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10 best VR games for a truly immersive experience

Choose from gripping storylines, next-level realism or a title for the whole family

Jennifer Allen
Tuesday 06 April 2021 17:34
<p>PC-based platform Steam saw a 71 per cent increase in VR sales in 2020</p>

PC-based platform Steam saw a 71 per cent increase in VR sales in 2020

If you’re keen to be fully immersed in a gaming experience, then virtual reality (or VR) gaming will allow you to fully lose yourself in a different world.

Slowly but steadily, this kind of gaming has seen a rise in popularity. Each year its revenue has grown, with The Verge reporting that PC-based platform Steam saw a potent 71 per cent increase in sales of VR games in 2020.

Simply put, while VR gaming is probably never going to be quite as huge as conventional gaming, it looks like it’s here to stay.

It’s worth noting that VR gaming isn’t particularly cheap, and can be confusing when you first dive in as there are so many headsets to choose from.

PC gamers have the most options, including the Valve index, HP reverb G2 and the Oculus rift 2, among others. However, there are also standalone solutions like the Oculus quest 2, and the PlayStation 4’s PlayStation VR, which are much more affordable.

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Whatever you decide on, you’ll also need space – a fair amount of it. This will allow you to safely move around “in” the world without banging into walls or hitting physical objects with your arms.

Camera alignment can also be a vital part of the setup, depending on your choice of VR headset, with some requiring multiple cameras, and others (like the PlayStation VR) only needing one camera, and some skipping the need for external cameras altogether. 

Once you’ve figured out what the best VR headset for you is, you’ll want to enjoy the best that VR gaming can offer.

First of all, we considered what really had the VR magic – what felt immersive and like something you couldn’t really experience with a regular controller. We wanted to highlight the games that felt truly special and captivating, while also being enjoyable to play, no matter your skill level. Here are our favourites.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent. 

‘Star Wars: Squadrons', PS4

Most of us have grown up watching Star Wars, wishing we could have a risk-free taste of life in an X-Wing or TIE fighter cockpit. Star Wars: Squadrons offers that experience. With a range of famous spacecraft to choose from, you can participate in small-scale dogfights or epic battles between fleets.

It isn’t a VR-exclusive game, but it’s easily one of the best experiences available when donning a headset. A choice of pursuing a single-player, story-led campaign or participating in online multiplayer matches means you’ll never run out of fun options to pursue. It’s the stuff that childhood dreams are made of.

‘Half-Life: Alyx', PC

The Half-Life series is one of the most respected franchises on the PC, thanks to its rich storyline and genre-defining game mechanics. While Half-Life: Alyx isn’t the game many hoped for, it is a fantastic mixture of puzzle-solving and first-person combat, as you control Alyx Vance in a prequel to the earlier games.

While some VR games feel like entertaining distractions, Half-Life: Alyx feels as fully accomplished a game as you’d get elsewhere, with fantastically complex puzzles, a gripping storyline and some very tense moments to make you jump in your headset. Being able to flick objects around with your gravity gloves is a joy, and a demonstration of the kind of mechanics that work so well for the tactile nature of VR – it’s a true example of what can be accomplished when a player is fully immersed within a game.

‘The Room VR', PC and PS VR

The Room series of games was given a breath of fresh air on mobile formats as they allowed you to feel more hands-on with puzzles as you manipulated them via swipes and taps, and that feels even more authentic when taken to VR. This time around, the weight and heft of each object feels more balanced and realistic than ever before, and this title has even deviated from the escape-room-style nature of previous instalments.

Instead, you tackle small areas, such as a police station or church, discovering secrets as you go along, solving increasingly intricate puzzles with your hands. The riddles are often tricky, but never too difficult to be unfair. Clues gradually unlock with time if you continue to be stuck, which gives you some insight into how to think slightly differently to solve the conundrum. It’s a supremely satisfying experience.

‘Beat Saber', PC and PS VR

Exhaustingly enjoyable, Beat Saber has you controlling laser swords in each hand and slashing out at boxes that come towards you according to a beat. The beauty here is that, thanks to unofficial sites, there’s a nearly never-ending supply of tracks to play, as well as new tracks via the game’s makers.

