So you broke down and bought a Gear VR. Now you have the official Oculus app installed and you're overwhelmed by the amount of content in the store. Fear not! We've compiled a list of five places to start, complete with a few thoughts from the developers who made many of these games and experiences.
This isn't a comprehensive list of everything you should play, but a tasting menu to get you comfortable with the platform. After you've played all five of these things, you'll be ready to branch out a bit and see what else is out there. But these are great games or experiences to get you started.
"Colosse is a VR storytelling experience, built upon the art style of the awesomely talented Kevin Dart," developer Nick Pittom told Polygon. "The art style was fundamental to building a world that was compelling for viewers to hang around in and experience. It also helps that the art style lends itself to the limited technical capabilities of mobile VR."
This is a short, non-interactive video that allows you to sit back, get comfortable and explore a brand new world. Make sure you're wearing headphones and give yourself the time and space to really settle in before you watch. When you're inside the experience, take the time to really look around and see how the environment wraps completely around you. If you want to understand and experience how VR can take you to entirely new places, this is a great place to start.
"We wanted to explore ways in which you could bring a narrative to a medium where you don't get to play with the same ways and means as film or TV — but where you do get a whole new set of tools with which to tell a story," Pittom said.
Colosse is also a great way to get familiar with the storytelling vocabulary of VR. It's very different form traditional film.
"We can't cut between shots, or pan the camera," Pittom said, "so we have to approach scene composition and pacing from an entirely new angle, such as where the viewer's attention is drawn and audio cues, and how this allows us to draw the viewer's attention to important elements.
"We can also 'see' where the viewer is looking and customize the experience directly to them. It's a powerful and exciting new way to tell a story for sure."
This is a great introduction to VR, and it's free on the app store. Grab it.
Have you ever wanted to be a hacker? Not a real-world hacker, but a hacker from a B-movie? Darknet has you covered.
"Darknet was built around the Hollywood fantasy of being a cyberpunk hacker, and it seemed obvious to me that this was a natural fit for VR," developer E McNeill told Polygon. "A lot of the game's structure is designed to make you feel surrounded by an infinite, unthinkably complex world of data. It's an effect you can only really get in first-person, looking all around and seeing nothing but cyberspace."
Darknet is a puzzle game that asks you to look at complex network and use your own programs to take it over. It's a visually interesting, pulsing world of data and vulnerabilities, and everything from the soundtrack to the animations let you know that the enemy has mainframes, and it's your job to hack the fucking planet.
"When I designed Darknet, my focus was on the game play. Early on, I felt like devs were making a lot of passive VR experiences that were more focused on immersion," McNeill said. "And hey, that's cool too! But a key part of being a hacker is racing the clock, solving problems, and conquering the network security.
"A good hacking game has to have dense strategic game play that you can sink your teeth into, and so that's what Darknet tries to do."
Darknet is a game that rewards long play sessions and a sharp mind. It's easy to get lost in the world of nodes and worms, and it really does feel like you're locked inside Hollywood's idea of a computer, circa 1994.
"There are a lot of VR apps that offer a really cool novelty experience, but when you want depth, Darknet is for you," McNeill said. We agree — this should be one of your first stops.
Land's End ($7.99)
"It’s not about recreating reality," Ustwo's Ken Wong told me in a previous interview. "It’s about creating something new and indulge imagination and see something that couldn’t exist in the real world."
Land's End is a virtual reality game from the team that gave the world Monument Valley, and the final product is an intoxicating but calming step into a stark, beautiful world filled with puzzles and epic vistas. The game moves at a leisurely pace, and the locomotion system where you float from orb to orb gives you plenty of time to look around and enjoy the view.
Land's End teaches you just about everything you need to know to play it in the first screen, which allows anyone to jump in and enjoy the experience. There is no prior gaming knowledge needed, nor will players need to use the touchpad. It's all controlled with your gaze, and by the time you get to the end you'll feel like you've woken up from a dream.
If you want to get someone interested in VR, even if they're nervous, load up Land's End and allow them to learn and explore in their own pace. They'll walk away a fan.
Oculus Video (Free!)
Gear VR has a seemingly endless array of video apps, not to mention a pretty decent Netflix app, but the experience of Oculus Video has them all beat.
You can buy movies to watch in a variety of environments — including your own movie theater and the moon — but if you don't want to spend any money you can enjoy a curated list of Vimeo videos, as well as watch Twitch streams.
You'll have to log into your account on Twitch to view any streamers you're following, but the list Twitch selects for you almost always has one or two interesting things to watch a night, and the big events are usually included. The Vimeo content is also varied and interesting, and there's a selection of short films to watch as well.
If you want to get fancy you can rip your own video content to watch in the virtual theaters, and you can also view any and all video you shoot on your phone with the app. It's amazing to take a video of your kid blowing out their birthday candles and then check it out on your own IMAX screen.
Oculus Video is where you go when you want to find something interesting to watch, and it shows just how much better Oculus is at designing these experiences than anyone else. The app is free, as is everything but the movies. Dive in!
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes ($9.99)
The Steam version of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes has been a surprise viral hit, but in our opinion the best version can be found on Gear VR. You put on the headset, give your friends printed out directions on how to defuse the bombs you're about to face and off you go.
"Virtual reality's greatest strength is its ability to take you to a different place so convincingly," developer Ben Kane said. "It can take you to another world and make you believe, make you feel, like you're truly there, even if you're actually sitting on a couch with your friends. It's why we made Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes and why it works so well in VR."
The trick is that the person wearing the Gear VR can see the bomb ... but no one else can. You have to describe what you see as the timer ticks down and the pressure mounts. Your friends, who aren't wearing headsets, have to pore through the manual and solve logic problems while telling you what to do. It's a game of pressure and communication, and it's amazing with a group of players dedicated to getting the person in VR back out "alive."
"It's at its best when players dig into their roles and fight to keep calm under pressure," Kane said. "Virtual reality puts you, the defuser, in an uncomfortable, lonely place and immerses you in the dire situation. You are no longer safe in your living room. You can't look to your friends for reassurance."
The game takes advantage of the isolating, all-encompassing feel of VR.
"Those non-verbal communication cues you never realized you relied upon are gone, and the seconds are draining off the clock as you struggle to describe your new reality to your friends," he continued.
"The stress builds as your clumsy words are slowly interpreted, causing a frightening lull in the exchange. Looking around the confines of your virtual room brings no solace — virtual reality will allow no such reprieve. At last, a doubtful voice breaks the silence and offers instructions on how to proceed. Your heart skips a beat as you cut the wrong wire and have a only a fraction of a second to process the consequences before blackness envelopes you."
Yes, it's as intense as it sounds. The Gear VR version is portable, so throw the manual and headset in a bag and take it with you the next time your friends have a game night. You'll convert everyone in the room, and have a great time doing it.
Wait, is that it?
Hell no. There are plenty of free apps and demos to try, these five suggestions are just there to get you started. If you've played all of these already, might we suggest Esper 2 for some puzzles and a good sense of humor? If you want to play one of the best-looking games on the platform, pick up Gunjack by CCP. Dead Secret is proof that adventure games are a good fit on Gear VR as well. DDreadhalls s a great game if you're in the mood for some horror.
There are a surprising number of really fun and interesting games now on the platform, with more coming soon. The Gear VR is already a robust platform, and hopefully these suggestions are enough to get you started. Have fun!