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Best Oculus Rift games and tech demos (and what they say about virtual reality's future)

Virtually amazing

Hey, remember virtual reality? You know, the thing where you put on a helmet and suddenly you're inside the computer? Yeah... it never really went anywhere after making a splash in the 1990s. It wasn't for lack of a desire, though, but a technological barrier--one that, until recently, remained up. But with the release of the Oculus Rift, VR is no longer an unreachable pipe dream. It's an imminent reality.

If you've gotten your hands on the Rift, there's a good chance you're using a dev kit; the retail version hasn't yet shipped. That also means that you're likely sort of lost, without any real resource to help you find virtual worlds that are actually worth experiencing. There are hundreds of games and tech demos that currently support the Oculus Rift, but only a few dozen are actually worth checking out. We've rounded up the best of the best in hopes of giving you the tools you need to best experience virtual reality.

10. Planet 1

Part space sim, part jetpack game, part thing where you kinda just walk around on an empty world, Planet 1 (download here) is a jack of all trades, master of none. While the act of flying around isn't all that entertaining (especially when compared to other games on this list that accomplish the same goal), exploring the planet is engaging, especially when meteorites are raining from the sky. You're also able to blast into orbit, transitioning from the atmosphere into space. It's a cool feeling, and one that would be even more impactful if Planet 1 allowed you to go back onto the planet after viewing it from above.

When rocks from space start slamming down around you, it's hard not to physically react. Planet 1 does a great job of showing how things that might be ignored in a regular game are suddenly much more impactful with virtual reality. We can't even fathom how frightening a mortar strike in Battlefield 4 would feel in VR, but we're super excited to find out.

9. Blue Marble

Blue Marble (download here) straps you into a ship and blasts you into space where you... slowly drift around. You eventually make your way to the moon, but that's where the demo ends. So, what makes it worth experiencing? The music. Blue Marble is more music visualizer than game, and allows you to import your own tunes to enjoy as you tumble away from planet Earth. Turn on David Bowie's A Space Oddity and just let yourself merge with it, man. It's the ultimate trip.

While it doesn't include many mechanics that can be lifted for future games, Blue Marble definitely shows off the potential of the Oculus Rift when it comes to non-game experiences. Ever close your eyes and listen to music? This is sort of an evolution of that, and thinking about the non-game applications of the technology is fairly exciting.

8. Surgeon Simulator

If you haven't played Surgeon Simulator (download here) yet, you're ignoring one of the most hilariously strange games in recent memory. You're in control of the fingers of a doctor attempting to perform surgery on patients, a task made extremely difficult by unbelievably (and intentionally) clunky controls. And with the Oculus Rift on, the entire thing is made all the more realistic--and sillier. With virtual reality mixed in, you're not only awkwardly controlling hands, but a head as well, something that makes the experience all the more ludicrous.

Surgeon Simulator's VR shows how more subdued games would work, while also shining a spotlight on how other industries might be able to use the device. If someone were to make a version of the game that wasn't ridiculous, it could be used to help train real doctors, giving them an actual simulation that feels much more real than a computer screen ever could.

7. Undercurrent

Remember that part in BioShock 2 where you walked along the bottom of the sea? This is that, except without Rapture and with virtual reality. In Undercurrent (download here), you explore the ocean deep, walking along the seafloor while observing the ocean life. Sometimes you'll see crashed planes or ships, but a majority of your time will be spent just sorta walking and taking in the sights.

Navigation gets the spotlight in Undercurrent, and it does a fantastic job of showing how first-person movement can work when a game is actually built around it. You're in total control of your body, and that makes you more aware of yourself. The option to hit a button to swap between "free look" and "head control" is also a nice touch, and we could see it becoming standard in future VR games.

6. First Law

At E3 2013, we had a chance to play EVE-VR, CCP's virtual reality space simulator. It was revolutionary, but you can't play it just yet--CCP is selfishly keeping it to itself for the time being. That means you're going to need to settle for the next best thing: First Law. First Law (download here) scratches many of the same itches by strapping you into the cockpit and sending you to the stars, blasting enemies in enthralling VR dogfights.

