The 9 Best VR Games of 2021

Escape to a different reality right in your living room

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The Rundown
"There's a mix of puzzle-solving and combat which keeps even the average player interested from start to finish."
"This is one of the staples in VR gaming because of its simplicity and its addictive nature."
"If you've ever wanted to scale a mountain or do some rock climbing, The Climb 2 may be right for you."
"The story's three volumes take you through the complete adventure. Along the way, you learn how to use the force and a lightsaber."
"Being able to pilot a starship and battle it out with foes makes this game a must for Star Trek fans and their friends."
"Rather than drawing lines in the air, SculptVR is more like placing clay in the air and shaping it from there."
"In Rec Room, people can hang out, build and play games, talk, and more. It's like a laboratory for creators and players."
"If you're the kind of person who loves to get your blood pounding, Five Nights at Freddy's will definitely do that for you."
Best First-Person Shooter:
Cloudhead Games Pistol Whip at Oculus
"It's a great action game that will keep you moving and a little out of breath."

The best virtual reality (VR) games can help you escape to another world, learn something new, or just allow you to blast away bad guys with a machine gun. When VR was first developed, one of the first-use cases that really caught on was gaming. Since then, games in VR have become more sophisticated and popular. With a VR headset that costs less than a game system, you can transport yourself fully into a brand new space, fly airplanes, see impossible sights, and fulfill your wishes from the safety of your living room.

VR gaming is key to the industry right now, and the industry has responded with some amazing titles. They're journeys to places you've only imagined. They get you off your feet and moving to the music. All this can be yours at an affordable price and a little extra room in front of the sofa. The right game is out there for you. Here are some of our favorites.

Best Overall: Valve Half-Life Alyx VR

Half-Life Alyx VR
What We Like
  • Amazing story

  • Finely detailed

What We Don't Like
  • Requires computer hardware

Half-Life: Alyx is one of the best VR games you can buy today, hands down. The sheer realism and immersive world that Valve software brings to the table is universally lauded for its detail and design. Valve rebuilt the Half-Life world from the ground up specifically for VR. In this new environment, users have a set of tools ideal for moving about in a world where you can pick up, throw, and generally manipulate everything.

The gameplay is intuitive, yet challenging. There's a mix of puzzle-solving and combat which keeps even the average player interested from start to finish. The game stays true to the Half-Life lore as well, fleshing out the story of its protagonist to an immensely fulfilling climax. Of course, playing in a world like this requires a lot of power, so a portable headset like the Oculus Quest won't do the trick unless you've tethered it to a powerful PC.

Overall, as long as you have the equipment you need, this is an amazing adventure that will keep you thrilled through multiple difficulty levels. If you are a fan of Half-Life, this is a must-play. Even if you're not a fan, there's enough background here to allow you to follow the story, without regretting a single step along the way.

Platforms: HTC Vive, Valve Index, Oculus, Windows Mixed Reality | Install Size: 67GB

Best Music: Beat Games Beat Saber

Beat Saber
What We Like
  • Multiple levels of gameplay

  • Very re-playable

  • Active development of new modes and songs

What We Don't Like
  • New song packs sometimes cost extra

  • Limited selection of songs, unless you sideload

If you've ever been remotely curious about VR at any point in the last three years, you have heard of Beat Saber. This game allows you to play out your Jedi-meets-Guitar Hero fantasies. Gameplay is simple. You stand in one spot with two lightsabers in your hands and boxes coming toward you. As they reach you, slash them out of the way. Move to the music and you'll also get a great workout in. You can replay levels to get better, or move up to the next level.

This is one of the staples in VR gaming because of its simplicity and its addictive nature. All genres of music are available, from Hip Hop to Rock, and the game includes popular artists such as BTS, Imagine Dragons, and Green Day. Most popular music packs cost extra, so this game can quickly get expensive. Plus, while you can sideload alternative music packs, doing so halts game updates, making things like multiplayer mode incompatible until you sideload again. If you don't sideload, you're limited to the 100 or so songs that you can buy. 

Beat Saber is the quintessential VR game that needs to be on every VR headset. It's not the coolest experience, but it's one of the easiest and most fun that anyone can learn. Bring an Oculus Quest to a party, fire up Beat Saber, and you'll have hours of entertainment.

Platforms: HTC Vive, Valve Index, Oculus, Oculus Quest, Windows Mixed Reality, PSVR | Install Size: Approximately 2GB

Best Sports: Crytek The Climb 2

The Climb 2
What We Like
  • Amazing views and vistas

  • Easy to learn gameplay

  • Challenges and gamification

What We Don't Like
  • Limited levels

  • Dizzying graphics

If you've ever wanted to scale a mountain or do some rock climbing, The Climb 2 may be right for you.  This game is a sequel to the original game, The Climb, which puts you on a cliff face with nothing but chalk, handholds, and an arrow pointing the way. As you make your way along cliffs, across loose rocks, and over ladders and pulleys, you are treated to some amazing views of the scenery.

