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gdc 2016

Viva La Vive: Hands On With Five Exciting VR Experiences

by Mike Futter on Mar 18, 2016 at 04:00 AM

In addition to sampling games on Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR, we had a chance to check out some of what's coming to the HTC Vive. Valve's headset diverges from the others by encouraging movement while offering smart obstacle sensing.

We had the chance to check out some of the games coming to the headset at GDC. Here are just a few of the over 30 games offered on rotation during the week.

Adventure Time: Magic Man's Head Games
Developer: Cartoon Network Studios
Also on Oculus Rift

Adventure Time: Magic Man's Head Games began its life on the Samsung Gear VR. However, it truly comes to life in a PC-powered headset.

The platformer largely plays out in third person (much like Playful's Oculus launch title Lucky's Tale), but carries with it the charm of the Adventure Time cartoon. The setup is charming, as players meet Finn and Jake before suddenly being transformed into a giant balloon by the nefarious Magic Man.

This is a clever way to explain why the viewpoint is high above the action and serves to facilitate interaction between the characters and the player. Combat is a mixture of Finn's sword prowess and Jake's long-reaching punches. You can also use Jake to smash downward while jumping and as a parachute for gliding over long gaps.

The thing that stands out to me is that Cartoon Network Games has designed the game with children in mind. While it's certainly possible for a young child to wear one of the headsets with some fiddling, they are designed with adults in mind. Thankfully, Adventure Time has a faithful following among adults and this game will likely find a place in their libraries. - Mike Futter

John Wick: An Impossible Task
Developer Starbreeze

Starbreeze has been working on its own virtual reality display, StarVR, which we saw at E3 2015. But it's also teamed up with Lionsgate, WEVR, and Grab for a game based on the film John Wick.

The movie features a retired assassin prompted to return to work. The VR demo takes place in an important location from the film, a hotel that serves as neutral ground and a refuge for hired killers.

The final game, which is expected to ship later this year, will include narrative scenes and shootouts. The demo features a bit of both.

The first scene takes place in the lobby with actor Lance Reddick reprising his role of the hotel manager. There's a phone to answer (complete with threatening voice on the other end), a briefcase to open, and buttons to push. 

One of the coolest moments is calling an elevator that drops from the ceiling right behind you. Turning and walking into the small enclosure is an eerie feeling that sells the value of room-scale VR.

At the top of the elevator is an elegant suite. Unfortunately, it's only a short amount of time before sniper fire rips the place to shreds and you're driven into cover. The scene ends after escaping in the elevator.

The second segment is a 360-degree shooting range. Using the Vive wands, I pick up and dual wield handguns and MP5s. Grenades are also available, and the pin can be removed by hand or by mouth if you're also holding a weapon.

The shooting feels great, and I'm eager to see how the full experience shapes up. With the second John Wick film due out early next year, expect that this will be a part of Lionsgate's promotional strategy. - Mike Futter

Raw Data
Developer: Survios 

This Vive game is one of the more promising shooters we’ve seen in VR. Our demo is essentially a two-player cooperative Horde mode in a sci-fi setting where the players must fight off increasingly difficult waves of androids, drones, cloaked ninja robots, and grenade launching cyborgs. 

Armed with a pistol and a retractable katana, you have options for taking enemies out from afar and slicing them up if they approach too closely. The room scale technology allows you to move around the 10 by 10-foot zone, taking cover behind the nearby computer console or retreating to pull out your trusty blade should they crack through your bullet barrage. The embedded voice chat makes it easy to coordinate attacks with your partner as well, calling out immediate dangers.

Between each round you can high-five your partner and access new weapons from the arsenal, including dual-wielding pistols, a shotgun, and a bow-and-arrow. The controls for each feels natural, and when you’re in the midst of combat it’s much easier to look past the guns floating in front of you.

Developer Survios hopes to have Raw Data on Early Access in the coming months. The team is still working on defining the scope of the project, but plan to have around four hours of content when it ships. The game is also being worked on with the Oculus Rift using the Touch controls. - Matt Bertz

Valve's Desktop Theatre
Developer: Valve

Steam can already support living room televisions with Big Picture Mode. In VR, it supports really big picture mode.

Your entire Steam library can be displayed on a more than 200 foot screen in a virtual theater. I demoed the experience using Free Lives' Broforce, and I'm pretty sure that this is how I want to experience at least some of my traditional format games.

Oculus is offering this for Xbox One games and PlayStation VR supports traditional PS4 games and streaming apps. Valve's Desktop Theatre not only brings PC gaming into the virtual space on Vive, but also other headsets that support Steam VR. Currently, "other" refers to Oculus Rift.

Even if you're not sure this is something you want, I'd urge Vive and Rift owners to give it a try. Not only does it greatly enhance the number of titles you can play in a VR setting, but it's a great way to see how your games would look on a much bigger screen.

Desktop Theatre Mode is currently in beta. - Mike Futter

Vanishing Realms
Developer: Indimo Studios

Vanishing Realms is a testament to the power of passion. Built in just seven months, the first-person RPG fulfills the Dungeons & Dragons dreams of our youth.

Kelly Bailey is a former Valve developer who struck out on his own. His one-man shop, Indimo Labs, will be there on day one of the Vive launch with the first episode of Vanishing Realms in early access.

The action RPG tasks players with solving puzzles, avoiding traps, and using sword, bow, and magic to take down undead enemies. Indimo's clever inventory system places icons around your avatar's belt, allowing you to sheath the sword without dropping it and carry healing and utility items.

The combat is a bit clumsy until you gain access to the shield. Fighting then transforms from "swing and pray" to a more tactical experience. I loved blocking sword swings with the shield and following up with a slash of my own.

The puzzles are well designed and enjoyable, as they are mixed in well with the combat. Movement is handled by teleporting from point to point (with anti-cheat measures built in so that players can't leap over gaps too wide for someone to jump.

There is limited need to walk around the environment out of combat, because teleporting works so well. However, I felt absolutely no queasiness except for the few moments I found myself looking down from a height (something that isn't unique to me but certainly isn't universally problematic).

I'm hopeful that Bailey will bring the game to other platforms later, as it would likely work well for Oculus Touch and is built in Unity. The cartoony aesthetic is charming and the gameplay a solid experience for even those just getting their VR legs. - Mike Futter

For more VR coverage, check out our rundown of Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR games. You can also read more in our January 2016 Year of VR issue.