Virtual reality has arrived on the PC. This technology takes you inside the game world itself, not just as a gamer sitting on his chair and looking at what his avatar is seeing displayed on an LED monitor on his desk. In VR, it’s your own eyes that are looking at the virtual world around you through a VR headset, and it makes you feel as if you’re right there standing on your own two feet, and fully immersed inside it.
You tilt your head up, and you may be looking at an alien sky above you. Or you tilt your head down, and you might be seeing your virtual legs and feet flailing in the air as you’re plummeting towards the ground. You actually feel like you are falling. You might be walking along a dark and creepy hallway, scared out of your wits. You turn your head to the left because you hear a creaking noise, and you see a door eerily closing by itself.
Or you might be inside a space station with your heart racing while you’re trying to hide from an alien predator hunting you down. And then suddenly, you jump as soon as you realize it’s right behind you, and you cower in fear as it proceeds to end your virtual life. Your feeling of self-preservation rises a thousandfold. Some people get too scared that they’re forced to close their eyes as if what they’re seeing is real.
The most immersive gaming experience
No other type of gaming genre, whether it be on a gaming PC or the most advanced console on the market, has ever brought gamers as close to the feeling of “being there” than Virtual Reality games. Many different VR worlds are being created, and the possibilities seem endless.
While the graphics quality and resolution haven’t caught up yet, it’s getting there. Maybe one day, the lines that separate a virtual world from the real one will be blurred to the point that people would rather escape to the fake one. Well, it’s not exactly The Matrix, but who knows?
While VR is still in its infancy, there are tons of titles in development and are being released that will continue to feed the hunger for more engaging VR experiences. The technology keeps on improving on both the hardware and software fronts to bring to the gamer a more convincing experience and a stronger sense of immersion in virtual surroundings that are sometimes unfamiliar, and yet believable.
As far as the equipment used to run these games are concerned, there are a lot of VR headset products on the market right now, but there are two popular brands that have established a firm foothold in PC VR. These are the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vibe. Most of the popular PC VR games support these two products and were built around them.
- The Oculus Rift
This headset’s development got into full swing in 2012 from a Kickstarter campaign that raised a couple of million dollars to fund it. Later, while their prototypes were gaining recognition from the gaming industry, the company was bought by Facebook. Oculus began selling its first commercial product ahead of HTC Vibe in 2016. Right now, they hold the lion’s share of the PC VR headset market, and their latest headset is the Oculus Rift S.
- The HTC Vibe
HTC developed the Vibe in collaboration with gaming developer and Steam owner Valve Corporation. Later, Valve established SteamVR, their digital distribution arm, for downloading VR games. They have an extensive line of other VR peripherals and not just headsets. A majority believes that they offer a complete VR experience, although the HTC Vibe package itself is a lot more expensive than the Oculus Rift.
Minimum PC Requirements
Understandably more powerful rigs would offer a smoother experience. More complex games will undoubtedly demand more gaming power even if they’re not running in VR. However, for most of these VR games to be playable, your PC must meet these minimum specs at the very least.
- CPU: Intel Core i5-4950 or AMD FX350
- GPU: Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD Radeon 290
- RAM: 4 GB
- Output port: HDMI 1.4, DisplayPort 1.2
- USB: USB 2.0
- OS: Windows 7 SP1
Start with the best
We’ve come up with a collection of the best VR games for the PC that would keep you fully immersed in their worlds until you need to take a real bathroom break.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew
Let you and three of your friends strap yourselves into your seats inside the bridge of the USS Starship Aegis, to boldly go where no VR headset has taken you before. You and your friends are tasked to investigate the Trench and look for a suitable homeworld for our Vulcan allies.
From there, you’ll face a series of events that would lead you to fight for your survival with nothing but your wits and the skills of your 4-man crew of Federation officers to save you from whatever crisis that awaits.
One of you can sit on the captain’s chair, while the others can take on the role of the helmsman, the tactical officer, or the science officer. All of you need to perform the duties expected of your positions. You have the responsibility to keep the starship running smoothly and deal with any adversity in outer space that comes your way.
It’s rather simplistic and doesn’ have much depth in the gameplay other than operating the bridge, but you’ll be awed by the attention to detail of the bridge, and its touch screen controls so much that it makes you feel like you and your friends are in control of a real starship. It’s almost what a starship simulator would be if there were one in real life. It is one opportunity no diehard Trekkie should miss playing.
