gdc 2016

Hands On With Seven Oculus Rift Launch Games (And Five Coming Later)

by Mike Futter on Mar 16, 2016 at 04:01 AM

Oculus has announced its massive launch lineup of 30 games arriving alongside the Rift on March 28. We had a chance to go hands on with some familiar and new games hitting alongside the hardware, and played a number coming later in the year.

AirMech: Command
Developer: Carbon Games
Release Date: March 28
Comfort Level: Comfortable
Price: $39.99

When we saw AirMech in December for our January Year of VR issue, it was still a rough demo. We had the chance to play a simple tower-defense game with a frustrating camera. What I played earlier this week wiped away any concerns I have for the competitive Herzog Zwei-like RTS.

AirMech: Command is a rarity in the game industry. It's a free-to-play game gone premium. Instead of in-app transactions, you'll earn currency through playing to unlock skins, units, pets, and other cosmetics. The setup mimics a broad miniatures tabletop experience. You'll see your allies and opponents across the table as avatars and your units moving across the battlefield from a dynamic god's-eye view.

Zipping around the map, selecting units from a floating toolbar above the map, directing forces, and pushing toward the enemy base looks and feels fantastic. Because the setup is handled like a board game, it's entirely comfortable. The trickiest part is managing the camera, but after a few minutes it became second nature.

As you fly closer or farther away, you'll hit a bounding wall that automatically refocuses the camera on your transforming champion character. It's far better to manually zoom in and out using the bumpers or re-centering using both at the same time.

I'm delighted that AirMech has gone premium for Rift, and I expect I'll be spending quite a bit of time playing this come the end of March. Not only does it perfectly capture the PC and Xbox 360 experience, but the war-table presentation is both charming and effective.

Developer: Gunfire Games
Release Date: March 28
Comfort Level: Comfortable
Price: $49.99

Gunfire Games' Chronos was one of our favorites when we put together our January Year of VR issue. Our adoration is cemented after seeing more of the game this week.

When we played a few months ago, we got a distinct Dark Souls vibe. Combat is a tactical dance of rolling, blocking, and striking when the moment is right.

Were that all Chronos had to offer, it would be a great launch title. However, we've now come to understand that the 12- to 14-hour game is a deeply woven tale of two worlds, an Infinity Blade-esque live-die-repeat mechanic, and contextual storytelling that is captivating even in the small snippets we've experienced.

Chronos' opening sets a haunting tone. Our world has been ravaged. Humanity has been scattered, and we live in small tribes. The tribal matron tasks you with going into the world of the beasts to slay the dragon leading them.

The game doesn't begin in a fantasy realm. Instead, you wash up on the shore of a rusted military installation. Through a brief series of puzzles, you'll learn more about the world and open your first portal.

Should you die on the other side, you'll be spat out and a year will go by before you can try again. Aging has a variety of consequences. Strength and agility are easier to level up in your youth. Arcane, tied to your wisdom, becomes easier to enhance as you become older.

You'll also unlock traits as you age, giving you an edge as you plunge into the world of beasts over and over. This has the effect of making the game harder the better you are. Chronos is one of the games launching alongside Rift that defies the minigame/tech-demo trap that many feared would be the hallmark of early consumer VR software. So far, it seems enthralling, comfortable to play, and stunningly designed.

Elite Dangerous: Deluxe Edition
Developer: Frontier Developments
Comfort Level: Intense
Price: $59.99
Also on HTC Vive 

Elite Dangerous feels like it was always meant for virtual reality. The game's complex design is predicated on a number of contextual displays for navigation, communications, weapons systems, and more.

When playing with a gamepad or flight stick, you need to toggle free look to move your pilot's head in the direction of these displays. Using an eye-tracker approximates the benefit of VR, by allowing you to freely look at the consoles or track objects as the blow by your cockpit.

However, the sense of scale and speed coupled with the natural sensation of moving your head to look at the surroundings is where Elite truly comes together. Combat can be tricky in Elite Dangerous, but I had no problems tracking enemy ships, locking on, and turning them into space dust.

While EVE Valkyrie will deliver pure dogfighting action, Elite Dangerous offers other modes of play. Cruising the galaxy can be extremely calming, and while the comfort rating is listed as intense, I expect it will also be a soothing experience for some.

Fly to Kuma
Developer: Colopl
Comfort Level: Comfortable
Price: $14.99

Every launch needs a puzzle game, and Colopl's Fly to Kuma fits the bill perfectly. It features adorable gummy-bear creatures that have fled their dying planet in search of a new one. On the way to their new home, the bears crash, but find an old spaceship that may get them home. In order to escape though, they'll need your help to guide them through a number of perilous stages.

