updates to the project, including faster load times and – more significantly – direct integration with Google Street View. A terrific travelers’ pre-visit tool and surprisingly emotional.

Oculus Rift | 4 GB | FREE from the Oculus Store or from Steam

As VR games and experiences continue to progress, we’re more than a little excited to see what 2018 has to offer, but in the meantime, what were your favorite Oculus offerings of the past year?

Top 5 Oculus Games – Oct. 14-20 – A Week of Wonder-Filled Magical Releases

With every week that goes by in VR time, we see the positive return from the many conversations, panels, talks, experiments, game jams and cash infusions that have piled up over the past five years. As VR game devs mature and audiences teach them what is working and what is not, the resultant fare is beginning to find its bearings and even show traces of a soul.

At OGR, we try to look at titles that depart from the overabundant roller coaster sim or rail shooter, and it is getting easier every week to find innovative story and world-rich new works. This week’s offerings have been particularly compelling, and here are five we especially liked for all audiences:

Top Five Oculus Games – Oct. 14th-20th, 2017

Luna

from Funomena

Luna game screenshot courtesy Steam
Luna – screenshot courtesy Steam

From the team whose members created such luminary titles as Journey, Flower, Boom Blox and The Sims 2, Luna developer Funomena describes this winsome virtual reality experience as an interactive fable about learning by the light of unexpected mistakes.

We had an opportunity to try the demo out at IndieCade 2017, and what we saw was quite breathtaking. Luna is not a hard game, nor is it fundamentally innovative, but it does something many games fail to accomplish: a unified and aesthetically delightful tone that understands how to use spatialized media to its fullest. The simple spiderweb puzzles left us pulling strands to and fro just because it was such a cool feeling, puzzles be damned.

The reveal of a new element returning to life after each puzzle is solved, the endearing interactive animations elicited by waving one’s hands over the critters, the beautiful score by Austin Wintory all come together to make Luna one of the must-have VR experiences of the year.

Oculus Rift [1.72 GB] | $16.99 from Oculus or from Steam

The Gallery – Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone

from Cloudhead Games

The Gallery - Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone game screenshot courtesy Steam
The Gallery – Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone – screenshot courtesy Steam

Though Call of the Starseed had some minor quibbles, its inventory system was one of the first great demonstrations of how to manage things in embodied narrative space. The game was one of the better looking launch titles and promised a brighter future than most of the shovelware that was being dropped on Steam and other storefronts at the time, like so many Atari E.T. cartridges in a sandpit.

It is telling that the sequel, part two of The Gallery series from Cloudhead, then, comes with only moderate fanfare by comparison, because it is better in every way: graphically, functionally and thematically. The game also uses a similar technique for recounting exposition as Fullbright‘s Tacoma: via holographic recordings. Also, it isn’t epic in length; at under four hours, you can work your way through it in a dedicated night of play. Some people prefer shorter games, and if you are one of them, don’t miss this.

Oculus Rift [15.18 GB] | $29.99 from Oculus or from Steam

SkyWorld

from Vertigo Games

SkyWorld game screenshot courtesy Steam
SkyWorld – screenshot courtesy Steam

SkyWorld brings the oft-overlooked strategy genre to VR with a mixture of turn-based and real-time action. While the mechanics tend to be on the “accessible” side – think the Clash of Clans games rather than Starcraft II or Command and Conquer – the beautifully animated little battlefields make up for any lack of complexity. If you’ve ever wanted to see a dragon lay waste to a tiny snowglobe-like village in VR, this is the game for you.

Oculus Rift [5 GB] | $39.99 from Oculus or from Steam

The Talos Principle VR

from Croteam

The Talos Principle VR game screenshot courtesy Steam
The Talos Principle VR – screenshot courtesy Steam

The highly acclaimed first-person adventure and its poignant tale of artificial intelligence makes its way to VR, and between the glowing laser puzzles, beautifully decayed buildings and philosophical tone, it’s a perfect fit. The original game’s developers rebuilt The Talos Principle VR from the ground up, so it’s totally optimized for VR and also includes the extensive Road to Gehenna DLC.

Oculus Rift [6 GB] | $39.99 from Steam

DreamTank

from Studio 229

DreamTank game screenshot courtesy Steam
DreamTank – screenshot courtesy Steam

DreamTank is VR at its most meditative – no shooting, no action, no puzzles. Instead, selecting one of 10 ambient compositions sets the program in motion, procedurally generating vast alien worlds driven by the sonic evocations. Find one you like, and choose to stay awhile, or let the world continue to evolve around you.

Oculus Rift [1 GB] | $9.99 from Steam

Other Noteworthy Oculus Releases:

Reaching for Petals: VR Edition

from Blue Entropy Studios

Reaching for Petals: VR Edition game screenshot courtesy Steam
Reaching for Petals: VR Edition – screenshot courtesy Steam

Previously released as a standard PC title, this “walking simulator” has been rebuilt for VR (and if you buy it on Steam, you get the standard version included for free). Like the best walking simulators, Reaching for Petals tells a heartfelt story that we don’t want to spoil here, but the chance to walk through its sun-dappled forests alone in VR is worth the low price of admission.

Oculus Rift [5 GB] | $4.99 from Steam

Until None Remain: Battle Royale VR

from D.W.S.

Until None Remain: Battle Royale VR game screenshot courtesy Steam
Until None Remain: Battle Royale VR – screenshot courtesy Steam

Just released in Early Access, Until None Remain: Battle Royale VR is a brutal, fast-paced multi-player deathmatch. As if other players and their range of weaponry weren’t dangerous enough, each 15-minute session features poisonous gas forcing all participants into an ever-shrinking play space, so there’s no chance of hiding off in the corner and playing sniper.

