Weekend Hot Topic, part 1: The best VR game experiences

GameCentral readers discuss their favourite VR games and sing the praises of everything from WipEout to Beat Saber.

The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Ishi and asked whether you’ve ever played VR on a modern console or PC and what you thought of it. Were you impressed by the technology and what did you think of the games you played?

We were a bit worried about running the topic as not everyone can afford a VR headset but the response was one of the most enthusiastic for months, with everyone seemingly highly impressed by the technology and games such as Astro Bot and Moss.


Virtually all

Since buying a VR headset most of my gaming has been virtual. It’s not easy to single out one amazing experience as there has been so many of them. I have opted to omit the obvious (Astro Bot and Resident Evil 7) as I think they will get plenty of mentions. What surprises me about the VR medium is how many great games are available with very little hype behind them.

Since buying a race wheel I have rediscovered DiRT Rally and for the first time qualified for the elite rallies. DiRT Rally in VR is something else and the best racer on the format. When you are powering your car through acute rights/lefts and making green splits it’s totally exhilarating. If VR takes off then racers could see a resurgence. VR was made for the racer. Most people sit to game and we sit to drive, so it’s so much more convincing to play a racer in VR.

I’m also currently having a lot of fun with The Persistence. A roguelike game with a Dead Space vibe. This is a very tense game set on a claustrophobic space station with the odd jump scare. First couple of plays I thought it was just OK but beginning to make headway now. There is a real sense of progress to the game. Feel I should have overcome the initial difficulty spike but keep messing up. When you die, like all rogues, it’s right back to the start, but that’s not as bad as it sounds. In a Soulsborne way all my mistakes have been my own fault. Really need to get that star drive powered up.

I really do think VR is the way forward for gaming. Looking forward to see what PSVR 2.0 will bring. Can’t wait for Everybody’s Golf and Blood & Truth.
Tiddleydwarf (PSN ID) (unchanged)


Sit-down action

My best VR experience is definitely EVE Valkyrie, I have a HOTAS controller and the immersion is incredible as you look around your cockpit tracking bogeys. It’s such a shame that the campaign is so short and online isn’t really populated by real people anymore.

I haven’t yet tried a load of other VR games but War Thunder’s VR mode works very nicely too.

I think games where you are sat in some kind of cockpit work really well but if there was any other VR game (that I’ve tried) that wasn’t ‘sit down’ it’s got to be Sword Master VR. Unfortunately My Vive is in quite a small study and it seems you need a big open space to manoeuvre around your enemy and take the proper swings. It’ still a very active workout though and having done historical fencing, somewhat realistic in its approach.
Sven Kirby


Virtual dreams

Best VR experience so far? Easy one for me. Arizona Sunshine on the PlayStation 4. The game is ugly, the controls sometimes just refuse to co-operate, and I keep reloading every two shots which is the opposite of clever as it uses real life bullet management. But there was a section of the game in a tunnel, this section made my week. It was like my zombie dream. Two pistols, lots of ammo, and a pile of the undead coming at me. The smile on my face was the biggest I’ve had in years.

Runner-up would be Farpoint as it controls superbly, most of the time, and gives you that Aliens vibe as you charge through the level blasting everything with the excellent shotgun/grenade combo.


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Top tier entertainment

Easily the best VR game I have played is Astro Bot: Rescue Mission. It is a high tier platformer that is also in VR and in my opinion quite a long way superior to all other VR games I have played.

I only have a standard PlayStation 4, and admittedly the graphics are not as crisp as a standard, flat PlayStation 4 game but they are good enough. In fact, given all the moaning about ‘teh jaggies’ on the Internet around the PSVR’s release it has far better graphical fidelity than I was expecting.

I suffer with pretty bad motion sickness, with does limit the games I can play to third person or static first person, either rigidly in a fixed place or with point to point warping. There are, however, many games based around these limitations and I have enjoyed the majority of those I have played.

In addition to Astro Bot, other standout moments are the elevator section in Batman: Arkham VR which is pure wish fulfilment and also Superhot VR, which is my favourite VR gallery shooter. The game’s gimmick of things only moving when you move is brilliantly realised in VR, even though you are really only dodging and shooting from fixed positions.

