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Cruise the solar system. Ride a rollercoaster. Try a Minecraft mod. If you've got a fancy Oculus VR headsets, these are the games and demos you want to play.
Engulfed in new worlds
People should start getting their hands on the vastly improved second-generation Oculus Rift Development Kit (DK2) today, and that means it's time to introduce a whole bunch of people to the best of what virtual reality has to offer. After all, hardware is one thing—but it takes compelling software to really sell someone on VR as a legitimate market.
Over the past year I've played...well, pretty much everything of note that Oculus Rift has to offer, and can definitively say that these games and demos are the best experiences publicly available today. In other words, no EVE: Valkyrie or Alien: Isolation—these are demos and games you could go play right this moment with your brand new DK2 (or your original Oculus Development Kit, if you're not one of the lucky ones receiving new hardware today).
I've also taken the time to say whether these demos are best suited for VR beginners or veterans, so you can start slow and work your way up. Keep a sick bag close—just in case—and enjoy.
Blue Marble - Beginner
Blue Marble is one of the most accessible Rift demos for beginners because it's extremely Zen. You don't need to look around more than you want to, and you don't need a controller or keyboard for any reason. You just load in your favorite music (I recommend some post-rock) and float blissfully through space, past the Earth and the Moon.
Dump: Going Elephants - Beginner
You don't actually have to use a controller with Dumpy: Going Elephants either, which makes it a perfect demo for a first-timer. You're an escaped elephant, and your job is to destroy everything in your path by swinging your trunk back and forth—which, of course, you accomplish by shaking your head back and forth in real life. It's silly and colorful and surreal.
Don't Let Go - Beginner
The title of Don't Let Go says it all: Hold down the Control keys on your keyboard and don't let go, no matter what happens. (Hint: Distracting things happen.) It's a little goofy, but this is a great way to ease someone into virtual reality—you're still sitting down in a chair holding onto a keyboard, and there's no real need for fast movements.
Rollercoasters - Beginner
While Rift Coaster is already a virtual reality "classic," the world of simulated rollercoaster rides has come a long way since the launch of the DK1. ArchiVision has created six intense rollercoaster experiences, including Helix—a 1:1 replica of an actual ride at Liseberg Amusement Park in Sweden.
Blocked In - Beginner
Blocked In takes place during the apocalypse, except in this case the apocalypse consists of enormous Tetris blocks falling from the sky and covering everything you hold dear. Enjoy your front-row seats to the world's destruction.
If you're looking for something similarly surreal to follow it up with, I'd recommend Lunadroid 237 or Malfunction, though both of those are a bit more advanced.
Sight Line - Beginner
The reason babies freak out when you play peek-a-boo is they haven't figured out the concept of object permanence—basically, that if you can't see an object it's still probably there. They think when you cover your face that your face is gone forever.
But we're adults and we know better, right? Not if Sight Line has any say in the matter. Sight Line keeps track of where you're looking in the world, and when you turn away for a second everything can change. Peek-a-boo.
VR Cinema 3D - Beginner
If we're being honest, I've probably spent more time in VR Cinema 3D than any other Rift demo. The concept is simple: Someone modeled a movie theater, and you can play video files from your computer on the screen.
You can choose your seat, stare at the upholstery, get up and walk around the theater, or even turn around and look at the projector. VR Cinema 3D is basically like going to the movies without the twelve-dollar ticket, eight-dollar popcorn, and that annoying kid who kicks your seat the whole time.
In other words, it's pretty much perfect. And with the DK2's resolution, the experience should be even better. (Senior writer Brad Chacos wrote up his experience with VR Cinema 3D last year.)
Titans of Space - Beginner
Titans of Space is another demo for all you fans of the final frontier, but unlike Blue Marble's quiet, isolated experience, this is more of a futuristic bus tour. You're placed in a spacecraft and guided around to various stars and planets, learning facts about them as you go.
The whole experience has a way of making you feel very small—and that's even before you realize that everything in the demo is rendered at 1:1,000,000 scale.
The entire demo takes about fifteen to twenty minutes, so strap in.
Chicken Walk - Intermediate
You launch Chicken Walk. You put on the Rift. You become a chicken. You use your beak to peck at things. Put it on your friends and watch them look foolish.
Do you even need to know more?
South Park Oculus Rift Experience - Intermediate
It doesn't quite have the depth of South Park: The Stick of Truth, but this South Park Oculus demo is a pretty fascinating glimpse of virtual reality's potential to drop us into the midst of our favorite fictional worlds.
Private Eye - Intermediate
Private Eye is basically Rear Window-The Game. Your leg is broken, you know the killer will strike at 10, and all you have is a pair of binoculars. It's both a creative twist on what the Rift does best—cockpit games—and a loving homage to Hitchcock.
Well-lit rooms - Intermediate
RedFrame, The Room, and The Museum of the Microstar (pictured) all have something in common: They're essentially very pretty rooms for you to walk around in.
