The long-awaited Oculus Touch system has officially launched, with 53 titles now available. At Oculus Connect 3 in October, I had a chance to try out some of these titles, and whether or not you're already cozy with the Rift, here are the standouts to keep an eye out for as we enter the holiday season.
Oh sweet magic virtual reality, thank you, thank you for birthing Oculus Quill. Quill has drawn comparisons to the now-famous Tilt Brush in that both allow illustrators to draw in VR. But where Quill differentiates itself is the ability to draw in time and space; it was actually conceived as a production tool to tell stories. In fact, Dear Angelica, Oculus Story Studio's shoe-in for a repeat Emmy, was created entirely in Quill by editorial illustrator and graphic novelist Wesley Allsbrook.
Everything about Quill is elegant. The interface is intuitive, allowing users to specify stroke shape, size, and color with ease. Creative Director Saschka Unseld made it clear that Story Studio is using Quill to enable the kinds of storytellers often on the margin due to the learning curve in creating digital art. And this ethos is already taking shape; not only do they have original pieces like Dear Angelica in the works, new art forms (and updates to old ones) are emerging. One such instance is the makeover the "comic" is about to receive in VR compliments of Story Studio and Quill. Imagine creating a detailed 3D illustrated environment as a single "cell" -- only in this case free from size constraints of any kind. It can be an entire building or a single room, with 100 characters or 1. This is the kind of exciting stuff Quill is already allowing Story Studio to dive into, blasting open the doors for who can make narrative art in VR. Now that it's available in free beta with Touch, I can't begin to imagine the revolutionary, democratizing effect it will have on the VR industry.
If you're looking to get vandalous with your virtual art, you need to make sure Kingspray is at the top of your arsenal.
Join friends or go solo as you deck out your wall with whatever spray-paint wizardry you can muster, toggling caps and colors with the flick of your finger. There's a lot to rave about with Infectious Ape's flagship, but the verisimilitude here tops the list. You can position yourself at any distance from the wall, and the way the game responds is uncannily lifelike; stand back and press lightly for a shading mist, or depress and hold the trigger to leave a healthy bleed. And if you need a breather to let the genius percolate, you can explore the space, shoot baskets, or, you know, just chuck random object against the wall. When you've completed your masterpiece, snap a picture on your virtual smartphone to show off to your buds. Whatever you do, make sure you don't spray yourself in the eyes. That just wouldn't be sensible.
Oculus's other in-house art creation tool, Medium, brings sculptors into the immersive fold. I would've spent hours in this thing if not for the unflagging demo line present throughout the duration of OC3. Every detail has been considered here, from shading to the choice of tools (my favorite was the blending feature), giving artists an unprecedented degree of control in their creations.
I've made no bones about how valuable I believe creation tools like these are (and will continue to be) -- and in this case, the application transcends fostering creativity. In the same way that Quill welcomes visual artists to the VR table, Medium is set to revolutionize 3D modeling by embracing all the incredible minds who have traditionally been shut out of computer-based sculpting. And it gets better: Medium can port to 3D printers, letting novices and experts alike bring their VR dreams to life. The best part? After a year of refining since its original announcement, Medium officially comes bundled with Touch.
And Medium has company. Every Touch pre-order also includes Insomniac Games's whirlwind dueler. The Unspoken demands the absolute best of your spellcasting chops, whether you're harnessing the elemental force of fire, ice, or gravity. With over 25 spells to summon, each bearing different respective merits and drawbacks, The Unspoken is as much a game of artful planning as arcane force. Take on a known enemy (friend) or stranger in PVP mode to ascend the ranks as a spellcaster.
It's hard to imagine feeling cooler than you do conjuring magic with your bare hands in The Unspoken. The drawback of course is that the moment the headset comes off you realize you'll have to wait til next time to feel the power coursing through your fingertips again.