If there’s a type of game where one can find the best use of a VR headset, it has to be in real-world vehicle simulations. We’re not just talking about motor vehicle simulators, but any type including airplane or helicopter simulators, and of course driving simulators. Assetto Corsa is one of the best racing games and plays pretty darn good in a VR headset.
Assetto Corsa puts you in driver’s seat of any one of 178 cars (ultimate edition) that includes various road cars, supercars, and racing cars. Its latest version was released in the 2nd quarter of 2019 called Assetto Corsa Competizione. It has one of the best physics and handling accuracy that gives a close feel or controlling an automobile and racing it.
Even before you start driving and you’re just sitting in the cockpit, it already feels like you’re inside a racecar on a racetrack. As you turn your head to look at the environment around you or lean forward to examine closer the different buttons and gauges, the attention to detail on the cars and your surroundings immerses you even more deeply.
Then you start driving, and your mind gets blown away by the experience. The feeling of acceleration as you’re zooming around the track is exhilarating and is as authentic as it’s ever going to be driving in your room. There’s a perfect field of vision, and you’ll appreciate how easy it is to judge the corner apex and to follow the correct racing lines.
You’ll also have improved spatial awareness with regards to your place on the track and the other cars around you. So after going full speed on the straightaway, you can step on breaks as late as you can before entering a corner to overtake the car ahead of you. You can avoid collisions better than you would when playing it on your PC monitor. Playing this game online against other virtual racers would be fantastic. A quality steering wheel and pedals would complete the experience.
Once you’ve tasted racing in VR, you can’t go back to the regular way of playing driving games again.
Beat Saver is one of those rhythm games similar to guitar hero, but one you can play in VR and with a twist. Instead of pressing the right controller buttons at the right time, Beat Saber transforms you into a dancing Jedi Knight wielding your red and blue lightsabers and slashing the matching red and blue blocks coming your way in sync with the beat of the music.
Does it sound silly? Not when you see it in action with an advanced player going through the motions and realize how cool it looks. You would want to have a go at it. It’s impressive how the developers designed each song so that there’s no way you can miss if you know how to “attack” it, so it’s not intimidating for a beginner to try. But it gets challenging enough for any veteran rhythm games player to master.
Other players have developed such an advanced skill and finesse that they seem to have trained in the Jedi Academy under the tutelage of Master Yoda himself. They are so good.
And besides being addictive, playing it gives you one heck of a workout.
Yes, this is a game that came out eight years ago, and it’s still relevant to this day because of the modding community. Their dedication to this game kept it alive and thriving. They’ve made many improvements in every aspect of the game that you can think of. So with these mods, the game aged well and a powerful PC lets Skyrim keep up with more modern games.
But how does it do in VR? Well, it’s a whole new experience playing it in VR. It’s like you’re playing a new game. Well, not exactly, but even if everything seems familiar, the feeling it gives that you exist in this large fantasy world makes all the difference. If this is your first time to play this game and doing it in VR, then you’re in for one heck of a ride.
If you’ve played Skyrim before, all the sensations and emotions you felt the first time you played it will return but magnified many times over. VR makes Skyrim more immersive and successfully transports you into this fantastic environment as if you’re a Nord who grew up in it. And with the many mod enhancements, it looks so beautiful in VR.
When you enter a cave or an old ruin, VR heightens the feeling of dread, especially when you see a Draugr rising from its centuries-long slumber. The first time you see a giant or a mammoth on the plains is more thrilling this time around. And your first battle with a dragon would leave you in awe of its presence. VR is reason enough to play the game again after many years of it collecting dust in your closet. You won’t regret picking it up again.
Imagine this type of immersion in more modern and bigger open-world games. The Elder Scrolls 6 in glorious VR can’t come soon enough.
Do you remember in the Matrix movies where time slows down enough for the main protagonist Neo to see the bullets coming and figure out a way to dodge them? It’s basically the same idea with this game.
When you stop moving, so do your enemies and their bullets. While they remain frozen in time, you can look around you and analyze your dire situation long enough to figure out how to come out of it unscathed and dish out some punishment back at them. An enemy fires his gun at you, and you see the bullet coming out of the barrel and zooming straight towards you. You then dodge to the side to avoid it, grab his gun, and throw it back at his face, and he shatters like a glass sculpture.