The game lets you choose from one of five environments including the desert, a tropical cliffside, or even the city. There are only 15 levels in The Climb 2, but there is some re-playability, and challenges gamify repeat plays.

The levels are challenging and exhilarating. The environments are rich in scenery and even some culture. You can climb and jump from handhold to handhold. There are some unexpected surprises, such as poisonous plants and precipitous drops standing in your way of attaining the top of your climb, at which point you are treated to some extra fun, intense, and sometimes dizzying views of everything around you.

Platforms: Oculus, Oculus Quest | Install Size: Approximately 4.5GB

Best Narrative: ILMxLAB Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series

Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series
What We Like
  • Continues the Star Wars story

  • You stand face-to-face with Darth Vader

  • Fun story

  • Considered part of Star Wars canon

What We Don't Like
  • Limited re-playability

  • Sold in three volumes

  • Limited to Oculus only

Star Wars fans, unite! Oculus and LucasFilms worked together to create this neat story that takes place in the Star Wars canon between Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One: a Star Wars Story

This adventure sees a smuggler and his droid assistant get caught in a tractor beam and pulled down onto the planet Mustafar. From there, Darth Vader himself recruits you to assist him in retrieving an artifact. It turns out you are the descendant of an ancient Jedi who can control an artifact that Vader needs. 

The story's three volumes take you through the complete adventure. Along the way, you learn how to use the force, wield a lightsaber, and fire a blaster. You need to purchase all three volumes, which is a downer, but the volumes are inexpensive compared to the average game.

You'll also need to be using an Oculus-branded headset since this was built by the Oculus team. Re-playability is about on par with watching the same movie over and over, it depends on your taste. But, for the chance to stand toe to toe with Darth Vader, who is terrifying in person, it's worth it.

Platforms: Oculus, Oculus Quest, PSVR | Install Size: 2.7GB

Best Multiplayer: Ubisoft Star Trek Bridge Crew

Star Trek Bridge Crew
What We Like
  • Cross-play with non-VR

  • You get to fly the Enterprise

  • New DLC adds Romulans and Borg

  • Cross-platform compatibility with non-VR

What We Don't Like
  • Graphics are a bit cartoony

Climb aboard the USS Enterprise-D in Ubisoft's Star Trek Bridge Crew. The ship was made famous on Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), and now it's yours to command. You and up to three friends can man different stations aboard a federation starship to complete missions in different positions around the bridge. The latest downloadable content adds Next Generation content including the Romulans and the Borg, facing off in a final showdown with the Federation's greatest enemies.

The graphics are not the sharpest, though. They actually come off as a little cartoony, lacking realism. Then again, you're piloting a starship through the Alpha quadrant, so maybe realism isn't the right feel. All the same, don't expect it to look the same as an episode of TNG. But being able to pilot a starship and battle it out with foes while working together with your friends makes this game a must for fans of the show, while still being fun for everyone.

Platforms: HTC Vive, Valve Index, Oculus, Oculus Quest, Windows Mixed Reality, PSVR | Install Size: Approximately 1.5GB

Best Drawing: Nathan Rowe SculptrVR

SculptrVR
What We Like
  • 3D art projects

  • Active Discord community

What We Don't Like
  • Steep learning curve

For those of you seeking to let loose your creative side, SculptrVR is a great game allowing you to sculpt in VR. Some VR drawing games let you draw brightly colored ribbons in mid-air, but SculptrVR gives you more practical tools to work with. You can create shapes, colors, and patterns and cut them away to further refine your art. Rather than drawing lines in the air, SculptVR is more like placing clay in the air and shaping it from there. In many ways, it's more intuitive. 

But there is a fairly steep learning curve as you learn the tools and their functions, and what tools to use to create which shapes. It can be intimidating, but there's even a Discord community to help you out.

SculptrVR is also a better way to create solid structures and characters. It works the way our brains want it to work—more solid and almost tangible. So if you've been looking to unlock your creativity, this is a great game for you.

Platforms: HTC Vive, Valve Index, Oculus, Oculus Quest, Windows Mixed Reality, PSVR | Install Size: Less than 1GB

Best Social: Rec Room Inc. Rec Room

Rec Room
What We Like
  • Social platform allows you to chat, play games, or just hang out

  • Mini-games are fun

  • Free

  • Privacy tools

What We Don't Like
  • Stranger danger

Rec Room is a fun online platform that isn't limited to just VR. You can join Rec Room on any number of platforms including your Xbox, smartphone, and PC. In Rec Room, people can hang out, build and play games, talk, and more. It's like a laboratory for creators and players. You can create your own avatar, make friends, create games, or play games that others have created. It's a really fun place to hang out.

Of course, like any free chat room open to the public, you can encounter some unfriendlies. It's not a dire situation at all, but it's important to know who you or your children are talking to when playing. There are also tools in the game to block people you don't know. Many find the ability to create their own games quite freeing, and to see others enjoying those games is an amazing amount of fun.

