Oculus showed off its Oculus Touch controller and a bunch of games that will use the independently movable controls for its virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift. And a bunch of the games that are on display at the company’s key developer event are impressive.
The Oculus Connect event in San Jose, Calif., is an important one for Oculus VR and its parent company Facebook, which bet $2 billion in its acquisition of Oculus in 2014. The point is to show the momentum behind the new medium of virtual reality, and to show how much progress VR is making in becoming a bigger part of the game and app industries.
GamesBeat spent a whole day on Wednesday getting hands-on previews with more than a dozen Oculus titles. Here’s our summations and thoughts about each of the fresh titles that we saw.
Arktika.1 is a Russian word for the Arctic, it’s a fitting title for the first VR game from 4A Games, the maker of Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light. For two years, the company has been working on this first-person shooter game in VR. It is set 100 years in the future, after an apocalypse has led to a new ice age. The habitable regions of the planet are at the equator, and the survivors are in a bad state. You are among the mercenaries protecting the Russian territories. You have to clear out bandits, scavengers, and other kinds of monsters in a colony. Oculus Studios is publishing the game on the Rift.
Our take: This is one of the first high-quality shooter games in VR. It is mean to be played for many hours, rather than just a snack-like experience. It smartly uses teleporting to get around, rather than actual movement, to avoid motion sickness. But it’s a physical game, where you have to move your hands to your sides to reload your guns, and it has clever weapons, like a gun that sees through walls and shoots around corners. I thought it was a lot of fun, and it left me sweaty. The last scene of the demo, where this mech monster charges you, is pretty frightening. — Dean Takahashi
Luna is one of the titles in the works at Funomena, an indie game studio started in 2013 by Robin Hunicke and Martin Middleton. Luna is a uniquely tactile VR puzzle game, where players are encouraged to observe, listen, customize and interact with a beautiful storybook world. We haven’t gotten a look at this one yet, but it looks like a very pretty cartoon world.
Quill is more like an interactive comic book and a tool for creating art in three dimensions. It’s not really a game. But it has an interesting story that begins with a 360 short film, Dear Angelica, which was unveiled in unfinished form at the Sundance Film Festival. It follows protagonist Jessica through the dream-like memories of her mother, Angelica (played by Geena Davis). The art style is done like a painting, because that’s what a memory seems like, said Edward Saatchi, Oculus Story Studio producer, in an interview. Quill takes that art style and brings you inside that world. You can paint the 3D images with colors of your own choice, and you can also create your own original drawings.
Our take: Quill is a beautiful combination of an artistic story combined with outstanding storytelling tools. It’s simple to use, and fits well within the genre of VR art tools such as Google’s TiltBrush and the sculpting Medium tool from Oculus.
Don’t let the Landfall screenshots fool you: It’s not a real-time strategy game. Developer Force Field’s new project (coming to Oculus Rift in 2017) is actually a hectic top-down shooter that has both a single-player campaign and exciting multiplayer modes.
Our take: I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the diorama effect VR can have on certain genres. The soldiers, mechs, and vehicles in Landfall look like highly detailed figurines — seeing them move around and shoot each other on the miniature battlefield is pretty amusing. Dean and I played against each other in a 2-on-2 multiplayer mode that had different objectives, like capturing certain locations on a base or eliminating the other team’s reinforcements.
With all the gun fire, explosions, and brightly colored soldiers running around, Landfall can be a little overwhelming at times. And since each player only controls one soldier, it’s easy to lose track of which of those little guys is yours. But that’s a minor complaint overall. The battles were incredibly tense, and I can’t wait to play more. — Giancarlo Valdes
This game convinced me that it is possible to have some pretty elaborate, fast-action games apart from the shooters in VR. The top-down view gives you a sweeping view of the battlefield. The graphics weren’t super-realistic, but they did the job. It was like running around in an intense 3D cartoon battle. — Dean Takahashi
Kingspray is a graffiti simulator that turns the Touch controllers into versatile cans of paint. You can adjust how big the spray is, the color, the tone of that color, and more as you travel to different environments to unleash your colorful creations.
Our take: It’s an impressive creative tool, especially when you consider that developer Infectious Ape is made up of four people who are working on Kingspray in their spare time. I don’t have the best artistic skills, so some of the nuance and realism of virtual graffiti art is lost on me. But the person I played with in the multiplayer mode had no problem coming up with fantastic designs in a short amount of time. — Giancarlo Valdes
This game did a great job of making me feel like I was using spray paint, mostly because of the sound. — Dean Takahashi
Insomniac is building a game that pits two wizards against each other, dueling in a city while standing on pillars or platforms. You can play one human player against another, using the Touch controller. You can play an Anarchist or a Kineticist. The Anarchist can throw fireballs or flaming skulls or molten spears at the other person. You can also raise a shield or create spells with more elaborate objects using various hand movements. The Anarchist can rain rockets down on a rival, but the Kineticist can drop a car on the enemy’s head.
