The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift might be battling it out for the upper end of VR, requiring a pricey new PC to even hit minimum specs with either – but Samsung’s Gear VR still delivers a great mobile VR experience at a fraction of the cost.
Sure, they’re not all exactly on the same level, but the Gear VR requires a much less expensive overall investment, especially if you already have a recent Samsung flagship phone, and it already has dozens and dozens of apps to check out in the Oculus Store.
Here are the 15 Gear VR games and apps you ought to start with.
MINECRAFT: GEAR VR EDITION
The Gear VR Edition is effectively the same as the mobile Pocket Edition, offering survival and creative modes and a large chunk of the core PC experience, only now you’re immersed in the blocky worlds.
Playing in first-person is a real trip, but it can also be overwhelming – which is why a tap of the touchpad can switch to you a windowed view, wherein the game is played on a TV inside a pixelated lodge. In either case, if you love Minecraft, you’ll certainly want to have it all around you in VR. And if you don’t know Minecraft, now’s the time to try it.
SMASH HIT VR
Smash Hit VR is adapted from a pretty great mobile game, but it’s even better when you’re immersed in this wonderfully destructive experience. As you’re automatically nudged through rooms filled with minimal geometry, you must toss balls to shatter the glass panes and sculptures peppered along the way.
It’s an arcade experience, really: continued play requires careful aim and smashing every last piece of glass, which gives you extra balls with each toss. In VR, it’s a dazzling experience, full of satisfying thrills and beautiful sights – and amazingly, it’s totally free too.
HITMAN GO: VR EDITION
Hitman Go scaled down the stealth assassination series for mobile, but surprisingly, it proves a perfect fit for VR too. The core concept hasn’t changed here: each hit takes the form of a puzzle on a game board, challenging you to find the best way through threats and around hazards to complete the stage.
Given the game’s perfect faux-plastic look, now in VR it really feels like you’re playing on a physical surface with tiny miniature figurines. Hitman Go was already great, and the move to VR makes subtle, smart tweaks that lightly enhance the experience. If we’re lucky, successor Lara Croft Go will make the VR leap anytime now.
Land’s End shares some visual commonalities with Monument Valley, the stunning mobile puzzler, but ustwo’s first VR effort is much simpler in approach than that earlier game. Rather than twist around the environment to solve brain teasers, you’ll look freely around the sparse, beautiful terrain and use your gaze to progress through breezy puzzles.
While not especially challenging, Land’s End is a delight to take in, as it creates a real sense of atmosphere in the calming, natural terrain – and has just enough mystery to keep you pushing ahead to each new landmark.
Netflix in VR? Yep, Netflix in VR. No, sadly, not all of the service’s myriad films and TV shows are magically transformed into ultra-immersive, 360-degree wonders. In fact, as of this writing, Netflix doesn’t have any VR-optimised content.
It turns out that watching films on a fake flat screen in a virtual viewing room is kind of great, and here you’ll browse your queue and soak in Netflix’s best amidst a cozy pad with ace décor. Popping on a headset is a surprisingly nice way to immerse yourself in whatever you’re watching, and some content really benefits from the in-your-face approach.
KEEP TALKING AND NOBODY EXPLODES
VR might shut you off from the outside world, but it doesn’t have to be a completely solitary experience. In fact, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes might be the most hilarious example yet of how to put that awkward scenario to brilliant use.
With the headset on, you’ll stare at a randomly generated bomb covered with wires and buttons – and your nearby friends are looking at a manual, either printed out or on another screen, and must walk you through the disarming process as you describe a bomb that they cannot see. Who knew one VR headset could power an awesomely social party game?
If you’re looking for EVE Valkyrie, the stunning space shooter on Oculus Rift and other higher-end headsets, we’re sorry to disappoint: it’s not on Gear VR. Gunjack suffers slightly from the comparison, but spend a few minutes blasting enemy spaceships and you’ll surely find it pretty entertaining.
It’s a straightforward arcade shooter, as you look around to aim the cursor and blast the waves of zippy foes that zoom into view. Gunjack‘s levels get progressively tougher, tossing in a bit more strategy and challenge along the way, and it looks great for mobile VR. Although straightforward, it’s rather fun.