That’s just one example from quite a number of simple to ever more complex and difficult scenarios that you’ll be facing in this game as you try to outwit and slaughter a horde of red-colored enemies that are all trying to murder you. It’s very unforgiving, and one shot is all it takes for you to bite the dust and start over again. It can get very frustrating having to go through the same group of red thugs, but you can get pretty creative how you dispose of them, which is part of the fun.
You can block some bullets with your gun or your knife. Throw all sorts of items like hammers, ninja throwing knives, bottles, or even your empty guns at them. Once you are through with the campaign, you can try to hone your skills further in an infinite survival mode.
Graphics-wise, the objects, and the environment are stripped down to their bare-bones polygons and is quite stylized. Because there are no textures, the action runs smooth as a result and lets you focus on trying to survive the onslaught as you advance in the game. The clever gameplay concept is why this game is so enjoyable. It makes you feel like a complete badass action hero.
No Man’s Sky Beyond
To say that No Man’s Sky got on the wrong foot during its launch three years ago was putting it mildly. The game was critically panned not just by gaming critics but by the gaming community in general. It was mostly for a lot of unfulfilled promises by developer Hello Games’ founder Sean Murray. The amount of ridicule he and the game had to go through was like stepping into No Man’s Land.
Slowly but surely, the developers and their game gained their footing. After some major updates after its release, it got the respect that it deserved. Now Murray is claiming this to be No Man’s Sky 2.0. With the release of the Beyond update with VR, we can play the game the way it was meant to be.
The impression we got is like playing a brand new game. That’s how much VR has given this game a fresh perspective, and added more immersion and more depth to the game. With you inside the game and walking on the different alien planetscapes, VR gave an impression of a grander scale to that universe. It’s as close to the feeling of space exploration as you can get from a game.
And the game wasn’t improved by the VR alone. Not only did they drastically reduce most of the frustrations and limitations of the original. Almost every aspect was enhanced and expanded on for the players to enjoy and appreciate more what they were doing as lone space explorers. The multiplayer and the added NPCs made the game world feel more populated and authentic, so that interacting with them wasn’t a chore but something you looked forward to.
Before it was released, the game sounded too ambitious and almost too good to live up to the hype. And indeed, that’s what happened when it was released. But after three years of tirelessly tweaking to perfect their game, the developer has finally reached its original vision and with VR, maybe even gotten somewhere beyond that.
It’s exclusive to the Rift and is published by Oculus Studios, who knows what kind of developer they exactly need to support to get the quality games out there for their VR headsets.
It’s the year 2126, and you play the role of Jack, who’s an ECHO ONE android who works with a human female astronaut named Olivia. As Jack, you can either respond to Liv a no-nonsense robot manner or give him more personality or character, depending on the responses you choose during their conversations.
You and Liv’s job is to investigate an anomaly that has caused problems to the mining station Kronos in orbit over Saturn. You work together either inside or out in space through some very convincing EVA (extravehicular activity) physics to repair the damage it caused.
A massive UFO then appears that causes space debris to destroy Kronos and temporarily puts you out of commission. When you wake up, you learn that Liv had to board this new ship to survive. You try to reach her inside this new ship to find out if she’s okay. On the way, you work with various tools at Jack’s disposal and solve puzzles to try to reach Liv and get to the bottom of what’s happening.
It is probably the best VR game to show you how it would be like to work in space. The art design of the different environments you’re working in, and the backdrop of Saturn are amazing. It is successful in making you feel like you’re out there in the cold reaches of our solar system, especially when you’re out there doing some EVA. After you’re finished with the narrative, you can try out the fun multiplayer content, which can be a whole other game in itself.
Combat frisbee in space. It’s the basic premise of Lone Echo’s multiplayer content. It’s like a hybrid of that and Quidditch if you’re familiar with the game in the Harry Potter series.
The object is to throw the Frisbee right through the opposing team’s goal and prevent them from doing the same by defending your team’s goal. You do this while you’re floating around while inside a zero-gravity arena in space in a kind of extreme EVA where you can bounce the Frisbee and yourselves off virtual walls and objects. It’s all about momentum and learning how you could use it to your advantage.
As your team is passing the Frisbee around, the opposing team can knock the Frisbee off anyone who’s holding it by hitting them. You can get a boost by launching off your teammate. You can set up screens, do fakes, touch passes, etc. you can apply here just like you would in real sports like basketball or football, only there are no fouls called.
With an engaging main game and a fun multiplayer futuristic sports game, you get a two-in-one fantastic VR package.