Our take: This game was a hoot. I had to remember how to do various spells very quickly before my opponent caught me off guard or tossed an elaborate spell my way. I lost two matches, but just barely as the enemy got off a final spell before I was able to hit back. — Dean Takahashi
Sanzaru Games’ VR Sports is like one big highlight reel of the best moments in baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. Instead of making you play through long matches for each activity, VR Sports (releasing the same day as the Oculus Touch motion controllers) immediately drops you in key situations.
In basketball, for instance, you’ll take control when you’re near the opposing team’s hoop — you can pass the ball to a teammate or attempt to take the shot. When you pass, your perspective changes to the person you passed it to, and time slows down so you can get ready to grab the basketball.And when the other team tries to take a shot, you can try to knock the ball out of the air and into big targets for extra points.
Our take: Some of the mini-games take that silliness a step further — in one football mode, I had to catch as many balls as I could while also swatting down cartoonish bombs. VR Sports isn’t very realistic, but that’s one of the reasons why it’s so fun to play. — Giancarlo Valdes
I Expect You To Die
Schell Games is making this funny title that riffs on the famous quote from the film Goldfinger, where agent 007 James Bond says, “Do you expect me to talk?” And Goldfinger replies, “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.” You sit in a chair and reach out with your hands to pick things up or shoot things or move them across the room. With these Touch-based movements, you have to solve puzzles, like how to steal a car from the back of a cargo plane and drive it out the bay door while it’s in mid-air. There are four missions in the game so far.
Our take: I tried to do this, but every time I thought I was solving a life-threatening problem, another thing popped up to doom me. I had to disarm a bomb in the car, but I didn’t do it in the right sequence and it exploded — several times as I tried over and over. It’s hilarious. — Dean Takahashi
Lone Echo is set in outer space, where you use the Oculus Touch controls to make yourself move in a zero gravity environment. You press buttons to operate thrusters, and use the triggers to grab on to rails and other things. If you push yourself from one ledge, you’ll propel through space until you catch something. If you overshoot, you can use your thrusters. Once you learn how to move this way, you can start performing missions as an android working for the humans in the space station. And when that starts, you’ll find there’s a story to go with it.
Our take: Lone Echo really nails what it’s like to move around in space, at least as far as I have imagined it by watching films like Gravity. You don’t get motion sickness while moving around because the developers at Ready At Dawn Studios figured out that when you reach out to grab something with the Touch device, your head matches and grasps that movement. It’s also got a riveting story as the humans and androids try to work together to solve real-time problems on a space station. — Dean Takahashi
For the VR version of the popular first-person shooter series, developer Tripwire Interactive opted for a story-driven survival-horror approach.
Our take: The gory, fast-paced action of the past Killing Floor games never interested me, but the Oculus Rift spin-off (coming out in 2017) looks promising because it’s a completely different beast. In the demo, I played with a Tripwire employee in cooperative multiplayer as we fought through a horde of zombies to reach an abandoned house on a hill. The rickety home showed off Killing Floor’s slower pacing: We briefly put away our guns and brought out our flashlights so we could look for the missing pieces of a portal.
The puzzle reminded me of Capcom’s older Resident Evil games, which also struck a balance between puzzle solving and combat. Killing Floor even has a grand mystery to solve as you kill every ugly monster that gets in your way. — Giancarlo Valdes
Coming exclusively to the Samsung Gear VR in 2017, SingSpace is a karaoke game from Rock Band developer Harmonix. According to product manager Jessa Brezinski, the studio wanted to create a “social karaoke experience” where you can hang out with friends or strangers online in virtual bars and private karaoke rooms. You can even chat with people (through your customizable avatar) while waiting for the next person to take the stage.
Our take: Singing in karaoke bars in real life can be a terrifying experience if you’re not used to the spotlight. But SingSpace makes it a little easier with its cast of happy cartoon characters.
Harmonix is still figuring out which songs to include, but judging from our demo — Dean belted out a beautiful rendition of “I Will Survive” while I butchered most of Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” — it seems like SingSpace will have a good mix of old and new tracks. –Giancarlo Valdes
I learned that Giancarlo is equally bad at singing as I am. But I didn’t mind, as I didn’t actually see anybody else laughing at me because I had the headset on — Dean Takahashi
Oculus also showed off a couple of games that we’ve seen before, such as Superhot and Dragon Front.