Platforms: HTC Vive, Valve Index, Oculus, Oculus Quest, Windows Mixed Reality, PSVR | Install Size: Approximately 1GB

Best Horror: Steel Wool Games, Inc. Five Nights at Freddy's: Help Wanted

Five Nights at Freddy's: Help Wanted
What We Like
  • Good, scary fun

  • A master class of scares

  • No walking or movement required

What We Don't Like
  • Can get repetitive

  • No explorable areas

If you're the kind of person who loves a good scare, Five Nights at Freddy's: Help Wanted is absolutely perfect for you. The Five Nights at Freddy's franchise has long been established as a great scare game, but moving it into VR makes it more immersive and terrifying. Five Nights is based on the old pizza places with animatronic characters, but they've come to life and are dedicated to causing trouble and ultimately, you know, killing you.

Jump scares reign in this game. You can play it sitting on your couch if you like, but that does lead to one problem—none of the areas in the game are explorable. There's no way to move around and see what's behind corners. That's a little limiting for a VR game, but it works. Also, the tasks you need to perform can get repetitive at times. But if you're the kind of person who loves to get your blood pounding, Five Nights at Freddy's: Help Wanted will definitely do that for you.

Platforms: HTC Vive, Valve Index, Oculus, Oculus Quest, Windows Mixed Reality, PSVR | Install Size: Approximately 2GB

Best First-Person Shooter: Cloudhead Games Pistol Whip

Pistol Whip
What We Like
  • Action-intense first-person shooter

  • Free updates

What We Don't Like
  • Rail sliding can make you motion sick

First-person shooters are one of the best game implementations in the VR space. Using handles and triggers to hold and shoot guns is perfectly natural. Pistol Whip is one of the best since it's not only a first-person shooter, but it's also a rhythm game, much like Beat Saber. It's also an action game, reminiscent of John Wick because you're shooting at enemies and whipping them with your pistol. It's a great action game that will keep you moving and a little out of breath.

Updates and new songs are generally free, including the most recent 2089 update which transports you into a future where robots have taken over the world and only you can stop them. This was a free add-on to an already great game. Pistol Whip sees active development, and it's fun for all skill levels.

The one thing we would caution you against is, if you are prone to motion sickness, this game might get to you. The game will have you constantly moving forward as if you're on a conveyor belt, and it can be disorienting. You will also be ducking and stepping side to side, and it can get to you, so be warned.

Platforms: HTC Vive, Valve Index, Oculus, Oculus Quest, Windows Mixed Reality, PSVR | Install Size: Approximately 2GB

Final Verdict

If you have a computer that can run it, Half-Life: Alyx (view at Steam) is an amazingly immersive game in a world that was custom-built from the ground up for VR. It tells a compelling story with rich characters and intuitive gameplay that can keep you entertained for hours. All VR games should aspire to be what Half-Life: Alyx delivers.

If you don't have a powerful headset or computer, it's hard to go wrong with Beat Saber (view at Oculus). It's an addictive game that is easy to learn, but exceptionally hard to master. There are multiple ways to play including multiplayer, solo quest, and 360 mode which send blocks flying in from all directions. Re-playability is quite high as each time you play you get a little bit better. It's simply a must-have for any VR aficionado.

About Our Trusted Experts:

Adam Doud has been writing in the technology space for almost a decade. When he's not hosting the Benefit of the Doud podcast, he's playing with the latest phones, tablets, and laptops. When not working, he's a cyclist, geocacher, and spends as much time outside as he can.

FAQs

How do I download games to my headset?

VR headsets have a store or marketplace where you can purchase and download games. Often there's an accompanying app on your smartphone that you can use to purchase games and have them sent to your headset automatically. In rare cases, there are games that you can load onto your headset directly from your computer.

Can I play VR games on any headset?

Not necessarily. While many VR games can be played on any headset, some are developed for a specific platform. Similar to console games, some games don't make it to all VR headsets, so it's important to make sure that a game is compatible with yours. The safest bet for knowing if a game is compatible or not is by looking for the game in your headset's app store.

How many games can my headset hold?

This depends on your headset's storage capacity. Most VR headsets start with a base storage of 64GB. While most game sizes fall within the 2GB range, extra downloaded content, such as extra songs for Beat Saber, takes up more data. With a base storage model, you can expect to have around 20 to 30 apps installed comfortably, but that will also depend on what apps you're installing.

What to Look For in a VR Game

Compatibility - If you already own a headset, it's easy to tell if a game is compatible by checking the store. If you're still shopping for a VR headset and you want to know whether a game will work on it, most VR game stores have a website you can check as well.

Re-playability - Some games can be played and played again. Others have a more narrative quality that can really be enjoyed only so much before they start to get stale. It's a good idea to read reviews of a game to make sure you'll enjoy it for a long time before putting down your hard-earned money. If you get only one play-through, you'll want to make the most of the experience.

Locomotion - VR headsets have several different methods of moving around to take into account. There's sitting, swinging your arms, room scale, and more. How you play a game will generally determine how much space you need. Therefore, the space you have available will dictate the types of games you'll be able to play. For example, The Climb 2 would be difficult to play in a confined space.

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