I cannot ever see VR becoming the mainstream as it is rather expensive for consumers which leads to a limited market for publishers to target. For me PSVR was just about in the price range where I could take a punt on it, but I realise that is not the case for most.

I can see the Switch Labo VR doing quite well though as it is really cheap and will fall into the ‘I might as well take a punt’ price range. Nintendo are wise to market it as a toy though and not a full VR experience as the resolution will be very, very low and it does not even use all of the 720p screen. There is then the possibility that it will put more people off than convince them of the validity of VR in the future.

I certainly hope VR becomes more popular though as I think it has a lot of potential. I also think adding VR support to AAA games like Resident Evil 7 and Skyrim is the way to convince the mainstream to try VR, even if games built with VR in mind are often better implemented. Nintendo adding support for Zelda is a welcome surprise.


Immersive horror

PlayStation VR has definitely added a different way to play games for me, and there’s been many experiences that couldn’t be achieved on a flat screen. Such titles as Headmaster, the X-Wing experience, Until Dawn, WipEout, and Dirt Rally VR have all given that something ‘extra’ to the gameplay. I’ve yet to play the likes of Astro Bot and Firewall but they’re on my radar.

However, the title that immediately sprang to mind when I read the subject of this Hot Topic was Resident Evil 7.

I made the conscious decision to play this start to finish in VR, with all comfort features turned off. This is by far the most terrifying gaming experience in my 40+ years (even more terrifying than Alcatraz Harry on the Spectrum, which was horrifying for different reasons). Although there were graphical compromises in VR, I really didn’t notice them as I was too concerned with the atmosphere that dripped from every wall and was complimented excellently by the sound design.

I know this was an experience like no other when I felt palpably relieved when I got to a save room, not just mentally relieved but physically too. And counter to that, I had a real sense of trepidation when I put the VR helmet on when I was about to play the game, almost a sense of dread. I almost (almost) didn’t want to play the game at some points because of this overall feeling.

I crept down corridors and hid around corners, as I would in real-life if I were in that situation. On the odd occasion I felt paralysed, I didn’t want to move forward, and only did so when I was telling myself ‘it’s only a game, it’s not real’.

Highly recommended to anyone who has PSVR, play Resident Evil 7 in VR over flat, you won’t regret it*
TheTruthSoul (PSN ID)

*I lied, you will


Killer app

For me, PlayStation VR has been the true standout next gen feature of the latest consoles. The one aspect to cause genuine jaw drops!

Games such as Astro Bot, Ace Combat 7, and Moss, to name but a few, are not just good VR games but are genuine classic titles in their own right. And simpler games, such as my personal favourite Beat Saber, are massively enhanced experiences due to the nature of VR.

Despite this, however, I do think that every aspect of PSVR needs improving. Better resolution, better controllers, less cabling, etc. will all be required before it gets anywhere near mainstream.

Another concern going forward is support. I’ve been impressed with Sony’s dedication to VR but less so, understandably, from the big third party publishers. More titles with VR modes, like Ace Combat 7, will be required to help VR take off (pun intended) and it was really disappointing to see Battlefront II omit the VR mode, especially after how good the VR mission was in the first game.

Sony seem to be further investing in VR for PlayStation 5 and with Nintendo also entering the market there are encouraging signs for the future. But I do still think that it will be a long while before it’s seen as anything other than niche. Personally though I can’t wait to see what the next wave of VR games bring.


Six degrees of freedom

I originally had a cardboard viewer and then a Gear VR and finally moved onto Oculus Rift and six degrees of freedom (i.e. you can move around a space rather than being stuck in a single spot). You cannot underestimate how amazing being able to move around in a space is even on the initial demo and how it affects the immersion. It isn’t just that you can see all around you but how realistic things can appear when you move in close to them. Move up to the model of the Joker in Batman: Arkham VR and you can’t believe he isn’t there in front of you.

However, the amazement fades and that immersion becomes the new normal. The difference over my previous devices though is that whilst there is a lot of repetitive dross there are enough games that either make good use of VR or are polished and fun enough that you ignore the fact that they are similar to 100s of other games.

