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Mobile games are coming to your face

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Gear VR bridges the gap between smartphones and virtual reality

Samsung only just announced the Gear VR — an accessory that turns the Galaxy Note 4 smartphone into a virtual reality headset — but we already know of a number of notable game developers working on projects for the device. In comparison, in the early days of the Oculus Rift all we had to go on was the promise of a number of demos and existing games with VR functionality bolted on; VR as a platform is clearly becoming a bigger focus for developers. But because Gear VR is based on a phone, the games announced today are somewhat different than what we’ve already seen on the Rift and Sony's Project Morpheus. Instead of completely immersive games, we’re seeing what look like much lighter, more casual fare. In other words, mobile games will soon be playable on your face.

The most obvious example is Temple Run VR, which takes the massively popular Temple Run series and transforms it from a behind-the-shoulder action game into a first-person experience. It still follows the same basic formula — you're running away from a weird demonic monkey, traversing a landscape of pits, jumps, and turns — but the added immersion of VR dramatically changes the experience. "Virtual reality opens up a whole new world of possibilities for us to create amazing experiences," Imangi Studios co-founder Keith Shepherd said when announcing the new game, the studio’s first VR title.

Omega Agent

Imangi isn't the only major mobile studio jumping on board. Fireproof Studios, the team behind the widely acclaimed iPad series The Room, revealed that it was working on a Gear VR title as well, its first foray into virtual reality. Only, instead of simply porting the puzzle boxes of The Room to virtual reality, the studio is building something from the ground up for the platform. Called Omega Agent, the game lets you strap on a jetpack as you train to become a Cold War super spy. The first screenshot for Omega Agent shows you flying over a retrofuturistic city, complete with towering buildings and low-poly mountains. Likewise, Ustwo, the studio behind beautiful mobile puzzle game Monument Valley, have announced a new title called Land's End that will be coming to Samsung's headset. Like the developer's previous work, it looks absolutely gorgeous.

"You’d think that using a mobile device for VR would involve greater sacrifices than this."

Mobile developers aren’t the only ones working on Gear VR games, of course. Rock Band and Dance Central studio Harmonix revealed that it's developing a title for the platform, though there are currently no details on what exactly the game will be. VR-focused developer nDreams, meanwhile, has announced a pair of Gear VR games: the slick-looking spaceship title Gunner and Perfect Beach, a relaxation simulator that lets you chill out "on a glorious tropical beach, glistening waves gently lapping against shimmering white sand, your favourite music playing in the background." You can even import audiobooks and listen to them on the virtual beach.

Land's End

Meanwhile, the developer behind Oculus Rift game Darknet, which casts you in the role of a hacker, has announced that his game will also be coming to the Gear VR as a launch title. Despite the obvious technical differences between a Note 4 headset and a high-end PC-powered Oculus Rift, developer E McNeil says that it wasn't actually too hard to port the game. "You’d think that using a mobile device for VR would involve greater sacrifices than this," he wrote in a blog for Gamasutra.

There will likely be a number of higher-end games coming to Samsung's new headset accessory, whenever it does eventually launch. It may be powered by a phone, but Gear VR was created in conjunction with Oculus, a company that built its name on the promise of VR games. John Carmack, Oculus CTO and co-creator of Doom, describes the Gear VR as "a virtual reality headset with world class resolution and performance, all on a completely mobile platform." But it's also a device that sits somewhere between a traditional VR headset and a mobile device, and that means we're likely to see new kinds of VR experiences. Virtual reality typically calls to mind games that you can be immersed in for hours on end, but a game like Temple Run is the opposite, something that you play for only a few minutes at a time, multiple times a day.

The Gear VR may finally be able to answer one very important question: what does Candy Crush look like in virtual reality?