Yesterday we broke the news that Oculus is tentatively targeting a Q1 2019 release for its Santa Cruz standalone VR headset. The news doesn’t come as too much of a surprise given Oculus’ Rift and Go devices both got early releases in their respective launch years. What did raise eyebrows, though, is the news that the VR specialist is keen to port many of the games that have launched on Rift over the past two years to its new device.
With its sensor-free inside-out tracking, Santa Cruz technically should be almost as capable as the Rift on the tracking front, though there were a few small hiccups when we last tried it at Oculus Connect 4. Spec-wise, though, the headset almost certainly won’t measure up to the high-end PCs that power the Rift, which makes speculating about what games could make their way over an entertaining task.
Below, then, we’ve listed nine Rift apps that we think absolutely must come to Santa Cruz. It would be easy to just repeat our existing list of the best Rift games you can play today, but we’ve taken technical ambition into heavy consideration for this list. We’d love to see Echo Arena on a mobile device, for example, but it feels like too big of an ask (we’d be happy to be wrong of course).
We recently saw someone on Reddit say that if Santa Cruz has Beat Saber as a launch title then it’s basically going to print money. There probably isn’t a better way to put it; Beat Games’ Star Wars-style rhythm action game is arguably the closest we’ve yet gotten to VR’s killer app, attracting plenty of attention for its lightsaber-fuelled gameplay. It’s so popular that people are even ripping it off with very little effort to conceal it.
The chance to play Beat Saber tether-free is just too tempting to pass up, and would really encourage us to lose ourselves in the music more than ever. Add to that the fact that incoming features like multiplayer and a track editor will be much closer to completion by the time Santa Cruz launch rolls around and this could be the biggest game on the platform.
Blasters of the Universe
If I had to pick a wave shooter to be ported to Santa Cruz (and, let’s be honest, there’s probably plenty of them coming) it would have to be Secret Location’s stylish Saturday morning tribute. Why? Because Blasters of the Universe is as much about dodging as it is attacking. It’s a bullet hell game, which means you need to avoid a steady stream of projectiles being shot right at your face. Can you think of any better test for the headset’s inside-out tracking?
As a showcase of VR’s ability to put you right in the action, Blasters of the Universe is one of the best examples currently out there. With a deep weapon customization system and an endless game mode, there’s more than enough here to keep you entertained and it’s simple enough for anyone to pick up and play.
We probably wouldn’t have put Apex Construct on this list if it weren’t for the fact that Fast Travel Games showcased a mobile VR version of the game running on Gear VR back at GDC 2018. While the results were promising, Gear’s lack of positional tracking and its 3DOF controller aren’t ideally suited to Apex’s world-spanning adventure. Santa Cruz, though, is the perfect remedy for that.
Apex Construct offers one of that most-requested of things, a full single-player campaign in a VR game that isn’t a wave shooter. It might not be ground-breaking from a design perspective, but its mix of intriguing story and engaging combat lays a great foundation for what to expect in the future, and it’s definitely worth playing in its own right.
If Beat Saber isn’t VR’s killer app then Superhot VR is next in line. This hugely popular spin-off is a winning mix of time-halting mechanics and VR’s robust tracking options, creating a shooter in which every tiny twist of the head or movement of the hand matters. You have to kill all enemies in a level before they kill you, making for an incredibly tense and expertly-designed experience in which you set the pace.
Superhot might be a little more on the ambitious side of this list, but it’s definitely one of the most essential choices. Nearly two years on from its original release and it still hasn’t been topped in terms of raw excitement and accessibility. There’s still nothing else quite like Superhot VR, and that’s exactly why Santa Cruz needs it so badly.
Another more ambitious addition; The Climb remains one of the most visually impressive VR experiences on the Rift. That said, it’s also one of the most popular games on the platform and one of the best to quickly demonstrate VR’s transformative power to put you in an entirely different place leading out an entirely different life.
With that in mind, then, we’d implore Crytek to get to work scaling down the sparkling graphics in order to get an otherwise-simplistic game running on Santa Cruz. Clambering up the sides of mountains and cliffs remains one of the most thrilling and intuitive experiences that you can have in VR. Part of what’s so amazing about The Climb is the simple fact that it works, even when your feet are still rooted to the ground. Santa Cruz is the perfect way to showcase that.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew
When we’d go hands-on with Star Trek: Bridge Crew pre-launch Ubisoft would have a four-player setup in one room. Even though we were all meeting in VR, having your friends in the same room really helped enhance the experience, allowing us to communicate with great ease and all sharing in the laughter as we blew up aliens. Sadly, as good as the final release is, bringing four PCs and four VR headsets into the same room with all the necessary sensors just isn’t feasible for many.
On Santa Cruz, though, it most certainly is. We can totally see ourselves heading over to a friend’s house for VR game nights in which we pilot the Enterprise and beam people up. True, we still probably won’t have many friends that buy Santa Cruz, but cross-play support with non-VR platforms and PSVR might make this more of a reality, too. This is one place Santa Cruz boldly needs to go.
Google Earth VR
So far the incredible Google Earth VR has eluded mobile VR platforms, including Google’s own Daydream devices. Santa Cruz really needs to buck that trend, though, because there really isn’t a better way to quickly demonstrate the power of VR that strapping the entire world to their head and letting them explore to their heart’s content.
Google Earth VR allows you to go anywhere, so it’s only right that it comes to a headset that allows you to do the same. Plus, we’d love to see an updated take on the app that perhaps adds some next locations and maybe even integrates without mobile Google VR apps like Street View in some way.
Rec Room is another app that hasn’t made its way to mobile headsets just yet, but with Santa Cruz’s inside-out tracking now is the perfect time to port the best social VR platform out there over. Against Gravity’s ever-expanding platform has made a name for itself as one of the most positive and entertaining places to meet up with people in VR, and it’s time to let anyone get a taste of that.
Rec Room allows you to do anything from play sports to paintball with friends around the world. A VR enthusiast telling their gamer friends that they could be playing dodgeball or taking part in co-op quests if they buy this single piece of VR equipment could be a huge selling point for Santa Cruz. This has to happen.
We’ll dream just a little for our final entry. Onward is one of the most complete, comprehensive multiplayer VR experiences on Rift, though its relatively simplistic visuals have us hoping we could get at least some form of port onto Santa Cruz. Even if it meant a sacrifice to player count or map size, it’s something that should be considered.
Onward has made a name for itself thanks to its realistic competitive combat that answered a call few other developers were addressing at the time of release. Competition might be stiffer by 2019 but the remarkable work Downpour Interactive has done sustaining the experience thus far has us confident it could thrive on Santa Cruz.