I’ve sampled some HTC Vive virtual reality games with a final production unit over the past week, and I’ve tried out more titles at preview events. The ones that really grab me are visceral shooting experiences that leave you hot and sweaty.
As we’ve pointed out a lot, we’re just at the beginning of VR. There’s no killer app just yet. But there are a lot of experiences that turn VR into a real social experience as you’ll have a lot of fun playing these games with friends. And that could make a difference as to whether or not VR will become a $30 billion market by 2020, as predicted by Digi-Capital.This whole category was termed “active VR” by James Iliff, the cofounder and chief creative officer at VR game startup Survios. They’re not exercise games per se, but they will make you perform a lot of physical activity. So long, couch potato.
So far, I’ve stayed away from anything that would make me really dizzy. And fortunately, nobody has really tried to make such games for the launch. If they did, that would be the surest way to turn off people to VR and ensure that the big market doesn’t happen.
The verdict so far is that there’s a lot of variety and fun demos. You’re probably not going to pay a lot of money for the content that’s available now. But I’m confident that more will come with time. Right now, it’s an expensive device for experimental software as the HTC Vive costs $800 and you need a $1,000 PC to play games on it.
The Vive comes bundled with Fantastic Contraption, a $40 VR game on Steam. In this game, you have to move a ball forward by building a contraption that allows you get a purple ball from one place to another. A full tutorial on how to play is available here. It’s a surreal VR building-and-puzzle game, where you create life-sized machines as tall as you can reach. Once you complete them, you set them into motion to get the ball to your goal. But while Valve and HTC clearly like this game, I found it hard to get started.
There were other games that were a lot more intuitive. These included Skeet: VR Target Shooting, a shooting game that runs at a frenetic pace. This game reproduces in VR something that you already know how to do in real life but probably don’t get a chance to do much. You physically pump your shotgun with the left control by pulling it down, and then you fire with the right control at flying skeet targets. This is one of those games that makes you sweaty.
Another cool game is Ninja Trainer. This game is like Fruit Ninja in VR. You have a samurai sword in a dojo, and you have to slice fruit flying at your head. You have to slice the flying fruit in rapid succession and avoid slicing the flying bombs. You also have to try to slice two or three flying fruit at the same time. This is a little tricky, and you lose 10 points if you hit a bomb instead. After just a few rounds, my arm was tired, and I was sweating. It is a lot harder to do than slicing fruit on a tablet with your finger. This title is also the most likely game that will lead you to throwing your controller into a monitor or TV. So you better wear that controller strap when you’re playing it.
Audioshield is also a lot of fun, but in a different way. In this game, you’re using the controllers as a shield. You block colored balls that fly at you from one direction. You raise your controller to block the blue balls with a blue shield, and you block the red balls with a red shield. When they come at you fast, you have to block with the left and right shields really fast.
It’s another game that makes you sweat. It’s fun, and it’s particularly entertaining to play in a group setting. But like I said, you aren’t likely to pay much for party experiences.
Something else that fits in the hot-and-sweaty category is Space Pirate Trainer. This is a very simple game where you have two guns in your hand, or one gun and one shield. You can set them to single-shot or machine guns. When drones come flying up to your platform, you shoot them. They come in wave after wave, and eventually they’re going to hit you.
I like this one because you have to dodge incoming bullets at the same time you are firing. That means it works better in a room-scale environment where you can move around a lot.
And how could we forget the zombies? Arizona Sunshine is a zombie-shooting game where you have to sweat it out because you’re trying to load your frigging gun with one of your hands while a zombie is moaning and coming your way.
This game lets you move on from station to station, where you get progressively better and better weaponry.
Survios also has a very nice title in Raw Data, a virtual reality shooter where you have to fight back-to-back with a partner. It’s a two-player multiplayer game, with each player on a separate PC. This game is a visceral experience where you have to gun down a bunch of humanoid robots who are trying to skewer you. You can shoot them with pistols, shotguns, or assault rifles. You can slice them with a katana or toss a grenade at them. Eventually, they’re going to overwhelm you. But you’ll take a lot of them down with you.
Lastly, I should mention the one cool experience that isn’t a shooting game but every Vive owner should try. And that’s Google’s Tilt Brush. This art app lets you use the Vive controllers to paint in a full 3D space. You can be as artistic as you want to be, painting with multiple colors and multiple brush types. You can paint a raging fire with a fire brush or sprinkle stars across the black canvas.