Walking into 2018, I carried a stigma towards virtual reality as a platform in video games seeing the current reception of most titles and anticipated for augmented reality to surpass the platform within the coming years. Following the line of VR titles from Bethesda the year prior, 2018 did not look for bright for the highly praised and anticipated platform.
With Doom VFR, Fallout 4 VR, and Skyrim VR especially: the trio of VR titles only gave another way to play the already existing experiences from Bethesda. Doom VFR offers a short experience based on the 2016 title with the option to teleport where you position yourself over walking as in the original title. Though it is exciting to be more immersed when playing the Doom Marine with a VR point of view, there’s not much circulating towards returning to the game upon completion.
Then Skyrim VR being one of the more anticipated titles and part of the ongoing gag of porting the game to literally anything: the title still staggers despite the reputation earned from being 2011’s Game of the Year. Earning the title of being “The Worst Way to Experience Skyrim” from Game Informer, the game’s poor translation to the VR platform only supported my initial argument on what I saw then as a gimmick. But unlike the already mentioned titles, Fallout 4 VR stood as the most promising by not holding the problems Skyrim had, by offering both full locomotion & teleportation that the two others respectively own, and giving new features on top of suiting already existing ones for VR as well.
The only prior title that I saw give virtual reality the urge to reach past the clouds is when Superhot made a VR port. The simple yet addicting formula of ‘killing red guys’ already offered endless possibilities to play the first-person title after beating the main campaign. Now with a full VR iteration offering a new experience with additional content made specifically for the platform, the game gave players a reason to return to their headsets compared to the one-time adventures that occupied the market at the time.
Why am I talking about this if 2017 seemed to already have such a negative connotation entering the next year? It is due to the fact that a selection of games not only added variety to the virtual reality platform in 2018, but also sculpted a pathway for more potential for the coming years as well.
This didn’t just happen overnight though, this accumulated over five titles that released throughout the duration of the year. Starting with Moss in early 2018, the game laid out the fabric of the warm blanket that these titles eventually wrap around for the entirety of the year. The trailers leading up to the game’s release was enough for players to be sold on the title. By introducing a beautifully crafted world with well-told story telling for the VR genre is what solidifies the title’s place towards being one of the most rewarded titles of the platform in 2018.
From each page flip when progressing through both the game’s levels & Quill’s story to the creative puzzle solving that quickly makes home gives VR life that it was desperately craving for. This being the first game to break the platform away from the gimmick image that it held then is impressive seeing how a studio can use the medium towards creating a memorable title.
Another game, Beat Saber quickly grabbed the public eye almost instantly as fans of rhythmic music games like Guitar Hero and Star Wars with implementing the iconic light sabers came together when seeing the new addition to the virtual reality game library. Energetic music and fast-paced gameplay is already enough to keep players going towards another round to beat their last score, but with VR the game also required more than just fast hand reflexes.
The game brings a whole new definition of fun that similar titles can’t offer like Rock Band VR as movement is a main mechanic on top of precise timing. As well as a list of modifiers for the game that alters each session from hiding which direction to hit the notes and limiting how many misses you can make before failing the song.
Beat Saber made enough of an impact since debuting in April of 2018 to later receive a port on Sony’s PlayStation VR. And now reaching to a broader audience since the game’s release back in December, the team at Beat Games are already discussing the first song pack DLCs to drop on their thriving title.
Now breaking away from the high tense and exhilarating gameplay that Beat Sabre hones; the next title that established a good foundation for VR last year goes by the name Firewall Zero Hour. A tactical shooter that pits the player in scenarios to raid compounds in search for data to retrieve or fight off opposing mercs from taking the valuable intel. Building off from what I already mentioned with Superhpt VR, Firewall expands with more condensed locales, upgradeable weapons, and with a selection of characters for how you plan to take on the mission best.
