My Most Compelling VR Experiences So Far

I had one mission when I was at GDC a couple weeks ago: try every VR demo that I possibly could. As a self-described VR skeptic, I really wanted to know what people saw in these bulky, uncomfortable headsets.

Of the demos that I tried, some were silly (being guided around a room pretending I was climbing Everest), some were hilarious (firing robots in Job Simulator), and some were just really cool. These last experiences haven't necessarily sold me on VR, but they have stuck with me in the weeks since, and they are the ones that I bring up most consistently when discussing the platform with others. Here's what they are.

Some VR games don't revolutionize a genre so much as complete it, and nowhere is that more true than in the space combat genre. The ability to look around your combat and track an enemy fighter as it flies overhead is profound - it's like the shackles have been removed for the first time. And in the case of EVE Valkyrie, it's even cooler because it effectively drops you into the middle of a battle from Battlestar Galactica, with fighters exploding everywhere as you dodge between massive capital ships.

I don't really have any plans to buy a VR headset in the near future - not that I could even if I wanted to - but EVE Valkyrie is that close to selling me on it. And if someone has the foresight to make a VR game that puts me in the middle of the Death Star Trench Run? Well, that might be enough to push me over the edge.

Speaking of Star Wars, one of my other favorite VR experiences was getting the opportunity to actually wield a lightsaber (well, a virtual lightsaber). In the demo, you begin by landing on a desolate planet where you're quickly met by the Millennium Falcon, then a pair of TIE Fighters. All of this is neat, but the highlight of the demo is definitely when you get a lightsaber for the first time.

Ultimately, the lightsaber is pretty limited - no actual dueling, just reflecting blaster bolts back at stormtroopers - but it doesn't really matter. Despite having no weight, it still feels like it's there in your hand, its energetic hum in your ear. Once the stormtroopers were defeated, I just stood for a moment and swung it at the ground, watching as I burned lines in the dirt. It was the first time I had ever felt like I was actually wielding a lightsaber.

For most gamers (and nerds in general), wielding a lightsaber is the holy grail of gaming. It was all anyone talked about when the Wii came around, and it's something that people generally wish for to this day. The Star Wars VR demo - limited as it was - was the first time I felt like I was using a lightsaber in a real and meaningful way, from the 1:1 motion to the 3D sound. It may ultimately just be a novelty, but I would pay real money for a VR lightsaber dueling game.

Since the advent of VR, I've maintained that cockpit experiences like the aforementioned EVE Valkyrie are best-suited for VR headsets. To that I would add music games, which are transformed by VR.

VR's combination of sensory deprivation and 3D audio makes for a profound musical experience. You soon find yourself surrounded by music, enveloped by it, which is a feeling that even expensive noise-canceling headphones can't match by themselves. To that, games like Audioshield - the follow-up to Audiosurf - allow you to interact with music in interesting ways. Audioshield visualizes beats as red and blue orbs that you block with similarly colored shields, with the resulting force feedback allowing you to "feel" the music. Rez, meanwhile, had me unconsciously bobbing my head to the beat as I cruised through an abstract soundscape.

When I told my friend who is also a self-described VR skeptic about this, his eyes instantly lit up. As a music fan, he instantly grasped how cool it would be to just lose yourself in an album with a VR headset. As for me, I would love to don an HTV Vive and play Guitar Hero on a "real" stage with a roaring audience. Whatever the case, I'm not sure I've ever been as engaged with music as when I played Rez and Audioshield with a VR headset.

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