In these early days of VR filmmaking, Within (formerly VRSE) is setting the standard, delivering experimental short films, music videos, and captivating mini-documentaries that both benefit from and drive the 360-degree format. Grab the Within app and you’ll find plenty of free, intriguing video content to savor.
A particular highlight is Evolution of Verse, a fabulously weird CG short with a train that chugs across water and explodes into a swarm of bugs (and then gets weirder still). Muse and U2 both contribute music videos, meanwhile, and there are several bits of video journalism courtesy of The New York Times.
Proton Pulse is a game so impressively simple that it’s even great on low-level Google Cardboard, but it’s a smoother ride on Gear VR with a 2K screen. Essentially, it’s a throwback to arcade classic Breakout, where you’ll break bricks by keeping a ball in play – only here, it’s in 3D.
And not only that, but you’re situated right behind the paddle, which you’ll move solely by looking around the stage. You don’t have to press buttons or do anything remotely complex, yet this is still a prime example of pure, refined VR gameplay: it’s immersive, fun, and dazzling to look at, and it works like a charm.
The isolation of a VR headset can make games more immersive, but it also makes games more terrifying – and Dreadhalls certainly benefits from that. This first-person dungeon crawler sends you wandering into unknown terrain, with each new opened door or turned corner potentially scaring the life out of you.
It’s the uncertainty of what’s ahead that really amps up the excitement: that tension and apprehension that comes before you tiptoe into the shadows. For some, Dreadhalls might be a form of torture, but anyone who likes sudden scares should love it.
SAMSUNG MILK VR
Samsung’s own 360-degree video portal has some neat highlights, including trippy animated clips and other short films, not to mention a super slick hub for everything. But the real highlight is Gone, an original series from the creators of The Walking Dead TV series.
Gone tells the story of a young girl who suddenly vanishes from a public playground, and you’ll have to piece together what happened across several episodes, zooming into highlighted areas to examine clues. It’s a bit creepy and totally unsettling, but it’s a nice glimpse at the very new and exciting form of immersive and lightly interactive storytelling.
THE NIGHT CAFE
We’ve got plenty of games on this list, as well as lightly interactive movies—but The Night Cafe is just somewhere cool to be for a few minutes. Or half an hour. Based on the classic Vincent van Gogh painting of the same name, The Night Cafe translates his brushstrokes into a vivid environment.
You can wander freely between the rooms, look around, and take in the music, and while that’s pretty much the whole experience, the sight of seeing this brilliant artwork turned into a living virtual thing is totally mesmerizing. Keep this one handy to wow your friends and family, too.
Composing music in virtual reality seems challenging, to say the least, but Soundscape makes it wonderfully impossible to screw up: you’ll be dropping trippy, electronic bangers in no time. And it’s all done by tapping squares on a big board.
As you add in notes, the song starts to take shape—and it’s on the pentatonic scale, so even haphazard note placement tends to sound pretty solid. You also have access a control board with various modifiers, which are similarly easy to use, and while Soundscape isn’t terribly expansive in scope, it is very entertaining to fiddle with.
Go ahead, make the joke about buying a VR headset to play decades-old arcade and console games. Point taken. Still, given that the selection of full-fledged Gear VR games is still a bit slight, the ability to dig into a nice little stack of old-school games is pretty sweet indeed.
Oculus Arcade offers up more than 20 classics, including Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, and Galaga, and you can play 20 minutes of each for free – or buy any game outright for a couple quid. They play well with a gamepad, and the futuristic arcade setting is kind of cool, albeit unnervingly empty.
Most VR apps are short and sweet, but the best of them stick with you long after the credits roll. That’s the case with Colosse, a mesmerising visual experience that’s like a jaw-dropping cartoon come to life. You don’t do much but look around, but the sights make it well worth your time.
It’s a simple story of a spear fisherman startled by a lumbering giant, which quickly leads to a series of events, and there’s a really amazing sense of depth to the world: it’s just a few minutes’ worth of looking around, but that’s well worth savoring. Colosse is an ideal VR showcase for friends, too, since it is so eye-poppingly beautiful.