All you need to do is slash out instinctively, before ducking under walls and dodging bombs. It’s tiring, but it’s a huge amount of fun too, with points awarded for style. Consider it a workout as well as a fun way to pass the time.

‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR', PC and PS VR

If you’ve played games in recent years, you’ll almost certainly already know of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The game is available on pretty much every platform and is a wonderful, sprawling epic. If you’ve ever wanted to pretend you’re in a Tolkien-esque world, this is fairly close, allowing you to spend hundreds of hours exploring mystical lands and completing a plethora of quests. The game wasn’t initially built for VR and can look a little dated, but you can’t beat the sheer sense of immersion here. Being able to lash out with your sword physically ensures battles against dragons feel truly epic, and you’ll adore being part of something so huge.

‘Star Trek: Bridge Crew', PS VR and PC

Ever wanted to be part of Starfleet? Star Trek: Bridge Crew fulfils that wish by allowing you to choose from four different roles aboard a starship. Players can choose to be the captain, keeping track of objectives and dishing out orders, or the main tactical officer as they manage sensors and weaponry. Alternatively, you can get a little more behind the scenes and control the ship’s course as helm officer, or become an engineer and control power management and repair work.

The beauty here is that Star Trek: Bridge Crew thrives as a multiplayer experience, allowing you to communicate with the rest of the team as you each manipulate your respective controls and explore space together. It’s a little more sedate than some VR games, designed to be played seated, but it’s a fine way of losing yourself in another world and joining together as a team.

‘Superhot VR', PC and PS VR

Immensely cool, the original Superhot had players clearing rooms full of enemies by manipulating time perfectly. Time moves only when you do, meaning deliberate movements are everything, and a wasted step can cost you dearly. Part puzzle game, part “bullet-time” experience, the game translates perfectly to VR.

Players must continue to move precisely using their limited arsenal to the best of their ability, with the focus being on ducking and firing bullets at just the right moment to take out enemies coming towards you. It can be tricky, but it’s satisfying once you figure out the solutions in this combat-orientated puzzler.

‘Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes', PC and PS VR

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes takes the principle of VR gaming and turns it into a team effort, even if you only have one headset. One player dons the device and is tasked with defusing a bomb, but they have to solely depend on instructions from other players outside of the VR world to know how best to proceed. Friends can’t see the bomb, so they have to use an instruction manual to walk the bomb-disposal player through the process.

Communication is everything here, with precise yet speedy instructions being the key to success. It sounds stressful, but it’s actually a lot of fun with the right group of players. Two to six are considered ideal, but ultimately, good communicators are what you need most here.

‘Astro Bot: Rescue Mission', PS VR

A PS VR exclusive, Astro Bot: Rescue Mission is an adorably creative platform adventure where players control Astro, a small robot who’s trying to save his fellow android friends. It’s highly inventive, and requires players to use a series of gadgets such as a hook shot, water gun and slingshot to negotiate the land ahead of them.

You use a mixture of the PlayStation 4 controller and your own head, instead of separate camera controls. It’s a fun combination of regular gaming and VR gaming, making it an ideal starting point if you’ve just picked up a headset. It’s also a great game for all the family thanks to its cutesy nature.

‘Tetris Effect', PC and PS VR

Tetris in VR? Yup, it works. Tetris Effect is a psychedelic and fascinating experience on a TV or monitor, but switch to VR and it’s positively hypnotic. It plays out roughly the same, with the key principle remaining intact – create lines from blocks falling from the sky – but the surrounding atmosphere is what’s so captivating.

In VR, you’ll feel soothed by underwater levels with calming noises and whales floating around nearby, while the more manic stages will raise your heart rate as you race to place lines faster than ever before. In a curious sort of way though, it’s all oddly calming, and the ideal way to lose yourself entirely to a pure gaming experience.

The verdict: VR games

Star Wars: Squadrons is our best buy as we really don’t think you can beat the magic of a childhood favourite brought to life in such a way. It might not have been designed solely with VR in mind, but it has the “wow” factor the moment you start playing which never really fades.

Alongside that, Half-Life: Alyx is a worthy second-place contender if you have a PC-based VR setup. With a gripping storyline, it’s a little more engrossing in the traditional sense than most of the others here.

To intensify your gaming experience, we’ve found the best gaming headsets to enhance audio for PS5, Xbox, Nintendo and PC

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