VR Sports Challenge
Rounding out the introductory bundle is Sanzaru's VR Sports Challenge. With major sports options like basketball, football, baseball, and hockey, this game has something for everyone.
Whether you're sinking a three or deflecting a puck, VR Sports Challenge quite literally keeps you on your toes. Obviously movement is integral, so make sure you have plenty of space to throw yourself into it (and are fully prepared for a bit of a workout). In addition to the regular gameplay there are bonus challenges -- one crowd pleaser was the hockey brawl, where players had the chance to prove their mettle against some fired up foes. I'm happy to say that, at the time I left OC3, I held the record for fastest win at 51 seconds -- and had worked up a sweat to prove it.
The "Bullet Train" demo was the belle of the OC2 ball, so stakes were high for Epic Games's follow-up AAA outing, Robo Recall. Rest assured: this is game is the business.
The gleefully twisted bastard child of Street Fighter and Terminator, Robo Recall is VR's first metamodern shooter, blending a bombastic arcade tone with high-tech gloss and bullet-time functionality (you can literally pluck bullets from the air and toss them back at your assailants). Your job is simple: "recall" rogue robots by any means necessary. If you're feeling especially aggressive, use the Touch functionality to reach out and grab them by the handles on their chest (or tear them limb from limb if you feel so inclined). As a writer, I was floored by the artful pacing and escalation of urgency -- you're always brought right up to the outer limit of stress, but never quite tipped into panic attack. And you have to hand it to the team at Epic: this is some of the best art and detail work I've ever seen in virtual reality, Oculus or otherwise. If I weren't so busy trying to avoid being overrun by deranged robots, I'd love to take my time moving through these environments just to appreciate the wonderful aesthetics.
If you thought 28 Days Later could've used a helping of robot mayhem, Arktika.1 is your next favorite first-person shooter. 4A Games established itself as a master of icy post-apocalyptic sci-fi with its beloved Metro series, and Arktika.1 proves the Ukranian developer has plenty more where that came from.
Claustrophobia threads the game -- one minute you're boxed in by sharpshooting rangers, the next trying to keep giant, teeth-gnashing cannibals from breaking into your freight elevator. Mix that with a haunting color palette, a hair-raising audio atmosphere, and the chill becomes more than metaphor. The sense that a new evil is lurking around the corner pervades every moment, so nerves of steel are strongly encouraged to weather this one.
There's no small proportion of violence in VR gaming, which is why Funomena's Luna is an especially relevant inclusion in the first batch of games available for Touch. This meditation on the restorative properties of love and beauty offers a respite for those seeking tranquil immersion. It's an exercise in construction rather than destruction, and for my money, it's the most adorable game in VR.
In it, we follow a fledgling bird who has been lured from its nest and is trying to find its home. To do so, it needs your help to solve puzzles in the stars. When aligned, these puzzles provide clues about our bird-friend's companions and environs. The goal here is simple: build the loveliest home for our cuddly protagonist. Succeeding at that goal will make it sing for joy and leave you with a glow for the rest of your day.
The indie darling had quite a bit of hype to live up to, and lucky for all of us, the Touch-enabled edition exceeds expectations. The novel mechanics of the original PC game come alive in a totally new way in Touch. This is how Superhot was meant to be played -- especially given the foregrounded element of metanarrative. For the uninitiated: in this minimal, low poly FPS, time moves when you do. This is no bang-and-bruise gunner, it's high-art sport; each level demands an increasing degree of plotting, and even though time stays frozen when you do, there's plenty to mentally contend with at any moment. It's an itchy thrill to see a pistol trained between your eyes and not know when it's going to fire (you can only slow a bullet so much, after all) and not be able to just reach out and snatch it. Patience is a virtue, but not one often deployed in this genre -- certainly not to such great effect.
Room-scale spatialization and interactivity is a bonus for any game, but Superhot's physicality casts it as an ideal candidate. Duck to avoid oncoming bullets (or bat them out of the way if you happen to be wielding a weapon), punch to shatter close-range enemies, or reach out and tear the gun(s) from their hands. Superhot is a groundbreaking FPS, and the best of what a video game can achieve -- that pitch-perfect mix of art, physics, and unshakeable precision.
