For years, techy gifts have been on an unstoppable rise and these holidays more than ever, new VR headsets of all kinds were added to the mix. If you are one of the lucky receivers of a Cardboard or any other generic pair of VR goggles compatible with your iPhone, your first address to go for VR-ready apps should of course be the App Store.
To help you get on top the bulk of apps available and break the tedious ‘download, try and delete’ chain, we have been weeding through the vast app-scape and given VR-ready apps a hard look. If you want to put your new toys to good use, here is a list of some of the best VR games and apps we believe you will want to embark on first.
The best VR games
Commencing with the arguably tougher rubric, VR compatible games are by no means in short supply on the App Store, however you would still be hard pressed to name genuinely good ones on mobile. In spite of the slew of racing and maze games, none of them I would recommend with any degree of confidence.
To date, the downfall of most of these apps are limited playability due to erratic controls or in-app purchases that restrict your experience so much so that you might as well not bother. Having said that, after callously ridding my iPhone of all the letdowns, four apps I would broadly categorize as games are still standing. Here are the ones that made the cut:
VR Sniper works because the mechanics of looking through a real life scope (or binoculars) and aiming by means of your VR headset are similar enough to appreciate the challenge. Intuitive is one of the keywords for VR games, and VR Sniper’s approach has that word written all over it. You are placed on top of a roof and need to take out ten soldiers dropped around you. To succeed, all you need is a steady gaze and an eye on the timer.
The game does not risk much and by extension there is not much to criticise. As with most VR games, there is a $0.99 in-app purchase to unlock three levels, more soldiers, and deactivate the ads. This is not even a downside though, as developers need to pay their rent too. The perhaps only legitimate critique is that the free version quickly feels repetitive.
Like the name suggests, you’re thrown into an artfully presented crime story set in today’s Sydney, Australia. The player gets involved snooping around multiple rooms and deciding where to take conversations whenever presented with two options to respond. It’s a blend compelling enough to keep your attention for the 10-15 minutes it will take you to complete.
The narrative is fairly short and over before you really care about any of the characters. Also, ‘to be continued’ endings never really fly with me.
Haunted Rooms: Escape VR Game
As far as free VR games go, this one offers quite a bit of quality content and game time before completion. Walking and picking up objects (to escape rooms) is smooth and some of the in-game riddles require you to put your thinking cap on. And, before I forget, there is the occasional scare.
Ad pop-ups can be disturbing, but then again the app is free and level progression does not need to be paid for, so perhaps I don’t have a leg to stand on criticising that. The app could also do with a manual – right now you’re thrown in the deep end and need to deduce controls.
Haunted Rooms: Escape VR is available for free on the App Store.
The best way to describe this one is to call it a zippy little experience in the world of Insidious. Following a brief build up, you’re subjected to a succession of short but effective jump scares. Once you’re done, I recommend strapping the headset to a friend or relative to get a good laugh out of them recoiling in horror. If you’re into this sort of stuff, by all means also try out Sisters: A Virtual Reality Ghost Story.
Don’t expect anything but a short tech demo and you won’t be disappointed. An extended cut would have been fun but there is definitely more of this ilk to come when more horror franchises start marketing their movies with the help of VR.
Insidious VR is available for free on the App Store.
The best 360 experiences
VR footage that puts you into somebody else’s shoes (or parachute, or flippers) was among the first to crop up in the VR realm, and it is easy to see why. Unlike games, which often times grapple with the implementation of comprehensible controls, 360 degree movies allow you to kick back, look around and immerse yourself without having to worry about a thing. Consequently, there are some pretty strong titles on the App Store that promise immersion for hours.
Easily my favorite app to introduce anyone to the world of VR. Within consists of approximately 25 standalone videos which all beautifully parade virtual reality’s allure. Some of these videos are picks from upscale magazines, some are music videos and others again winning entries of film festivals or TV shows. The hands-down best feature of Within is the option to download the videos to your device first, so you don’t have to stream and can be assured your video will look sharp and play uninterruptedly.
Another compelling collection of VR-ready experiences, this time largely revolving around nature and science as you would expect from a Discovery named app. The offering is a lot broader and new material is being added on a regular basis. It also offers a 360 degree video mode playable on any phone sans VR headset.
Internet connection is required, as you cannot pre-download the snippets. Furthermore, as stunning as some of the footage available undeniably is, it simply does not feel as perfectly tailored and adjusted to the VR headset as Within’s movie catalogue.
GoPro’s mission statement is spectacle and extreme sports, and that is exactly what you get in abundance with this one. All videos are naturally captured and uploaded by the GoPro community, which produces some pretty stomach-turning videos. I personally recommend the aviation material, which works best for me.
Again, internet connection is required (a common theme unfortunately among most apps). What’s more is that due to its nature, some of these videos can be hand-held, shaky or just not up to par in the quality department.
GoPro VR is available for free on the App Store.
This list had to include a rollercoaster app, and after some deliberation I decided to plug this one. VR Thrills is not a 3D animated simulator (of which I have not found one convincing entry), but compiles real-life footage from some of the most prolific rides out there. The app is free and unlike others does not swoop for your credit card after a set number of rides.
‘Free’ most of the time implies in-app advertisement and that general rule applies for this one too. If you can endure one full-screen ad before the ride begins though, it is not too off putting all in all.
VR Thrills is available for free on the App Store.
Chances are you already have a VR-ready app somewhere on your Home screen. Youtube is good to go when it comes to virtual reality, just hit the search bar and type in the magic words to discover a host of VR channels and videos. As soon as the video starts playing, find and tab the white glasses icon in the bottom right corner to activate the split screen mode for your headset.
Youtube is evidently not an app dedicated specifically to VR videos. If you’re open to watching fairly random VR content, it will nevertheless keep you on your toes for hours and hours.
And just like that we have come to the end of the list. Can you think of other apps deserving of an honorable mention? Let us know in the comments!