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While Oculus Rift may dominate virtual reality headlines, the most accessible option to experience the digital world is Google Cardboard. All you need is a compatible Android smartphone, a case that you can buy for cheap or make at home, and of course some apps. Google recently snuck Cardboard compatibility into its Maps app, allowing users to scope out street view in virtual reality. But there are plenty of standalone apps to check out as well.
It should go without saying, but Google’s own Cardboard app is a solid starting point. It’s built to just serve as a demo as to what Cardboard can do, and you’ll get some cool ways of experiencing familiar forms of media. You can check out YouTube in virtual theater, fly around in Google Earth, get a guided tour of Versailles, and more.
OK admittedly, when you think about virtual reality, you probably imagine experiencing things that you normally couldn’t. Driving a Volvo is a surprisingly achievable dream in real life, but the car maker has embraced Google’s Cardboard build and will allow you to get behind the wheel of a Volvo XC90. You’ll get to drive through terrain you probably wouldn’t want to to take your actual car.
It’s not quite Jurassic Park but it’s pretty close—and not technically copyright infringement. Fire up this app and you’ll get to traverse the dinosaur theme park in your jeep. There are five different species that you can meet up close and personal—including the always in-demand tyrannosaurus rex—and the developer promises more updates in the future.
Halls of Fear
The premise of this game is easy enough: Find 10 cubes and advance the the next level. Things get tricky once you start fearing for your life. It’s a horror experience, and it becomes considerably more terrifying when it’s right in your face. You can use a Bluetooth controller or let the game auto-run for you, and you’ll be doing a lot of running for your life.
Glitcher doesn’t so much send you into a virtual world as it does give you a new perspective on the real one. It’s virtual reality meets augmented reality, using the camera of the phone as your eyes and applying filters and distortions to what you see like an Instagram for your eyes. It also has voice control so you can go hands free and still change filters and take screen shots.
If you’re into your old school platformers, Run4Fun will be an instant hit with you. Think the 3D Mario games but in first person perspective. The ground shifts, there are tons of obstacles in your way, and you’ll have to keep moving to stay alive as you navigate the always-changing terrain beneath your feet.
Cartoon Village is a strong showing for the potential of world building in virtual reality. There’s not a ton of action taking place in the app, just an animated village complete with workers and farmers, but there’s still plenty to see. The time of day shifts every time you visit the village and the seasons change to create a more immersive environment.
MO3D 3D Movie Viewer
Have you ever been to the movies and had the theater all to yourself? That’s basically what it’s like every time you fire up MO3D. It’s a media viewer that supports 2D and 3D films, though it shines when put to use with 3D formats, giving you eye-popping effects that come directly at your face.
If you’re familiar with the game AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! then you’ll know this title well. If not, Caaaaardboard! is a great introduction to the world of virtual freefalling. Jump from atop skyscrapers in big cities and make your way down in style, pulling off tricks, spray painting buildings, and flipping the bird to protesters along the way.
Chair in a Room
Chair in a Room
Chair in a Room could be a game as unassuming as its title, a gentle and simple experience that lets you see some of the best effects Cardboard can offer brought to life. But you shouldn’t underestimate this title based only on its name. The single light in the room flickers, the door in the room slams shut, and everything changes. I won’t spoil it for you.
Despite how badly I wanted this app to be a Being John Malkovich style app where you step into the head of Paul McCartney and become him, it’s actually a 360-degree capture of Paul McCartney performing “Live or Let Die.” You can see and hear the whole thing from a spot front and center on stage, which is probably better than the tickets you’d get for the show from some scalper outside the gates.
If you need to get away from the hustle and bustle of your real life for awhile, Tuscany Drive is a pleasant, peaceful visit to a virtual vacation destination. There’s a small but gorgeous house with a fireplace that’s always burning, a balcony overlooking the sea, and a quiet, open outdoor area with a water fountain to walk about.
War of Words
One of the better showcases of how virtual reality can be used to tell a story, War of Words takes the Siegfried Sassoon poem “The Kiss” and applies it to a gritty, devastated landscape of World War I. As the text from the poem pops up on screen, so do images of the least savory parts of the bloody battle and the ruination that it left behind.
Photo via othree/Flickr (CC By 2.0)
AJ Dellinger is a seasoned technology writer whose work has appeared in Digital Trends, International Business Times, and Newsweek. In 2018, he joined Gizmodo as the nights and weekend editor.