Robo Recall is a wave shooter (and there are a million wave shooters for VR) but Robo is great to play, funny, looks amazing, and you are in that city and not just looking at it on a screen.

Superhot is wonderful – you are moving your whole body to play the game. Only problem is it’s way too short.

Beat Saber is possibly the most fun pick up and play VR game with lightsabres (sort of). Even somebody like me, with the grace and natural rhythm of a brick feels like I’m one with the music and you feel supercool. That is until you see somebody else playing it and realise that you look bit of a prat. Oh well.

And Moss shows just how amazing VR is for traditional platform style games. You genuinely feel that you are looking down at a real little world and can lean in so you can look round corners and inspect the world close-up. It really has to be experienced rather than described as it is far more wonderful than it may sound.

Weirdly though, the very best experience for me isn’t a game and is available on any phone or PC. Google Earth is astonishing in VR. The fact that the horizon fills your whole field of view and that you can fly over 3D rendered cities around the world is amazing. Then go to the top of a building and it automatically adjusts the perspective so it really feels like you are looking down from a building.

It is seamlessly integrated with Street View as well. Now I know that Google literally had a world of data already to draw on but an actual game with a whole world like that would be the holy grail of (godlike) gaming for me.


Mind-blowing reality

The subject of VR is bittersweet for me because I had to trade my PlayStation VR in after monetary difficulties.

My best experience with the game has to be my first game which was Batman: Arkham VR and not knowing what to expect blew my mind.

It made me feel like a child again; the first time plugging my Atari in and playing a karate game I can’t remember the name of, Sonic The Hedgehog, Lara Croft vs. T-Rex, GTA: Vice City soundtrack, Final Fantasy VII’s opening, and more recently Red Dead Redemption II’s graphics.

I spent hours in the VR Gotham, throwing batarangs and when I finally emerged I went for a drink and the game world had bled into reality as I picked up a glass like I was still in virtual reality. It was amazing.

I have to give a mention for Resident Evil and DiRT for giving full length experiences that never overstayed their welcome.

I keep flirting with the idea of buying another and the brilliant reviews of Moss and Astro Bot keep it temptingly on my wish list.
PS: The Kitchen Demo for Resident Evil deserves a special mention for scaring my mother-in-law half to death.


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Empty house

I got a PlayStation VR in November last year but the only content I’ve played on it so far includes the first few levels of Astro Bot, the Battlefront X-Wing demo, the Tetris Effect demo and a couple of the ‘experiences’ in PlayStation VR Worlds. The lure of more compelling, deeper traditional games has prevented me from getting more involved.

I’ve enjoyed the limited time I’ve had with it, although I’ve got a very slight, pretty much imperceptible squint and my optician told me recently that this would make 3D films at the cinema almost worthless to me. This would explain why I was never that impressed with the effect on 3DS (or the likes of Avatar) but I can still detect the 3D. It’s just not as seamless and mind-blowing for me as so many people frequently explain.

For VR, the main obstacle for me, and I imagine many others, is the obligation to completely shut yourself off from the world. It means I’m only ever likely to use it when I’ve got an empty house and time to play games, which isn’t that often.

It’s interesting that it’s probably the Switch Labo set that prompted the Hot Topic. For me, the Switch has been such a revelation because it offers almost the polar opposite of normal VR; a means of playing home console games with greater flexibility than ever before. Far from having to make plans for a session like I do with VR, picking up the Switch while lying around the house is as trivial a task as unlocking your phone to check your messages. It also gives a bit more justification to Nintendo’s decision not to strap the Labo thing to your face like some elaborate blindfold.

Another thing to consider is what we want from gaming. So many people nowadays go on about ‘immersion’ as though that’s the absolute holy grail for games. For me, it’s about being presented with a well-designed set of goals that are compelling, entertaining, and rewarding to achieve. Immersion can be important but I’d only place it a rung or two above story for the games I appreciate most and it’s certainly no substitute for good design.

The best PlayStation VR games have probably demonstrated both immersion and design can be catered to though. The question is whether the substantial practical compromise is always going to be too much for most gamers. When I’ve got a console that offers the perfect solution for how gaming fits into my life, I’m less interested in a platform that makes me ask how I can try to get my life to fit into my gaming.


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