Speaking of novel mechanics, Lone Echo lets us experience what so many have only dreamed of: presence in zero gravity. The trailer below offers a sense of the first-person sci-fi adventure, while also reminding us of the primordial terror the vacuum of space can evoke in us.
Artists working in any medium should strive to produce art that can only be truly experienced in that medium. This is exactly what Ready at Dawn has achieved in Lone Echo: a game that fully embodies the interactive spirit of VR. Players use a blend of hand pushing and jet propulsion to navigate, and the effect of "playing" in such an embodied way is akin to learning a new language. Which is fitting in its way, since you play as a robot AI named Jack. You can also put that fluency to use in a multiplayer mode that takes a wholly different approach. Squad up (with up to 4 other players) and take on another team in a game of what I can only call "zero-g soccer." The VoIP integration allows coordination and trash talk in equal measure, which further immerses you in the arena as you try to sling discs into your opponents' goals. And don't forget: the enemy's gate is down.
Killing Floor: Incursion
If you're looking for a way to turbocharge your nightmares, look no further than Killing Floor: Incursion. This s*** is harrowing. Unless you have a soft spot for freakish scuttling spider zombies? To each their own.
Tripwire Interactive's franchise is a long-standing favorite, so fans have been curious to see how the studio would interpret the game for VR. It's certainly not frugal with the scares, but what struck me about the demo of Incursion was its emphasis on the cerebral. It captures in VR what Resident Evil nailed decades ago: challenging gamers to solve puzzles while fending off the raging undead. In other words, Incursion lives in that sweet spot in the Venn diagram between "masochism" and "strategy," and without spoiling too much, longtime devotees should expect some major callbacks to past installments.
Tacticians rejoice! There's a collectible card game on Oculus's roster, giving fans of Hearthstone, Magic: The Gathering, and Yu-Gi-Oh a chance to live out their CCG dreams in full virtual immersion.
Players can choose to operate as one of four distinct factions -- blending elements of high-fantasy sorcery and dieselpunk machinery -- from a customizable deck of 30 cards, playable on different squares on a 4x4 grid. Reminiscent of classic turn-based board games such as chess or Stratego, defeating your opponent requires a great deal of longform strategy -- and with 280 characters and 100+ spells, there are a whole lot of possible permutations. In keeping with the aforementioned "in-person" games, one especially clever element High Voltage built into Dragon Front is the head-tracking feature, which allows you to watch your actual opponent's head movements so as to deduce their plans. Of course, this also means you have to be pretty darn savvy about where you set your own gaze.
One of the best parts of the game is the "champion" element: a unique "legendary boss." Though it can take many turns to rack up enough points to summon your champion, it's well worth the wait; they possess the power to swing the fate of a game. Dragon Front tasks your mind in a way that few others do, so if you want a chance at topping the leaderboards, make sure you take notes and do your homework.
Of course, these were only a few of the great games to mention from OC3, to say nothing of the more recently announced titles. Rock Band in VR is a surprisingly refreshing overhaul of the classic formula, and Harmonix label-mate SingSpace is set to reinvent how we karaoke. Speaking of renovations, Project Hikari will usher in a whole new generation of manga lovers. I Expect You to Die is the vision of James Bond gone telekinetic, Dead & Buried is a graphic exercise in breakneck steampunk blitz, and Giant Cop is the friendliest, most playful imaginable interpretation of "Big" Brother. Space Pirate Trainer is a depth charge to the reflexes, Serious Sam: The Last Hope is a relentless onslaught of ancient evil and newfangled robot killers, and Landfall is an empire-building multiplayer blast. The list goes on. If this initial offering is any indication, 2017 is going to be the year that VR gaming makes the jump to the big leagues.