Oculus Rift [5 GB] | $7.99 from Steam

The Well game screenshot courtesy Oculus

Top 5 Oculus Releases – October 7th-13th – and Other Big Oculus News

Our top five Oculus releases are quite the mix this week, ranging from epic fantasy to interactive murder mystery theater to comedic space engineering:

The Well

from Turtle Rock Studios

The Well game screenshot courtesy Oculus
The Well – screenshot courtesy Oculus

The Well is hardly what we would have expected from Turtle Rock Studios – the developers best known multi-player action games like Left 4 Dead and Evolve. This instead is an epic fantasy RPG with all that entails, including party recruitment and a quest to save the world.

It’s also totally gorgeous, with cartoon-inspired art that reminds us a bit of The Last Unicorn on DMT, not to mention recent game releases like The Banner Saga and Jotun.

Gear VR | 389 MB | $9.99 from Oculus

Elevator…to the Moon!

from ROCCAT Games Studio

Elevator...to the Moon! game screenshot courtesy Oculus
Elevator…to the Moon! – screenshot courtesy Oculus

Available for both the Rift and Gear VR, Elevator…to the Moon is what developers ROCCAT Games Studio call a “VR Space Repairman/Jerk President Simulator.” In layman’s terms, that means it’s a comedic first-person adventure in which players build a space elevator while being barked at by a commander-in-chief who sounds suspiciously like a certain Austrian bodybuilder…turned actor…turned politician.

With lots of hidden Easter eggs and plenty of interactive tools like electric screwdrivers and welding torches, this looks both fun and funny. And if you get sick of “President of the World Doug-Slater Roccmeier” ordering you around, you can always take a hammer or baseball bat to the innards of his precious lunar elevator and see what happens.

Oculus Rift | 953 MB | $7.99 from Oculus
Gear VR | 798 MB | $4.99 from Oculus

The Invisible Hours

from Tequila Works

The Invisible Hours game screenshot courtesy Oculus
The Invisible Hours – screenshot courtesy Oculus

The Invisible Hours is an interactive theater piece and murder mystery that allows players – as invisible observers – to follow individual characters as the story plays out. The plot takes place in a Victorian mansion over the span of a single night, and players can trace the events from the perspective of each character, rewind time to catch missed clues, and explore the mansion for additional evidence.

Featuring history’s favorite rival inventors, Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla, among other characters, this game reminds us of nothing so much as an Agatha Christie story – or a Masterpiece Theater episodes based on one – set in VR.

Oculus Rift | 9.3 GB | $29.99 from Oculus

ARKTIKA.1

from 4A Games

ARKTIKA.1 game screenshot courtesy Oculus
ARKTIKA.1 – screenshot courtesy Oculus

The big budget VR FPS of the week, ARKTIKA.1 features all of the tropes you’ve come to expect from the burgeoning genre: dual-wielded pistols, hideous monsters and waves of enemies punctuated by narrative cut scenes. In this instance, the action takes place in a frozen future dystopia.

What piques our interest is that this was developed by 4A Games, the studio behind the Metro series. If anyone knows grim, monster-infested, post-apocalyptic wastelands, it’s them.

Oculus Rift | 21.7 GB | $29.99 from Oculus

Space Pirate Trainer

from I-Illusions

Space Pirate Trainer game screenshot courtesy Steam
Space Pirate Trainer – screenshot courtesy Steam

Yes, it’s a wave shooter, but Space Pirate Trainer is maybe the ultimate wave shooter. Arriving in Early Access (and on the HTC Vive) before there was such a glut, it’s now out in full release, available for Oculus Rift and ready for full room-scale arcade action. It’s gotten overwhelmingly positive Stream reviews and won multiple categories in last year’s Proto Awards for VR.

Oculus Rift | 2.4 GB | $14.99 from Oculus or from Steam

Other Noteworthy Oculus Releases:

Cat Sorter VR

from Pawmigo Games

Cat Sorter VR game screenshot courtesy Steam
Cat Sorter VR – screenshot courtesy Steam

Cat Sorter VR made waves in mainstream media last month when it came out for HTC Vive, and now Oculus Rift users can also experience the joy of assembling and disassembling cats in bizarre, adorable and/or disturbing combinations. Its fusion of adorable and horrifying – call it “adorifying” – imagery won it the IndieCade 2017 Aesthetic Award last weekend.

Oculus Rift | 2 GB | $12.99 from Steam

Star Shelter

from Overflow

Star Shelter game screenshot courtesy Steam
Star Shelter – screenshot courtesy Steam

Still in Early Access, Star Shelter boasts the distinction of being one of the first VR survival games. As one might expect from the genre, it requires lots of gathering supplies and crafting, with the added challenge of taking place in zero gravity.

Oculus Rift | 500 MB | $14.99 from Steam

Of course, the biggest Oculus news of the week is Facebook’s announcement of the Oculus Go, a stand-alone VR headset. Utilizing similar controllers to – and cross-compatible with – Gear VR, the new headset will offer a field of view as wide as the Oculus Rift and provide an easy entry level experience to VR newcomers without requiring an expensive smartphone. Oculus will begin shipping dev kits next month.

In another move slowly but surely pushing VR toward mainstream affordability, Oculus has also announced that the recent $399 sale on the Oculus Rift and Oculus Touch package will be a new standard price. Both announcements came at this year’s Oculus Connect conference in San Jose, California.