Instead of time-controlled precision, the calculated missions and gameplay in Firewall Zero Hour brings a whole new layer to the genre. Just like many would play in most of the Tom Clancy games or the SWAT series, planning and execution is key to having a successful match. With a team up to four players, communication is a necessity to coordinate a well-performed raid on the other team. On top of the more evident elements, the game is exhilarating in most of the scenarios you get caught in when playing.
Your adrenaline builds up; the air gets thin the more you progress between each round during each match as each decision made will either have your squad triumph another round or to learn from your mistakes into the next encounter. The extent of the game is bare besides what is already mentioned, but offers enough to have a good session between friends or just something to kill time when thirsty for a little rush.
Transitioning to a more playful title, Astro Bot Mission Rescue is another game that paved the way for VR towards the reason for this essay. What really blew up this game and the success it received coming into late-2018 is found from the nostalgic background that rubs off when playing the main story. Similar to titles like Nintendo mascot Mario or Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog in level design, Sony’s Japan Studio manages to encapture the essence of titles from the N64 that released more than two decades ago.
As said by our own NXGamer, he tells about Astro Bot that “the level design is simply superb and the flow of the game, grander moments and integration of you into it all is what seals this as quite simply the best example of VR games done well.” You can read his full take on the game with his Technical Review on the title here.
Seeing all that the Astro Bot has to offer to VR is understandable for why it won the award for 2018’s Best VR Game. It truly is one of the best experiences that came to the young genre and leaves a good first impression on what is to come leading into the next few years. Now that I’m done with my praise towards the game, there’s one more game still worth talking about: Tetris.
The simple tetrominoe stacker has been around for more than three decades now and with countless different versions of the classic 1984 title, many players tend not to think much about another iteration of the game, even if it is made specifically for VR. Leading up to the game’s release and after a lot of players were going crazy over ‘VR Tetris’ and soon becoming another title you must have if owning any type of virtual reality headset.
There’s nothing new to the already iconic formula of the game that makes Tetris Effect stand out, it’s how the game reacts that makes it so good. Simply starting with a short beat, it begins to kick off the more you play and continues to slowly progress as you start removing full lines until you fully unveil the tempo for the song. That’s where this truly grabs players from the beautifully crafted audio direction of the game.
Paired with the visuals of Unreal Engine 4, particle effects also play a major role into the aesthetic that makes this title worthwhile. As I assume you’re already pretty familiar with, when finding the perfect position to place each shape you’ll rotate it 90 degrees until you find the perfect position to set. After each turn a wave of particles will fly across the screen in sync with the music that plays. Would it be weird to say it feels euphoric after seeing that each time?
I could keep talking about how well the game performs and continue to prolong this opinionated piece: you can check out NXGamer’s Technical Review where I pretty much agree with the same points he makes.
Simply for the sake of writing this extensive essay in summary, it explains that virtual reality as a platform for the length of 2018 has truly shown that there is more to it than one-time playthroughs with a screen strapped to you face. All five titles mentioned give experiences worth remembering and offer returning play time for enjoyable situations that most were met with when first playing.
Personally, 2018 truly changed my view point on VR since debuting less than a decade ago commercially and I don’t see it as just another viewpoint to play videogames. Now understanding the platform as a medium and how new worlds and ways to play can be crafted with virtual reality, I imagine that more titles to a similar caliber are possible as we enter 2019.
Another thing worth mentioning is that two of the five titles mentioned are exclusive to PlayStation VR. Astro Bot Mission Rescue and Firewall Zero Hour are two unique games that stand on top of the current platform and more outstanding experiences only available for their headset is expected to come seeing how last year performed for VR. Seeing that these games are available on PSVR, it illustrates that Sony made the right decision to get involved with virtual reality and leaving a very positive impact on the genre. As I already discussed before that PSVR bringing in Beat Saber later led to the discussion of the game’s first DLC to arrive in the near future, the same can happen to several other games if it makes it to the system’s game library.
At the time of writing this, I just realized that all titles I listed are all nominees for Best VR/AR Game for 2018’s Game Awards and laughing how coincidental that is. If you played one of these games already, I highly suggest you try to get your hands on more of these games if you haven’t already.