Only at a VR show would a day of playing video games feel like a workout. Oculus started its third Connect conference with an eight-hour block of demos, mostly for the upcoming Touch motion controllers. (And even all those hours weren’t enough time for us to catch everything.) A few we’d seen before, most we hadn’t — and here are our five favorite ones.
I first played Superhot on the Oculus Rift back in 2014, when the new development kit with positional tracking had just come out and I was so excited to be able to move my head a whole 12 inches in virtual reality. How times have changed. As in its non-VR iteration, Superhot is a stylized first-person shooter where time moves when you do — rather than trusting twitch reflexes, you have to carefully position yourself to dodge bullets and hit enemies who appear to be made of glass. But instead of being the original game plus some head ducking, the VR version is now a balletic, absurdly fun series of full-body puzzles. Oh, and I finally found out what that goofy hand-waving GIF in the announcement post was about: sometimes you need to make time advance quickly, and twirling your controllers in the air is a good way to do it. -Adi Robertson
Robo Recall, from the same Epic Games team responsible for Oculus Rift demo Bullet Train, is about as polished of an arcade shooter as you can get in VR today. Every detail, from how you maneuver an environment using teleportation to how you reload and change weapons, has been carefully crafted and well thought out. The end result is a robot shooting exercise that succeeds in making you feel superhuman, with precise shooting controls and fluid movement letting you take on dozens of on-screen enemies in a way that never teeters into overwhelming territory. Another plus: the game, due out in 2017, will be free.
One unique trick Epic pulls off here is VR movement. Because the Oculus Touch system is designed to be used with as little as two cameras, it doesn’t support the same kind of full body locomotion as HTC’s Vive. To solve that, Robo Recall builds on Bullet Train’s teleportation system by now letting you warp almost anywhere on screen. By rotating the Touch’s left thumbstick, you can also change which direction you’re facing when you reappear. This made taking down Robo Recall demo’s boss — a hulking mech suit with two weak spots at its knees — much easier, as I could warp around it endlessly as it struggled to keep up. -Nick Statt
One of the more alarming VR experiences I’ve endured of late is floating in zero-gravity in Lone Echo’s outdoor space station. The narrative exploration game’s clever trick for traversing VR worlds is to force your body into constant motion. That means you’ll rely on small bursts of air from your suit, generated by pressing buttons on the Oculus Touch controllers, to direct yourself when you’re floating hands-free.
Once your brain adjusts — and it will take a few minutes of disorientation to do so — the system proves surprisingly adept at simulating a space environment. You simply push off from handlebars and other grips to get around and move hand-over-hand to climb from object to object. "It was an inspiration for us looking at how astronauts move around the International Space Station," says Nathan Phail-Liff, the art director for developer Ready at Dawn. "So it's a really aggressive movement model, but it's also really comfortable." -Nick Statt
Killing Floor: Incursion
I have never played the original, flatscreen Killing Floor, and in fact occasionally confuse it with both the Killzone and Painkiller franchises. But Incursion sits at the middle of several things that I love: cooperative shooters, virtual reality survival horror, and computer viruses that take the form of zombie-spider hybrids and can only be stopped by using a blacklight to find hidden puzzle pieces in an abandoned farmhouse. (Okay, I just figured out that I love that last thing.) It’s a game about keeping your cool in the face of monsters and jump scares, making every shot — or slice of a knife — count. There are a few of these already, the best-known of which is probably Vive game The Brookhaven Experiment. But developer Tripwire points out that unlike many Vive shooters, Incursion lets you teleport through a world instead of standing in one place, and says it’s more story-driven than some more arcade-y VR titles.
Sadly, I do have one big reservation about Incursion, which is that it focuses way too much on making you stand straight forward in front of the tracking cameras. This is done so there’s no chance your body will block their view of the controllers, but the game handles it by putting a semi-opaque wall right behind you, forcing you to turn with the analog sticks. Unfortunately, zombies come from every direction, sometimes very quickly. Want to look back and see what’s sneaking up behind you? Sorry, enjoy your impending evisceration. -Adi Robertson
I wrote about Quill at Sundance early this year, but I want to highlight it again, because it’s such an interesting project. Quill is a virtual reality illustration program conceived by Oculus Story Studio — not to be confused with the HTC Vive painting app Tilt Brush, or the Oculus Rift sculpting app Medium. What sets it apart from either of these is that it’s not primarily an end product for users, it’s a tool for professional artists to create something between an animated film and a moving, three-dimensional comic. It’s being shown off at Connect with a trailer for Dear Angelica, an upcoming short that’s being created inside the Rift through Quill. Oculus Story Studio’s next step is to open it up to comic artists and other creators, with the eventual hope that it will let anyone build detailed, sophisticated projects in VR using the art skills they already have. Then we’ll just need to find a way for more people to see the results. -Adi Robertson