Fly to Kuma is a more methodical take on Lemmings. The bears march in a straight line, with only the blocks you place to divert them. Instead of having to make fine adjustments on the fly, you'll place your structures from the few allotted and then send the bears toward their goal.

The levels I played were fairly approachable, with bear deaths related more to slightly improper block placement than overt challenge. It's an adorable game, but unless the challenge ramps up significantly later, you'll likely breeze through this one.

Radial G
Developer: Tammeka Games
Comfort Level: Intense
Price: $24.99

When the original PlayStation launched in 1995, Psygnosis' Wipeout emerged as one of the most appealing titles in the lineup. Radial G is inspired by the pulse-pounding, bass-thumping of that beloved series, creating one of the most impressive senses of speed among the VR titles I've tried.

While it will only launch with nine courses and four ships, developer Tammeka Games has big plans for the game. More ships and courses will be coming, with a plan to add weapons later bringing Radial G closer to its Wipeout legacy.

For those looking for multiplayer, Tammeka is shipping the game with 16-player competitions. There are plans to double that over the coming months. Radial G might not have the Wipeout name, but it certainly captures its spirit.

Smashing the Battle
Developer: Studio HG
Comfort Level: Moderate
Price: $19.99

Smashing the Battle is a beat-em-up that feels a bit like Smash TV with an anime coat of paint. Players pick on of two heroines dropped into an arena filled with killer robots.

Using a variety of attacks, dodges, and special moves, you'll need to move through waves of angry automatons to reach the end of the stage. The VR effects here are minimal, making this a fairly straight conversion of a game that would play almost identically on a 2D display.

That's not to say the action isn't enjoyable or well designed. It's both, but we're not yet sure how this one will hold up to extended play. VR isn't enough to break the repetitive beat-em-up cycle, but perhaps there's more to Smashing the Battle than we've been able to see so far.

VR Tennis Online
Developer: Colopl
Comfort Level: Moderate
Price: $9.99

Out of all the titles I tried, I was most skeptical of VR Tennis Online. My expectation was that it would be the virtual-reality version of Wii Sports' tennis offering. Instead, it was closer to Mario Tennis, with unique characters, special trick shots, and a jovial atmosphere.

Each of the characters has different attributes, making selection more than an aesthetic choice. You can customize the two trick shots you'll take into a match, each of which requires a number of volleys before they can be triggered.

This makes using the super moves more strategic, akin to timing a critical attack in a fighting game. My opponent, Colopl's best in-house player, and I played a number of matches before we were asked to close the door to the room for being too loud and enthusiastic.

It's unlikely that VR Tennis Online is going to sell you on a $600 headset, but if you are purchasing a Rift, it's certainly a title to consider. Hopefully there will be enough players that finding a match online won't take long.

In addition to the seven games we played that are coming at launch, we had the chance to demo four additional titles coming later in the year. Two of these should be available when Oculus' Touch controllers launch. The other two will be along this spring.

Dead & Buried
Developer: Oculus Studios
Comfort Level: Rating
Pending Price: TBA
Launch: TBA (Requires Oculus Touch)

When we last saw Dead & Buried, we were given the shooting-gallery mode to preview. Using the Touch controllers to grab guns, aim down the sights, and reload via a wrist-twisting motion all felt great.

The game felt a bit thin at the time. And while the shooting gallery was good fun, it needed more. This week we saw a bit of what else is included.

Dead & Buried will include a two-versus-two saloon-shootout mode. It's a race to 25 kills, and players must duck behind tables and hide behind pillars in order to dodge incoming fire.

You can't move. Each time you die, you'll respawn in a fixed location somewhere on your side of the saloon. That didn't detract from the fun, though. The competitive shooter mode is fast-paced and intense.

Oculus also says it's working on a duel mode, pitting you against another player at high noon. You'll need to be fast on the draw and aim true to take out your opponent before they fill you with lead. Expect Dead & Buried to arrive near the Oculus Touch launch later this year.

Dragon Front
Developer: High Voltage
Comfort Level: Comfortable
Price: Free to Play
Launch: Spring

Dragon Front is the virtual-reality answer to Hearthstone. There is enormous potential for board and card gaming in VR, with adaptations of physical products and new games both having a place.

High Voltage designed Dragon Front first as a physical game with cards, playmats, and tokens. Only after refining the mechanics did the studio begin the VR adaptation.

The result is a clever digital collectible-card game that requires players to defend their stronghold, assault the enemy's, and cleverly manage mana that can be used to summon cards or help fund the eventual summoning of a champion character.