Each takes a different approach. RedFrame is an excerpt from an adventure game, The Room is packed full of hidden Easter eggs, and The Museum of the Microstar is a futuristic museum—but all three show off the importance of lighting, modeling, and scale in virtual experiences, and they do so in a fairly simple-to-navigate manner.
Time Rifters - Veteran
Time Rifters is sort of a puzzle shooter, where you fight a variety of enemies by controlling four different instances of yourself. The developers call it "multiplayer co-op." The developers plan to release the entire game sometime this summer, once they've polished the build to work with the DK2.
Dreadhalls - Veteran
Dreadhalls is one of the most "game-like" demos for the Rift, and also one of the most terrifying. You have to navigate a labyrinthine dungeon while avoiding the monsters within. The game has an eerie habit of knowing where you're looking and taking advantage of it, waiting until you look down at your map to spring scares on you. Because the levels are procedurally generated you'll never have the same experience twice.
Technolust - Veteran
Technolust is one of the more recent demos, and one of the best built-for-Rift narrative experiences at the moment. Taking place in a cyberpunk future reminiscent of "Bladerunner" or Neuromancer, the game is more of a sandbox for you to explore than something you're directed through—though there's a central plot to uncover, the developer's main goal is to create a living world for the player to explore. Even if "explore" means sitting on a virtual couch and watching movies.
It's an interesting experiment, and thanks to a recent successful Kickstarter we'll hopefully see more of it soon.
Now, let's dig into some real games that offer full-blown Oculus Rift support.
War Thunder is a free-to-play WWII combat game that allows you to take control of era-appropriate aircraft with full Oculus Rift support. The game is absolutely gorgeous, and at the low, low cost of free, this is easily the most affordable way to test the Oculus in a full AAA experience. Become the ace fighter pilot you always knew you could be, Maverick.
It's amazing: The core game is nearly ten years old, and yet Half-Life 2 is still one of the best virtual reality experiences available. That's a testament to Valve's dedication to VR and the flexibility of the Source Engine.
That extends to other Source games also—Team Fortress 2 and Dear Esther are similarly polished VR experiences.
When I was a kid I played a lot of Shufflepuck Cafe, an air hockey game, on my dad's Mac. As of last year there's a spiritual successor on Steam called Shufflepuck Cantina that's pretty fun (if a bit of a grind at times) and captures the wacky feel of the original—and it features Rift support.
The developers also created a Rift demo where you fly around on the back of a dragon, Dragonriders of Pern-style.
Elite: Dangerous beta
Elite: Dangerous—sequel to the classic 1984 space game Elite—is still in beta, and you can't get in without ponying up $150 for the premium beta or $75 for the standard beta (which starts July 29th), but wow.
Elite: Dangerous is the best Rift game right now, although eventually I'd love to see more specialized controls for the headset (a la EVE: Valkyrie's missile lock-on). There's nothing like coming out of hyperspace near an enormous yellow star or dogfighting through a virtual asteroid field with the Rift strapped to your face.
Say what you will about Second Life—it's pretty incredible to experience all it has to offer through the Oculus Rift, provided you download the beta viewer.
Considering people have built things as extensive as a 1920's version of Berlin and a recreation of the famed Mont Saint-Michel in Second Life, there's a ton of great content for you to explore. For free.
Did you ever play the classic arcade game Lunar Lander? Lunar Flight is that game, but in 3D and—lucky for you—with native Rift support.
While the game wasn't originally built for the Rift, it's one of the rare ports that feels entirely natural since the developers updated the game with new assets just for virtual reality.
You look around the cockpit to activate specific controls, all while astronauts blather pleasantly in your ear—the in-game radio audio was lifted from actual NASA missions.
While Minecraft doesn't feature native Rift support, you can cobble it in with the support of the Minecrift mod. It's so good, it might as well be native anyway. Note that installation can be tricky, because the original installer no longer works. Read that thread in full for details on how to install MineCrift.
Of course, you'll still need to own a copy of Minecraft to run the mod. Try not to throw your Rift across the room when a Creeper sneaks up on you.
Euro Truck Simulator 2
Sit in traffic on your drive home, then sit in traffic in a game. Ever wanted to drive a big truck? Ever wanted to toot one of those enormous truck horns? Euro Truck Simulator 2 lets you. (It's more fun that it sounds, especially in the Rift.)
AaAaAA!!! for the Awesome
Want to trick your brain into thinking you're dying? Buy AaAaAA!!! for the Awesome. It's a base-jumping game where you leap off the top of a structure and plummet through all sorts of surreal landscapes. This Rift experience is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Surgeon Simulator 2013
You thought Surgeon Simulator 2013 was hard before? You thought it was difficult keeping your hand from flailing all over the place, bashing holes in bones and tossing tools to the ground in this silly "physics simulator?" Try playing it with a Rift strapped to your face. Which you can, because the game has native Rift support.