Not tried VR yet? Your options range from cheap, smartphone-powered VR goggles like Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR to high-end PC headsets like the Oculus Rift and Steam VR’s HTC Vive. In fact, PC VR just got a lot more affordable and convenient
There are a wide range of games and experiences available now too, some of them more effective than others. You see, VR impresses the most when it nails these six key things.
1. Full immersion
Virtual reality does a great job of transporting you to alternate worlds — whether that’s under the sea, the surface of an alien planet or some abstract, future-sports stadium. Stereo binocular vision brings the world to life so vividly that, when it’s done right, VR can deliver intense experiences in ways that even million-dollar theme park rides can’t manage.
2. Amazing interaction
Dedicated VR controllers (like the new Oculus Touch hardware below) let you interact seamlessly with some virtual environments, something that helps cement the feeling of ‘being there’. The ability to manipulate objects in 3D space opens up all sorts of opportunities for puzzle and sports games, plus light-hearted titles like Job Simulator, where getting things wrong or making a mess is half the fun.
3. A sense of scale
The one thing VR delivers brilliantly is a sense of awe; whether it’s flying across a mile-long space cruiser or looking up at a giant monster. Things that look big on a normal TV screen seem positively gigantic when you’re wearing VR goggles.
Rather than merely viewing through the in-game camera, you are the camera. So when a T-rex stomps past in Oculus’ Dreamdeck or a Megalodon glides towards you in Time Machine VR, they have a real sense of mass and presence. There are moments in VR that will genuinely take your breath away. Photos will never do them justice.
4. Height and depth
The same sense of scale also works with your environment. Grand vistas rendered in VR can bring with them a sense of awe and wonder that only IMAX can hope to match. You need to crane your neck to see the tops of tall buildings, while walking to the edge of a vertiginous drop feels perilously real. The Climb and Everest VR use this to great effect, bringing a genuine feeling of height and danger to their rock-climbing gameplay.
5. Flying like a bird
Man’s oldest dream is beautifully realised via VR goggles; from mimicking a feathered birds to piloting a jet fighters, the sense of unfettered movement is gleefully engaging. With the right environment and visual cues you can get a real sense of being a mile up in the air — or 300 miles above the planet.
Games that let you glide through the air — such as Eagle Flight — come with very little in the way of motion sickness. Although when you’re transported into the zero-G environment of EVE: Valkyrie or Elite: Dangerous those 360-degree barrel rolls can feel a little disorienting.
6. Suspense and tension
Because you’re placed so solidly at the centre of your VR world, horror games are particularly good at creeping you out. The combination of 3D imagery tied in with stereo audio means that instead of being a viewer, safely disconnected from the action, in VR you’re right in the thick of it. It’s all the more terrifying as a result.
The shocks and scares that work well in normal games are heightened to an almost unbearable extent in VR. Goggle-friendly horror games such as Resident Evil 7 and Paranormal Activity VR are not for the faint-hearted.
And one thing VR isn’t good at
Queasiness. Motion sickness. The disconnect between what your eyes are seeing, and what your inner ear is telling your brain, can result in anything from the giddy euphoria of flight to stomach-churning first-person nausea.
It’s not always easy to pinpoint those games that will affect you more than others. Not everyone suffers the queasy effects of VR in the same way. But the good news is that you can gradually become immune to it. The more you play, the more your body adjusts. The ‘intense full locomotion’ VR game Windlands, for example, can be hard going for the first few sessions. But after a while, its adverse effects definitely diminish.
Is it a reason to avoid VR? No. While future VR goggles will give us higher resolutions, wider fields of view and deeper immersion, there are games and experiences that will thrill, astound, scare and amuse you today. If you haven’t tried VR, you’re missing out.