Virtual reality has arguably grabbed the brass ring in 2020. Where hardware and technology were coming along nicely in previous years, software has felt a little too sparse to talk about at length. Not that there haven’t been bangers. Just not quite enough to fill a list the way we would like. 2020 feels a touch different. Not only did it give a title that could be argued as a GOTY contender, but there are a ton of 2020 releases to talk about, thanks in no small part to the launch of Quest 2 giving many of them technical new life with 2020 recreations for its hardware this year. With that in mind, we took the liberty of pulling a wealth of titles from the corners of the VR space together into a lovely list we'd like to say are the best VR games of 2020.
The best VR games of 2020
Some ground rules: Cut off is unequivocally games launched in 2020 on a VR platform. Furthermore, some previous year games rebuilt for the Quest or Quest 2 count in that 2020 lineup in the same way we might talk about Witcher 3 or Doom 2016 when it comes to best Nintendo Switch ports. On the flipside, that’s also why you won’t see a classic like Beat Saber or Acron: Attack of the Squirrels on this list, because while they are available on the Quest 2 and fantastic VR titles to boot, their availability comes from launch on the original Quest in previous years. Yet still, somehow, we found a way to talk about them, right? Hmm. Anyways, here are 2020’s best VR games so far!
It actually feels like an obligation for our safety and your sanity that we talk about Half-Life: Alyx first, because holy heck. This game is an absolute powerhouse of incredible VR design, interaction, and engagement. Taking players back before the events of Half-Life 2, players take on the role of Alyx Vance as she and her allies work in the shadows against the Combine. Half-Life: Alyx is a puzzle game, action game, horror game, and exemplary examples of all of the above formed into one incredible experience. The gravity gloves make interaction with the world a fun venture throughout, the gunplay is respectable and responsive, the puzzles are smart and enjoyable, and the world is stark, terrifying, and also drop-dead gorgeous. Simply put, if you have a VR setup that can play Half-Life: Alyx and you somehow don’t have that game yet, you are making a terrible mistake. Would The Man with the Briefcase lie to you about a good VR game?
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners has the distinction of being safe for our list two times over with its launch on regular headsets and relaunch on Oculus Quest 2 and… I almost feel icky saying this… It might be one of the most aggressively therapeutic games here. Why? Because the melee is intensely good. Because grabbing a zombie trying to give you the meanest kisses and either jamming a screwdriver into their scalp or introducing them to a close-range revolver shot feels good. It’s uncomfortable, but dang. Skydance Interactive got it so incredibly right with combat in this game. The story is so-so, but if the tension of running around a city, scrounging items for survival, and making the most of your time before things get too dangerous sounds appealing, then Saints and Sinners might be considered the current benchmark for visceral and intense survival horror VR. Also, pro-tip: you can juggle and do gun tricks in this game. Just make sure you don’t accidentally foul up and shoot a quest giver in the face in the process.
Star Wars: Squadrons
Let’s put one thing out there right off the bat. You don’t have to play Star Wars: Squadrons in VR. The game is perfectly functional as a non-VR game and pretty fun to boot. That said? You really, really ought to give VR a whirl in Squadrons. The intensity of jumping into the cockpit of an X-Wing or TIE fighter is boosted further by the ability to handle it all in VR and be able to look around your cockpit and through different parts of the canopy as you fly through space engaging in intergalactic dogfights. It just feels like you’re all the more there when you’re playing the already pretty great natural flight combat experience of Squadrons. And if you have a good flightstick and throttle combo alongside the headset? You’re basically in for the full immersion of being a pilot in the great Star War.
2020 has seen a number of multiplayer breakout hits over the course of the last several months, bringing folks together to engage in all kinds of fun whether it’s chasing victory in the wacky obstacle courses of Fall Guys or slaying each other and lying about it in Among Us. VR isn’t exempt from the fun though. Phasmaphobia is another such hit and offers both regular and VR gameplay to players that enter its spooky domain. As ghost hunters, it’s your job to enter properties and collect evidence of spookings. A variety of types of ghosts make each investigation random and there are tons of ways to add to the investigation whether you’re in the action or monitoring from the team van. But regardless, the longer you stay, the more aggressive the ghost gets. Engaging with it in VR first-person can be a terrifying endeavor, but the overall engagement and team interaction makes Phasmophobia a great reason to strap on your headset with online friends.
