If ever there were a year to try games that can drop you into an alternate reality, 2020 would be it. As the coronavirus pandemic restricts our travel and the never-ending news cycle weighs on our minds, a virtual reality headset can provide some relief, escape and distraction (at least for a little bit) from actual reality. It’s one of the best ways to leave home from the comfort of your home.
The goggle-like gadgets, which float a screen in front of your eyes to create a virtual 360-degree landscape, offer an immersive way to play increasingly powerful video games, make art, exercise, and even spend time with friends. And it’s a good time to get in on the action: In the past, VR headsets were attached to a computer and were, for most people, prohibitively expensive. But the new generation is surprisingly approachable. Facebook recently launched the Oculus Quest 2, a $300 headset that Wirecutter named its top pick because it doesn’t require cords or a computer — you can slip it on and start playing just about anywhere, though it does require a Facebook account to use. An alternative is Playstation’s PSVR, but with outdated specs and a new PlayStation due in November, the PSVR will soon be obsolete. Other VR headsets, like the Vive and Valve Index, are pricier and require PCs.
The rapidly expanding VR universe, which is accessible from an app store within the headset, will please beginners of all tastes and ages, from an experienced PC gamer to your 8-year-old niece. Here are some tips on where to begin.
For the ‘Matrix’ Superfan
“SUPERHOT” ($25), a stylish first-person shooter game, challenges players to kill faceless red enemies with weapons like guns and ninja stars. Originally made for PC, the game translates perfectly to VR — gameplay relies on moving to avoid bullets and punches. If the player stops moving, so does everything else. Not only does it feel like being in “The Matrix,” but it’s also a nice touch for beginners who can stand still and pause the action when they begin to get overwhelmed.
For the Escape Room Buff
If a slow-paced puzzle is more your pace, “I Expect You to Die” ($25) is one of the best examples for VR. Each level is like an escape room, where players must use the items around them to complete challenges such as starting a car before driving it out of an airplane or destroying a villain-developed machine. When players mess up, they die and start the level over again. The game is single-player, but it’s still fun to pass the headset back and forth with a friend to work through roadblocks together.
For the Kids (and Adults, Too)
“Angry Birds” helped to hook the world on mobile gaming more than a decade ago, and the game works well in VR, too, where flinging feathered avians at green pigs and their flimsy dwellings in a tropical island setting has a surprisingly relaxing effect. Angry “Birds VR: Isle of Pigs” ($15) also has the option to build custom levels, adding the ability to choose your own pigs, block materials, and use as much TNT as you want, for players who are into that sort of thing.
If you download just one VR game, make it “Beat Saber” ($30). It’s reminiscent of the arcade hit “Dance Dance Revolution,” only instead of stomping their feet in rhythm with the music, players move while swinging two light sabers to cut through flying boxes. Break this game out at a party and guests of all ages can immediately play — or laugh at the headset wearers as they swing their arms wildly and hop from side to side. It also makes for a great workout for family members missing their days at the gym.
For the Serious Gamer
Deep with story, puzzles and action, “Half-Life: Alyx” ($60) is a critically acclaimed game that links the stories of the beloved “Half-Life” and “Half-Life 2.” Players collect resources, fight enemies and, most impressively, explore a virtual landscape that feels rich in detail and opportunities for interaction. This feels like the full-featured game that many of VR’s earliest adopters have been waiting for. The catch? It’s a PC VR game, meaning it utilizes the power of a high-end computer to render its full effects. It also requires an Oculus Link cable ($80) to run it on a Quest 2 (owning both a PC and a Link cable will put many more VR games within your reach).
For the ‘Fortnite’ Devotee
“POPULATION: ONE” (set to launch Oct. 22) might not stand out among the increasingly crowded field of battle royale games available for Xbox or PlayStation, but it’s the first worthy option for VR. Drop into town with a squad and then gather weapons, ammo and medical supplies to survive the coming battle. A constantly shrinking play area pushes players closer and closer to enemies, forcing them to fight to see which team is the last to survive, making it an adrenaline-filled bonding experience.
For the Virtual Athlete
Who else dreamed of being Ender Wiggin as a kid? “Echo Arena,” part of “Echo VR” (free) transports players to a zero-gravity battle room that looks like it’s straight out of “Ender’s Game.” Competitors fling themselves off walls and obstacles in hopes of tossing a disc through the opposing team’s goal — but watch out for opponents trying to land a punch. This is a great game to try with a friend who also has a headset, and shows a promising future for sports games reinvented for VR. Players should be sure to clear out a room before playing so they don’t go careening into any furniture.
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