Alibi V.27 No.30 • July 26-Aug 1, 2018 

Steam Genius

Future’s Made of Virtual Insanity

A very special summer virtual reality sampler

Desmond Fox exploring VR
Actual Steam genius Desmond Fox exploring virtual reality

Previously the stuff of science fiction, virtual reality gaming is finally here, and it is here to stay. It may only be a matter of time before your darkest dystopian fears come true, as humans start to spend more time logged into their preferred Matrix-esque reality than the real world. While the adoption rate might not be quite that far along, VR gaming can be seriously impressive, and if you’re lucky enough to have an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift hooked up at home, this list will help provide you with a few excellent entry level experiences to explore and thrust your non-virtual friends into.

Beat Saber

Hyperbolic Magnetism
Beat Saber

Beat Saber offers an experience which transports the player into a world of arcade wonders. It begins with a simple premise: In each hand the player holds a sparking plasma weapon not unlike those iconic photoswords of Star Wars fame, and uses these to strike nondescript colored blocks as they race toward the player. (Think Dance Dance Revolution, except you’re also a Jedi!) This easy-to-grasp setup comes complete with 10 tracks of blaring electronic music, to which the incoming targets are synchronized. It’s simple, and as an arcade experience in the home of its player, excitingly novel.

It’s also a great example of the kinetic nature of virtual reality gaming and its ability to bring some healthy cardio into our lives. Expect to sweat pig-style, as you climb towards the hard and expert difficulty ratings. Once you’ve mastered all of the included tracks, thousands of user-made stages await you, all with unique challenges and even more compelling spins on the established Beat Saber formula. The active community keeps what is still an early access game feeling like a complete and robust experience. Call your friends over, have a few drinks, strap them into your headset and watch them dance-slash those cubes like they were Jedi younglings.

Gorn

Gorn
Gorn
Free Lives

Gorn invites its players into a world of cartoon violence. Stuck in a gladiatorial arena, the player must select a weapon, then use it to defend herself against waves of combatants. Using the VR controllers, that player is left to wildly swing axes, swords, hammers and more in a brutal fight for survival. Beware! While playing Gorn, you’re bound to break something in your real life environment.

The cartoon-y enemies and rubbery weapons help offset the game’s violence just enough to keep it from being truly bone-chilling. There were times in my experience with Gorn where I’ve decapitated men, crushed their skulls with rocks and literally ripped their limbs from their bodies with my bare hands. A low violence mode is available, turning your enemies into human piñatas full of candy, but even then, Gorn is a desperate and visceral experience.

The potential of VR is on full display within Gorn’s gruesome parameters. It’s an absolutely immersive experience and a bloody good time with friends. A party mode is featured as well, where one player controls a combatant via traditional game controller, and the other player battles it in full VR. Gorn will get your blood pumping like little else on the VR market, but also must be recognized as the front runner for VR game which will most likely cause a real life injury.

Rec Room

Against Gravity

Available for free, Rec Room is the perfect introduction to the social future of virtual reality. The second you log on, you are surrounded by dozens of other players in a cartoon community center, complete with basketball courts, activity rooms and even vending machines full of imaginary beverages. You’ll find yourself exploring different rooms, participating in various sports and games with complete strangers, maybe even making friends once you get over the initial awkwardness of socializing in a virtual space.

Activities include paintball, paddleball, charades, and even combat and exploration-oriented cooperative adventures. New modes are consistently added, along with rewards retrievable from purchasable loot boxes, used for customizing your avatar’s appearance. There’s a softness to Rec Room which welcomes new players and during my time with the game, I’ve experienced little in the way of people on the internet being generally awful. Still, muting other players is as simple as raising your hand once you stumble into the inevitable trolls.

Job Simulator

Job Simulator
Job Simulator
Owlchemy Labs

The quintessential ambassador of VR gaming, Job Simulator is the perfect program to log your newbie friend into and watch them have a field day. The player (as a post-human television robot) is dropped into a seemingly mundane recreation of a human job and is expected to follow orders and complete tasks, simulating what those soft mammals were up to before the automation boom. Each environment is full of whimsical surprises, which require little VR know-how to enjoy.

The player will dig around for all sorts of gags as they experience the exhilarating life of pre-singularity humanity. Really, all anyone wants to do when they first play VR is pick up and throw things. Most of the interactive items in the Job Simulator environment meet this need, satisfying the inevitable curiosity of interacting with the virtual world. Job Simulator’s soft charm and cool humor facilitate those first steps into post-humanity so casually, you might just forget what a giant step into the future you’re taking just by experiencing it at all.