Editor’s Note: This list was last updated on 4/5/17 and is being republished on 8/21/17 to coincide with the Vive price drop. A big new update is coming soon to revamp this list for what’s currently available. Let us know recommendations down in the comments!
Now that the HTC Vive has been out for a while, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of content flow onto Valve’s flagship VR headset. Hundreds of games live on Steam with HTC Vive support, although it’s worth clarifying that the majority of them offer very little in the way of engaging content beyond a simple gameplay mechanic that’s fun for 30 minutes.
As a result, we feel the need to provide a definitive source with an up-to-date list regarding the very best Vive games that you can play right now. We’ll keep an eye on the VR gaming landscape and update this list over time, as appropriate, to better represent what’s available.
Obviously, it goes without saying that the first three Vive games you should play are the original three that came bundled with the Vive’s very first preorders: Tilt Brush, Job Simulator, and Fantastic Contraption. While these titles may not be bundled any longer, they’re still awesome demonstrations of what VR can accomplish by focusing on very specific concepts. Additionally, The Gallery: Episode 1 – Call of the Starseed, and Zombie Training Simulator were included with Vive bundles for a long time and also deserve recognition as being excellent games in their own right. Plus Google Earth VR, The Lab, and Rec Room are three of the best apps period, but since they’re totally free we opted to leave them off this list for now.
But this list is focused on games you don’t have access to out of the box. If you just got a Vive or are cruising for something to play, you already tried the bundle games. You want something more. And that’s where this list comes in.
None of these games come bundled with the device, prices will likely change depending on which week or month you’re reading this list, and chances are they’ll all receive updates and patches making them even better than they are today. But the fact remains that at the time of writing, these are the 9 must-play Vive games available right now, in no particular order.
If you’ve ever sat around with your friends and played, “How would we survive the zombie apocalypse?” then Arizona Sunshine is a must play. Developer Vertigo Games transports you directly into the sun bleached deserts of Arizona. The landscapes would be quite beautiful if they weren’t crawling with legions of the undead.
Armed with only a handful of firearms you’ll need to scavenge for food, ammunition, and shelter as you make your way through the infested landscape in search of refuge from the endless hordes. Arizona Sunshine‘s gameplay is visceral and satisfying with a wonderfully voiced protagonist and a story that makes you feel the desperation that comes at the end of the world.
There are also difficulty modes that scale the zombie damage and ammo scarcity. These culminate in the almost impossible to beat “Apocalyptic Mode” which will make you think hard before taking every shot. The online horde mode is a blast with friends and the gunplay and reload mechanics keep you feeling actively involved in your own survival.
In a market flooded with Zombie shooters Arizona Sunshine stands a decapitated head and shoulders above the rest.
Raw Data is what happens when a group of game developers get together and posit a virtual world where all of the protagonists get to be super-powered, cyborg-killing, badass heroes. It can be easy to brush this one off as “just another wave shooter,” but that would be a gross oversimplification of the game. You don’t just face off against robots and call it a day, but instead move around the environment and set up defenses, dodge attacks, and more.
What makes Raw Data so great though is that you’re not just fighting these robots by yourself, but you can do so in cooperative multiplayer with friends or random people over the internet. The multitude of different classes — such as a pistol-wielder and sword-wielder — lend a lot of variety to the experience. With more classes coming, as well as more missions, powers, and enemies, this is easily one of the most polished and robust Early Access VR titles on the market.
Plus it has PvP now!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play D&D with a hint of Zelda in VR? Then look no further because Vanishing Realms could very well scratch that pesky itch. On the surface, it’s a relatively bare bones dungeon crawler with some light exploration and puzzle elements, but where the game really shines is when you’re thrust into combat.
Using the Vive’s motion controllers and room scale technology, you maneuver around the environment to dodge enemies and attacks and can even swing your sword and block with your shield all using real-life 1:1 motion tracking. Hear a bow string twang from behind? Spin around and block the arrow with your shield. Duck behind cover and cast spells at enemies. You can do it all in Vanishing Realms.
This is the hardcore VR shooter for hardcore VR gamers. If you grew up playing games like Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, SOCOM, and other similar tactical military shooters, then you’ll feel right at home in Onward. It has much more in common with the grueling teamwork of those games than the run-and-gun hip firing found in modern shooters like Call of Duty, and it was all created by one guy.
From holding your rifle with both hands and using your walkie talkie on your shoulder, to pulling out your knife to sneak up on an opponent, Onward is the visceral, realistic VR game many people have been waiting for. It uses full roomscale tracking with motion controllers and artificial locomotion attached to the trackpad — no teleporting here. The community is healthy and fun, making this one of the clear standout titles for the HTC Vive so far.
