2016 has been a banner year for Oculus for one main reason: After four long years, it finally shipped the consumer edition of its VR headset. Sure, it's pricey at $600 and sure, it requires a pretty powerful computer, but for a first-generation product in an extremely young field, the Rift delivers the goods. One of the reasons for that is that Oculus has been busy cultivating a vast ecosystem of games and apps for years now, thanks to the company's fervent developer community. On the eve of Oculus' third annual developer's conference, we got to get a sneak peek at the very latest that community has to offer. The big theme this year? Getting to use those soon-to-be-available Touch controllers.
First-person shooters are de rigueur for VR games, and for good reason -- it's just so much fun. That's certainly how I felt when playing Arktika.1, where I took on the role of a mercenary set in a post-apocalyptic ice age a 100 years into the future. My job? To protect the colony from getting robbed by bandits and all kinds of fearsome enemies -- both human and non-human varieties. It's an Oculus exclusive but, importantly, it's also a Touch exclusive, as it was designed with the motion controllers in mind. -- Nicole Lee, Senior Editor
Kingspray is really less of a game and more of a virtual gathering of friends. That is, friends who are into the creation of street art. In this VR experience, you essentially use those Touch controllers to manipulate spray cans to tag up walls to your heart's content. You're able to change up colors, adjust brush size and even capture a screencap of your masterpiece to share on social media.
The real idea behind Kingsprayis to mark up a wall not just by yourself but with your friends too, through a social multi-player mode. You can do things like throw virtual bottles and cans at your buds if they mess up your art. There's also a boombox that'll play your favorite tunes as you indulge your graffiti fantasies. We're not quite sure if VR graffiti will catch on with the masses, but at least this way, you won't be risking arrest. -- Nicole Lee, Senior Editor
Killing Floor: Incursion
If you're a fan of the Killing Floor survival horror franchise, you'll likely be a fan of the Rift version of it too. Instead of using a gamepad to kill the undead, you'll be using the Touch controllers to not just shoot at them, but also to stab and punch them to death. To keep alive, you'll have to wander around finding health and ammo packs and, of course, to just be vigilant. The best thing about this game though, is that it's a multi-player co-op, so you can get your friends to join in on the zombie killing fun too. -- Nicole Lee, Senior Editor
VR Sports Challenge
Sports and video games have always gone hand in hand -- but it was the breakaway success of the Nintendo Wii that made motion controls their ever-present third wheel. With Oculus' Touch controllers on the horizon, VR Sports Challenge was an inevitability. Sadly, it's also a little mediocre. The idea is good (who wouldn't want to play out the fantasy of being a star athlete?) but the experience can come off as a bit awkward and unintuitive. The game's football experience is a good example: Despite using motion controllers with 1:1 tracking, the ball doesn't go where you physically throw it, but where you are physically looking. The force of the throw doesn't matter either -- distance is determined by the angle of the player's head, not the power of their throw. It feels, frankly, a little unnatural.
VR Sports Challenge's basketball mode fares better, at least. Free throws, passes and blocking with the motion controller work exactly as you'd expect, although the game's tendency to automatically teleport the player to wherever the most action on the court is can be a little disorientating. By and far, the best experience in the VR Sports package is hockey -- not for the sport itself, but for the first-fights. Turns out having an angry brawl in VR is a ton of fun. -- Sean Buckley, Associate Editor
Insomniac Games' The Unspoken has often been described as a bizarre mash up of Fight Club and Harry Potter; At Oculus Connect 3, the game got an extra dose of magic. Fundamentally, the magical multiplayer combat experience hasn't changed. Players still fling spells at each other while teleporting across a chaotic battlefield, but the game's just a bit more complicated now -- with new spells, new motion controls and the introduction of two character classes: the Anarchist and Kineticist.
The game's new class system to serves to enhance the complexity of its battle mechanics. Each type of character offers players a completely different set of skills -- Anarchists sling fireballs and deal in direct damage, while the Kineticist uses telekinetic powers to throw cars, plants and debris at their opponents. Players can also now cast spells with mere gestures, allowing them to cross their arms to put up a shield or spread their hands apart to unleash a powerful attack. Apparently, the new gesture spells were designed to allow players to focus on the action without looking away from the battle to use item-based attacks. It worked -- we didn't take our eyes off our opponent for our entire demo. -- Sean Buckley, Associate Editor
What would happen if you crammed Halo: Spartan Assault into VR, minus the Halo branding? You'd probably get Landfall. Okay, that may be stretching a little, but not too much: earlier this year, the developer behind Halo's top-down shooting games reformed as VR-exclusive production house. The company's first game? A twin-stick, top-down VR game, naturally. At first blush the experience seems a little odd, but in a space currently dominated by first-person experiences, Landfall's overhead perspective is a little refreshing.
Our multiplayer Landfall demo pitted Engadget's team of two against two unseen journalists from Japan, tasking us with defending a series of control points against a horde of soldiers, turrets and the occasional oversized war-mech. Each player controls a single warrior, viewed from an disembodied aerial view. It was almost a nostalgic perspective -- like looking down on a collection of toy soldiers. -- Sean Buckley, Associate Editor
Without a doubt, Lone Echo was one of the best experiences on display at Oculus Connect. You take on the role of "Jack," a possibly sentient robot working on a space station in the rings of Saturn. We don't know a lot about the story yet, but it has something to do with a special anomaly and disaster that threatens both the station and its human astronauts. It's a good story, but that's not what makes this game great -- that's more about how the player moves through the space station: completely weightlessly.
Lone Echo uses the Oculus Touch controllers to let players push off bulkheads and grab walls to weightlessly navigate through their environment. Can't find a good hold? Don't worry -- your robot avatar has tiny jets to propel him through the void of space. It's a game where momentum matters, and offers players a realistic sense of what it might like to float in the freefall of deep space. That's exactly what a lot of us want out of VR: the kind of experience we're just not likely to get out of our mundane lives here on earth. Ready at Dawn studios was coy about how the rest of the game will play out, but the developer certainly has our attention. -- Sean Buckley, Associate Editor