It's been a while since VR first burst onto the scene. A good while. As a matter of fact, it's been close to twenty-six years since the Virtual Boy was released back in 1995. So, two decades later and a selection of new VR systems on the market, starting with the Oculus Rift in 2016, VR is finally starting to get its hit apps.
This isn't to say that VR hasn't had some quality titles in the past, it's just that VR has never had games of the calibre seen this past year. Valve even released their first major game since Pterodactyls were a valid mode of transport. Other big companies have also released VR titles, with Electronic Arts releasing Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond - though while that game had an amazing amount of heart, it wasn't good enough to get more of a mention than this.
This list will see a few familiar titles from other lists with VR versions of major titles, though I will limit them. Normally a game that has already been released and is now just released on a new platform wouldn't get a mention, but the transformative nature of VR makes me think their inclusion is worth it. On that note, let's look at the best VR games released in 2020.
Genre: Action. Platform: PC, PSVR.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is a great The Walking Dead game. It's a great game in general, far better than the later released The Walking Dead Onslaught. Saints and Sinners follow a graphical novel style on a gruesome traipse through a zombie-infested world. These zombies will swarm you at any given moment. You go for the head, the knife slips. The wound leaves an even more gruesome appearance as you aim again for the last vestiges of the walkers' brain.
Saints & Sinners gets melee combat perfect, with it being impossible not to start swinging your own body about to hopefully get that bit of extra power to rid yourself of the shambling monstrosity trying to eat your flesh. From guns to medical supplies, even the act of rubbing a zombies entrails on you as an act of camouflage, the attention to detail, great visual and audio design and a generally well-structured game (supplies start to dwindle as time passes and zombies increase) helps to propel this to one of the scarce must-have titles.
VR Versions of Major Releases (Multiple entries)
Microsoft Flight Simulator. Genre: Simulation. Platform: PC.
One of the best games of the year (review here) and already the first entry in our best strategy and simulation games of 2020. It's also more than eligible for an entry here as the VR patch finally squeezed through the doors at the very end of the year. This isn't a perfect VR release by any means, support is far from perfect, and the bugs are varied. Also, how you'll map a flight simulator to VR controls, I don't know. Not without having interaction with every aspect of the cockpit.
Either way, the game merits a mention here because the game is outstanding. VR immerses you into what was already an outstandingly immersive experience. Now, instead of looking at a screen that's looking through the window, navigating my landmarks and roads you know about, you're looking through the window yourself. If you aren't playing this already, you should be. If you own VR and aren't, what's wrong with you?
Star Wars: Squadrons. Genre: Action. Platform: PC.
Another entrant we've reviewed the non-VR version of. The difference is that the VR version of this seems far more interesting than the non-VR version. Hell, the game makes a point of keeping you in a fixed position. You're in the cockpit, strapped in. You're interacting with things from a singular position, just activating different scenes. If I were to hazard a guess, had EA not also been developing Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond, this would have been the publishers first attempt at a "AAA VR-Exclusive" title.
The detractors of the non-VR version of this game are what makes it a great VR title. Being able to pilot a TIE Fighter and looking through the eyes of the pilot in an exhilarating whish-bang-boom space battle is, well, exhilarating. The game looks great, it plays great, it's responsive, and you're simply going to be having fun, fighting in space.
Dreams. Genre: Everything. Platform: PSVR.
The third game of which we reviewed the non-VR version. Dreams is a wondrous game. Or at least it's a wonderous tool. When VR came to it, I knew I had to try it out. I don't actually own a PSVR headset myself, but I do have a friend that does. In this situation, I'm more inclined to say that the VR version of the game isn't as good as the flatscreen version, if only because when I tried it, it wasn't as accomplished. Or, at least, the guides were the same.
Designing and painting a level in VR, being part of that world as you create it, is something special. Furthermore, even when I was trying it, the games that supported VR were already proving to be better than some games released at full price. Understanding the immersion that VR can bring is a form of art itself, and some people are masters at it. How Dreams has developed in these past months, I don't know. Maybe the jarring attempt to control something on a flat screen in VR has been taken away, and a full VR tutorial put in place? Either way, it was already great, so hopefully, it's gotten better. Also, get this ported to the PC.
Genre: Adventure & Simulation. Platform: PC, PSVR.
Éric Chahi is one of the few video-game auteurs I'm truly interested in, even if he can be hit and miss. I remember jumping at the chance to get From Dust back when it was released in 2011. I also remember being very interested when Kai got the chance to ask Éric some questions about the then-upcoming Paper Beast.
Paper Beast is a beautiful game, one that you can now play non-VR too, and I highly recommend it. This is an exploration of a new animal kingdom, one made out of paper. You're also playing god in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of From Dust. Here, you'll be using some of your god-like powers but also looking at the nature around you, using the papercraft fauna and how they act, to help you progress through the next puzzle.
The best part is that it genuinely feels like you are working with the environment to solve a puzzle. There's something about this world that feels alive. The interactions with these creatures are all meaningful, even those that aren't. You don't need to play with the dog-like animals, but you can't. There's no point other than "LOOK AT THE PAPER DOGGY". VR or no, play this game.
Genre: Action. Platform: PC.
We all knew this one was coming. This is the VR game, the hit app, which had the resources to explore what VR can offer. After over a decade of people clamouring for Half-Life 3, Valve finally announced a Half-Life game, that being Half-Life: Alyx. Not the game that people expected or wanted, this is still undeniably a great game. Not a great VR game, a great game.
That's the thing; it's so easy when playing or reviewing a VR title to measure it in a bubble kept separated from the rest of the gaming sphere. There's no need to here. Alyx uses VR to amplify your position in the world. Everything from swinging a melee weapon to shooting, solving puzzles and generally exploring the world is so very satisfying in this game.
Valve was always going to do something to push forward VR, ever since they went into VR hardware with the Index. Half-Life: Alyx, a new Half-Life game and a way to fully explore the possibilities of VR was an inevitability. Let's hope we don't have to wait for the invention of a holodeck for Valve's next major release.
The best VR Games - Hit Apps are Here; it's time to Grow
VR has taken its time. All technology takes its time, though. We may not see the real boom of VR for another few years, but it will happen this decade. From the games listed above to the push of VR as a productivity tool by companies like HTC, VR will get its foothold and start to expand.
In keeping on the subject of video games, there are undeniably titles that I've missed that deserve to be on this list. VR is something, as a site, we're only starting to cover more of. That and playing other games we're not covering require the time and, of course, the interest. You will end up seeing more VR releases covered for the site, but alas it's too late for the inclusion of games that have been well-received elsewhere, such as The Wizards - Dark Times and Lies Beneath.
Either way, some other titles not talked about above deserve mention. On that note, let's have a look at these games.
There will be many more titles not listed, ones that deserve to be here. Sadly, we can't play and don't even know about them all. Still, 2021 will be a year that - now I have a VR headset - will see me playing and reviewing more VR titles. Somebody needs to help Kai share the load. Some of these titles are ones I'm already looking forward to and, later this month, you'll get to read about them in our most anticipated VR games of 2021 list.