A Chair in a Room: Greenwater
What does it take to scare you? I don’t mean to make you jump in surprise from something that pops up as you round a corner in the darkness, or a loud noise that catches you off guard. I mean what does it take to really, really frighten you? The kind of scare that leaves you thinking about it after you take off the headset and stop playing the game. That answer is likely very different for everyone, but for me, the answer is A Chair in a Room: Greenwater.
Everything from the pacing, to the foreboding sounds and atmosphere, all the way to the twisted story of mental illness and terrifying captivity, A Chair in a Room: Greenwater is one of the scariest games I’ve played on the HTC Vive. Instead of relying on cheap jump scares, it builds a suspenseful narrative that concludes in a breathtaking ending. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a great example of what’s possible with the horror genre in VR.
The Brookhaven Experiment
You’ve probably heard about it or seen it before, as The Brookhaven Experiment has become synonymous with, “Hey! Watch this person’s ridiculous reaction to fake stuff in VR!” But the great thing about The Brookhaven Experiment is that if you look beyond the silly reaction videos and dig into the meat of the game, what you’ll find is one of the most satisfying (albeit terrifying) VR experiences currently on the market.
You can plow through the game’s Survival mode, completing waves as they get progressively harder and more intense, as well as the Campaign mode, which features a pseudo-plot and voice acting to push the story along. Between waves you’ll upgrade your weapons and prepare for the onslaught of more zombies, crawlers, and other creepy beasts. It sounds simple, but the slowly building dread you’ll face as you spin around searching for that last zombie — just as your flashlight dies — is truly unnerving.
Intuitively it may not seem like a top-down strategy game makes a whole lot of sense for VR. When most people think about what they want to do inside of a VR headset their minds go to things like first-person shooters or adventure titles, but strategy games actually fit the platform quite nicely. With the vantage point you’r given of being a relative “eye in the sky” you can see the whole battlefield like never before.
With its most recent update, AirMech Command established itself as one of the best VR strategy games with the inclusion of motion controller support so you can really reach out and interact with the world and your units. Fans of any real-time strategy titles should absolutely give this one a look. The robust single player and multiplayer options provide plenty of content to keep you busy.
It’s really a damn shame. But it seems like, in the year 2016, people have mostly forgotten how terrifying dinosaurs can be. They’ve been replaced mostly with zombies as the go-to monstrosity of choice, but little else can match the ferocity and terror from the roar of a towering T-Rex. That’s something that Island: 359 not only captures, but revels in from start to finish. It may currently only be a fraction of its planned vision, but it’s already delivering on much of its core promise.
In Island: 359, you’re a mercenary dropped into a dangerous tropical jungle on the hunt for big, bad dinos. You’ll be tasked with venturing into the depths of the sprawling tree-laden wilderness — a massive area — complete with free quick-sprint teleportation movement. With a litany of guns, items, and other upgrades to find, you’ll spend your time upgrading as you advance through the jungle. But be careful: your bounty won’t count if you can’t make it back to the chopper for evacuation.
This is WipeOut for the modern age. It’s a shameless imitation that does everything right and excels at its copy of Sony’s first-party racing title, updating it for 2016, and adding VR support to boot. It may not be a VR-only title like most of the others we tend to cover at UploadVR, but it’s still one of the best games you can play right now on the HTC Vive.
The speed is indescribably intense and the sheer breadth of content is refreshing for an industry that seems riddled with tech demos and brief experiences. Redout came out of nowhere to offer the speed, thrills, and intensity that the market was craving. Definitely grab this one if you haven’t already.
4/5/2017 Update: The Lab and Rec Room have been retired from the formal list and added to the intro section of free titles. They were replaced by Arizona Sunshine and AirMech Command.
8/30/16 Update: The Gallery was moved into the ‘bundle’ paragraph at the start of the article, while Unseen Diplomacy, Space Pirate Trainer, and #SelfieTennis have been retired. The list has also been expanded from 7 games to 9, opening up 2 new spots. In the 5 total vacant slots, we’ve added Raw Data, A Chair in a Room: Greenwater, Island: 359, Battle Dome, and Rec Room.
This article was originally published on 4/13/16.
Editor’s Note: Another version of this list, specifically focused on multiplayer games, has been retired and will no longer be updated. This list is our definitive collection of the overall best Vive games we’ve identified as of the last time the list was updated.