Though First Law is more demo than full game, it exemplifies the type of experience that will work well in virtual reality. Being stuck in a sitting position helps keep you grounded in the experience (because that's how you're sitting in the real world, too), which is something we definitely see developers relying on when the first batch of "real" Oculus Rift games are released.

5. Alone in the Rift

If your first thought after seeing the Oculus Rift was, "Hey, I wonder what a horror game like Slender would be like with that," then you're a disturbed masochist. But, luckily, there are other people in the world like you, and they made Alone in the Rift (download here). While it's not that complex, its goal of trying to frighten the bejeezus out of the player is a noble one, and it does well. You're alone in the forest with a flashlight, walking around until something scares you and you freak out and swat at the keyboard blindly like you're trying to kill a fly.

The Oculus Rift is the perfect means for making people wet themselves. First-person horror games have plenty of tricks up their digital sleeve that they use to scare the player, but there's a slight disconnect when you need to whip the mouse around to look at a strange shadow. The Rift removes that barrier. You're much more alone with the device on, and the potential for horror games is tremendous.

4. Team Fortress 2

Don't expect to, y'know, win if you play Team Fortress 2 with the Oculus Rift on--it's hard to do much of anything twitch-based when you're still getting used to virtual reality. Valve added support to the popular multiplayer shooter months ago, adding to the small cluster of games with official support. But despite being remarkably difficult, it's still quite a bit of fun to run around the maps with the device strapped to your face, giving you a new appreciation for the levels... even as you're being blown to smithereens every time you try to do anything.

TF2's difficulty shows that hectic first-person shooters might not be the way to go with the Oculus Rift--at least, not yet. It might be better to focus on immersive, offline games, or at least ones that don't require absurdly quick reflexes. That said, if everyone in the match had one strapped to their heads, it might be a different story, since a lot of the difficulty comes from other people not having to deal with the difficulty of a new technology.

3. Super Mega Mega

Nine out of the 10 games on this list are first-person experiences, and for good reason: virtual reality is made for that perspective. After messing with the device, you might even start thinking that third-person gaming wouldn't work at all with the Rift. And then you'll play Super Mega Mega (download here), and find that you couldn't be any more wrong. You're in control of a little pixelated 2D character, hopping along platforms that move around tubular levels. It makes great use of the 3D inherent to virtual reality, and being able to turn your head to see other parts of the level is awesome.

Honestly, Super Mega Mega proves that almost every game can be enhanced by virtual reality. While they might not provide the same feeling that a first-person experience would, it'll still fully immerse you in the world, allowing you to see more than you'd be able to see without the VR activated. It also proves there are plenty of ideas we haven't even thought of yet that'll totally change what we think about the tech.

2. Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2 is one of a handful of full, retail games with actual support for the Oculus Rift, giving you some 12 hours worth of City 17 to explore in virtual reality. It works about as well as you'd hope it would, though the somewhat dated visuals are even more evident when you're viewing them from what feels like inches away. Still, it's a full VR experience, and that makes it well worth checking out.

Honestly, you can get most of the experience in the first half-hour, exploring the dystopian city streets and interacting with the world. Instead of controlling someone who's exploring it in first-person, you actually feel like you're in the city--something that could totally change first-person gaming. Just the thought of jumping into a virtual reality Dunwall or Rapture or--hell--Silent Hill has us shaking with excitement.

1. Titans of Space

Titans of Space (download here) might just be a tech demo, but it's still the best experience currently available for the Oculus Rift. In it, you're sent into outer space and given a guided tour of our Solar System, dragged around the planets, their moons and the sun--each with a short description. It's part video game and part astronomy lesson, but that doesn't stop it from being a shockingly emotional journey.

Titans of Space is more ride than game, since you've barely got any control besides reading text and straining your neck trying to look behind you. But the on-rails tour gives some insight into how cutscenes might work with the Rift. You'd still need manage of your vision, otherwise the illusion is ruined, but being able to look around to fully take in a situation makes it much more real--much more physical. Some games already do this by letting you move the camera during an on-rails cutscene, but having it mapped to the movement of your head can do so much more to enhance the atmosphere.


These are just the first batch of demos and games, though. As more come out, we'll continue to keep this list updated, making it the go-to place for Oculus Rift games and demos worth playing. What do you think the future of VR holds? Let us know in the comments!

And if you're looking for more, check out the best games ever and best Ouya games.