Dragon Front is played on a four-by-four grid, with two rows belonging to each player. The row closest to you is used for summoning and the row closer to the opponent is for traps and fortifications. In addition to units that can be commanded to march toward the enemy base, you'll play spells (similar to Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone) that have instant effects.

High Voltage plans to ship the game with four factions and more than 260 cards. No release date has been announced, but the studio plans to launch some time this spring.

Dragon Front's physical origins may not be entirely abandoned, too. The studio is considering retail product and a tie-in that might earn players digital card packs for buying physical ones (similar to how the Pokemon trading-card game works).

Right now, Dragon Front is the only free-to-play game we know of coming to Oculus Rift. While that business model works well in traditional-format games, we've yet to see it implemented in VR. We're eager to see how it all comes together.

Eagle Flight
Developer: Ubisoft
Comfort Level: Moderate
Price: TBA
Launch: Fall

When Ubisoft first announced it was experimenting with VR, Eagle Flight seemed more like a tech demo than a full-fledged game. What we played this week still needs a bit more fleshing out, but the multiplayer mode and single-player activities are good fun.

In solo mode, players can take on different activities. We had the chance to play two: a timed race through rings and a scavenger chase.

Flying as the avian avatar takes a bit of getting used to. Soaring is tied exclusively to head movement. You'll look up to climb and down to dive, but it's the left and right banking motions that take some getting used to. Instead of turning your head, you'll tilt it toward your shoulder to turn.

You'll use the gamepad minimally, though the screech attack is crucial for destroying fleeing scavengers during the chases. The single-player activities are breathtaking, with a thrilling sense of speed.

The real magic is in Eagle Flight's 3-versus-3 multiplayer mode, though. This one-flag capture the flag game send players on a race for prey. You'll need to swoop in to pick it up and dodge enemy screeches while rushing back to base to deliver the food.

In the two matches I played, there was a great deal of back and forth. The prey changed hands multiple times, and there were many exciting plays.

I still hope there is more to Eagle Flight that we haven't seen. But the multiplayer offering especially makes it a more compelling offering.

Developer: Honor Code
Comfort Level: TBD
Price: TBD 
Launch: Summer 2016

We had the chance to get an extended demo of Narcosis for our Year of VR issue in January. Honor Code is creating an eerie atmosphere that emphasizes loneliness and desperation as players struggle to reach the next precious oxygen tank.

The game has changed a bit in the past four months, with tweaks to the game's creepier elements. Narcosis has elements of horror, with attacking fish and "narcosis moments" that are distorted perceptions of the world around the player.

When last we played, these moments were signified by an eye flutter. That's become much more subtle having been replaced by a hard blink. It's not quite as intrusive, but it still signifies that things are about to get weird.

These moments also stress the player, increasing oxygen consumption. You'll want to move through them as quickly as possible, but the twists and turns mean you'll probably feel some pressure as oxygen gets scarce.

Narcosis is likely to be labeled as an intense experience, because of its jump scares and claustrophobic presentation. It remains one of the games that has pushed my tolerance for virtual reality, which is in large part due to subject matter.

I'm eager to see how the full game comes together on the way to its summer release. I look forward to pushing my limits in VR just to see how long I can hold my breath.

Rock Band VR
Developer: Harmonix
Comfort Level: Rating Pending
Price: TBA
Launch: TBA (Requires Oculus Touch)

Rock Band in VR blends the heavily stylized aesthetic of the console games with Guitar Hero Live's first-person approach. While this version shares a name with previous titles in the series, it's a very different creation.

Harmonix tells us that Rock Band VR will only support guitar for one player. There's no online play, so don't expect to be teaming up with a bass player on the other side of the country.

The studio has some bigger plans for how it will make use of VR, but right now the impact isn't great. The note highway appears on one of the monitor speakers. For most of my demo, I was looking down at the ground rather than taking in the sights.

The guitar I used had an Oculus Touch mounted on it. It's unclear how consumers will affix the controller to the guitar, or if they'll need an entirely new plastic instrument.

We'll learn more about Rock Band VR at E3. Hopefully, Harmonix has some "wow" waiting for us.

We also have previews of the following games you can check out in previous coverage. These include Adr1ft, EVE Valkyrie, Lucky's Tale, Fantastic Contraption, I Expect You to Die, Job Simulator, and Edge of Nowhere in our January Year of VR issue. You can also read an in-depth preview of Ubisoft's upcoming party game, Werewolves Within. For a full list of Oculus Rift launch and launch window games, check out our coverage of the full roster.