Not even Mortal Kombat can match the satisfaction you get out beating your opponent down to the ground until his bloody entrails spill than in Gorn.
The controls are so intuitive, and by intuitive, we mean brutal, to the point you can grab a guy while he’s hurt and cut his head off. It can’t be more intuitive than that. You can pick up any weapon you see and go to town with it on anyone who gets in your way.
And you don’t just flail your weapons randomly like an idiot hoping you can blindly hit someone with them, although your free to do that. There’s a danger, though, that you might hit something or someone in real life, so make sure you have ample space to move around whenever you play it.
There’s actually an art to it, and weapons feel substantial in VR as if you’re hitting someone with a solid object. Whether it be nunchucks, sledgehammers, maces, and swords, and even a pair of crab claws, you’ll never run out of satisfying and amusing ways to bludgeon your hapless enemies. You can be creative as you want to be.
It’s not something you’d expect from a developer who came up with Genital Jousting. I mean, it’s still mostly silly and mindless fun, but somehow they managed to make the combat feel convincing even with the cartoonish graphics. The violence is almost obscene if it didn’t look comical. There are falling eyeballs, and you can send your victims flying into spikes on the walls, it’s hilarious.
Do I sound like I enjoyed this too much? Well, maybe I did, but so will you once you play it. The amount of gore is generous, to put it mildly. You’ll get a good helping of crimson splatter and severed limbs that are enough to satisfy anyone’s virtual bloodlust for a long time.
When the developer Creative Assembly showed their demo in E3, everyone was gushing about the VR implementation, and it even won a “Best VR Game” award, except that it wasn’t really meant to be a VR game.
When the game got released in late 2014, it didn’t even have a VR component or any updates planned by the developer to bring VR to it. As it turned out, the VR was only a marketing gimmick, which was a total bummer because it really worked great in the demo.
They never got it to work with the consumer releases of the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vibe and abandoned any effort to do so after the release. Despite that, most who have played the demo still consider it as one of the best AAA adaptations to VR.
It would take the work of a genius modder named Zack Fannon to bring VR back to Alien Isolation through their independent mod called Alien Isolation MotherVR. Thanks to that mod and its creator, we gamers would get another chance to plunge into the scary VR depths of the Alien franchise and go far beyond what the developers had envisioned for it.
You play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of the main protagonist in the Alien sci-fi movie franchise. She’s onboard the damaged space station Sevastopol to get the flight recorder of the Nostromo, which could contain the whereabouts of her mother who mysteriously disappeared 15 years ago. As it turns out, there’s an alien xenomorph monster that’s causing havoc inside the station, sending it out of control.
It’s up to you to escape from the hostile alien by hiding from it as much as she can. To do so, you must accomplish necessary objectives while trying to avoid detection as much as possible because failing to do so would mean instant death at the hands of the creature. You can only arm yourself with any weapons you stumble upon that can only distract the alien and give you a few moments to escape.
You have a motion sensor to keep tabs on the alien’s location so you would know if it’s getting too close to you. Amanda has to move all the time and as stealthy as possible. Sometimes you come across dead bodies where you can grab some medical supplies, but that’s about it.
The amount of dread, isolation, and utter helplessness that you feel while avoiding the alien is made more palpable in VR than it would be playing this game on a PC screen. It’s like you’re Ripley herself and that your life is really on the line, and that raises the stakes even higher.
Four years on, this game remains to be one of the best VR experiences ever, and we can’t recommend it enough for you to try it. Thank goodness there are dedicated modders out there who can bring it to us.
Virtual Reality is here to stay
So there you have it. I’m sure we haven’t covered everything, but we have provided you a great sampling of some of the best VR experiences that’s available on the PC. The genre is just getting started, and it’s heartening to know there are many active developers out there working to keep it thriving.
Not only that, there have been more mainstream AAA games that have adapted VR mechanics with great success. It’s not merely applying a fresh coat of paint or anything else cosmetic on these popular titles. With VR, the player receives a brand new perspective and a whole new take on the gameplay that’s more immersive and compelling on a game that they already enjoyed in the past.
A lot of VR games out there are pretty decent, but there is only a handful that you can categorize as killer games. However, there are regular AAA titles already released that we think could be a perfect fit for a VR treatment, either through mods or updates.
And for upcoming titles, we would like to see more of them incorporate VR as a standard feature, to give us a chance to get lost inside their fantastic worlds. The future is looking bright for VR games, and we’re glad it’s happening in our generation.