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Here are our favorite virtual reality experiences of the year.
Virtual reality made a huge splash in gaming in 2016. The HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and PlayStation VR all launched for consumers, and great deal of games are now available on each system.
Some gamers are still skeptical about the investment that VR requires, but 2016 provided plenty of meaningful experiences. Below you’ll find a list of the best VR had to offer this year.
1) Eve: Valkyrie
Release Date: March 28
Virtual reality technology lets players experience things firsthand with a sense of scale that traditional games simply can’t capture. While there are a great deal of games that deal with piloting spacecraft and massive aerial battles, the tangible tension of the first-person perspective offered in Eve: Valkyrie turns the traditional combat into more of a roller coaster ride. The visceral dogfighting is offered in both single-player and multiplayer modes, realizing an arcade-style shooter experience in one of the most realistic and gorgeous VR games to date. Launching out of a massive carrier into the dark expanses of space, dodging bright blasts among a starry backdrop makes for a thrilling experience, and the simple controls are a nice compliment to the disorienting qualities of a first virtual reality experience.
2) Batman: Arkham VR
Batman: Arkham VR
Release Date: Oct. 13
This PlayStation VR-exclusive experience allows players to step into the Batcave and live out everyone’s childhood fantasy of being the world’s greatest detective. Set in the grim and gritty universe of previous Arkham games, the story picks up after the climactic events of Arkham Knight. Packed full of secrets, comic book nods, and collectible Riddler trophies, Arkham VR offers a grounded approach to the Batman mythos that unfolds in unpredictable ways over the course of its runtime. The game can be completed in one reasonable-length go, which is always helpful to avoid VR sickness, and makes great use of both the technology itself and the storytelling we expect from a Batman: Arkham game.
3) Edge of Nowhere
Edge of Nowhere
Release Date: June 6
What virtual reality does best is display an impressive sense of scale. Players can lose track of reality in their living rooms with effective games, and Edge of Nowhere provides some of the most disorienting narrative twists and immersive environments of any game on the platform. Exclusive to the Oculus Rift, this adventure transports users to the arctic expanses, searching for something mysterious. The game is one of the lengthiest VR-exclusive titles, featuring a fully fleshed out story and stealth combat system. The Lovecraft-inspired tale is full of surprises and the horrors of both the icy wilderness and grotesque monsters make for a memorable experience.
Release Date: Dec. 5
Though Superhot was released for PC and Xbox One earlier this year, the VR experience is a brand-new version of the game and also the definitive realization of Superhot’s core mechanics. Time only moves when you do, adding a layer of strategy to every moment and letting players pull off satisfying combos straight out of an action movie. The deceptively simple art style of enemies and environments looks sharp in virtual reality, and doesn’t distract from the powerful pacing of action set pieces. Superhot VR feels like a layered puzzle game as opposed to a gratuitously violent shooter, though the moments where you plow through a crowded room of enemies are undeniable exciting.
5) Star Wars Battlefront X-Wing Mission
Star Wars Battlefront
Release Date: Dec. 6
Everyone who watches Star Wars has, at some point or another, fantasized about being in the pilot’s seat of an X-Wing. The team at EA Labs know of this inevitable side effect and capitalized on it with this free Star Wars: Battlefront expansion for PlayStation owners. Though it is a quick mission that doesn’t offer many chances for interaction, it stands as a brilliant proof of concept for a fleshed-out experience in the Star Wars universe. Even the game’s menu provides a visual treat for fans, as an AT-AT towers over the player while the game boots up. The demo features familiar locales and ships, including Star Destroyers, and even a cameo by the Death Star. The ties to Rogue One are an added bonus to what could have been a cheap add-on, but manages to be an engaging experience.
6) Job Simulator
Release Date: April 5
This game manages to take menial everyday tasks and turn them into one of the silliest, most entertaining experiences of the year. Job Simulator wonderfully realizes virtual reality’s potential to create engaging environments and make the unique manner of physical controls and body movement feel like an integral part of the game. As you file reports, flip hot dogs, and sip coffee, you discover new, hilarious ways to interact with the mundane world around you. There are no real stakes, time limits, or goals, but the free-play nature of Job Simulator’s whimsical mechanics make for a great introduction to what VR can really do.
Correction 10:47am CT, Jan 4: An earlier version of this piece misstated the studio behind the X-Wing VR Mission. It’s a product of Electronic Arts, not ILM Labs.
AJ Moser is a Brooklyn-based reporter who focuses on video games, movies, and internet culture. His work has appeared in Paste Magazine, Game Informer, and Big Spaceship.