Dreams was good from the moment it launched this year, but VR has helped to push it beyond excellent. This game can become pretty much anything you want it to be. It’s a digital artist gallery and programming toolbox of phenomenal proportion confined only by your understanding of how it works and your imagination. Entire games can be made entirely in Dreams. Experiences can be crafted like an actual cartoon workshop. Beautiful landscapes can be spawned from nothing, and the PSVR handles it all quite well. There are a few technical constraints to Dreams, but it’s like a musical instrument. Put the time in and understand how it plays and you can make magic happen. Creation in Dreams also just happens to be one of the most relaxing experiences around. If you’re looking to take a break from the scares and action of other VR games, maybe it’s time to dip into Media Molecule’s creative suite and see what you can put together yourself.
Marvel’s Iron Man VR
Being Tony Stark isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t cool either. Camouflaj focused in on the cybertech Avenger to craft an entire experience played from behind the visor of Iron Man, and it truly is something to behold. Flying through the skies engaging in aerial combat with enemies is a fantastic and flashy time. Whether you’re flying over the ocean chasing down targets or protecting planes, there’s a little bit of a Panzer Dragoon feel here, but in a good way, and being able to access Iron Man’s arsenal of repulsor blasters, missiles, melee, and more is just plain fun. Marvel’s Iron Man VR isn’t the most in-depth game on this list, but if you’re a Marvel fan, it’s probably worth your time.
Where The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners is an exemplary example of just how good melee can be when it’s done right in VR, Boneworks is a masterclass of good gunplay. It’s not that there isn’t melee in Boneworks (and the game does other things quite well in its action-driven experience), but gunplay is absolutely its forte. There is simply no other VR title in 2020 that more effectively lets you run through a world letting a rip on enemies with guns akimbo and makes you feel you’re a living, breathing John Woo film so successfully. The game is a wacky menagerie of physics, and though it can sometimes get a little too out of hand for its own good, it’s hard to say there’s another VR shooter that feels this good when it comes to the handle, feel, and variety of its armaments.
Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series
Okay, so yes. Vader Immortal has been available on most VR headsets since very late last year, but here’s its saving grace to landing on this list: Its successful port over to PSVR, allowing all Star Wars fans with a VR headset to engage in the absolute wild fun of playing as an actual factual lightsaber wielding Jedi. Vader Immortal is just dang good for any player who has been enjoying Star Wars games for years and wants to get the more hands-on, boots-on-the-ground approach not offered in Squadrons. A three-part game, Vader Immortal has you go from being a smuggler to discovering your own power as a Jedi to honing it to finally facing off with the legendary Jedi-turned-Sith himself. Along the way, you force pull, laser deflect, and engage the forces of the Empire with everything you got. We can’t really say Vader Immortal’s spinoff to the Star Wars franchise seems canon, but we can hardly say no to a game that lets us engage hands-on in lightsaber duel with Darth Vader himself.
Until You Fall
Until You Fall is another melee affair that feels fantastic, but where The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners is more freeform in the way you can approach enemies and check the density of their skulls, this one can be considered sort of an action/rhythm hybrid. Until You Fall is roguelite in that you never know what enemies you’ll be dueling until they’re in front of you, but once you’re face to face with your neon-filtered opponents, it’s all about timing your attacks and defenses to the motion and movements of indicators in your vision. As you flail, swing, duck, and dodge, you’ll probably fall to your opponents on a long enough cycle, but it just presents opportunity to strengthen yourself, collect artifacts, explore new weapons, and go into the fight again. Until You Fall saw a rebuild with the launch of the Quest 2, so without any wires present, it’s arguably safer than ever to flail around and slay your foes.
Pixel Ripped 1995
Pixel Ripped 1989 was an absolute gas when it came out in 2018. The game-within-a-game concept was a ridiculous and fun multi-layered nod to oldschool gaming. In 2020, Pixel Ripped 1995 has moved forward a generation to continue that concept in stellar style. Taking on the 16 and 32-bit eras of video games and the console wars that came with them, players once again navigate the game-within-a-game expereince emulating a wealth of SNES, Genesis, and other gaming nostalgia of the era. While playing through its overworld narrative 9-year-old gamer David, you also navigate an adventure to help the video game hero Dot save her realm in a multi-dimensional journey. Pixel Ripped 1995 takes everything good about 1989 and pushes both the nostalgia and jokeyness of the whole concept that much further, and makes for a much more lighthearted and colorful romp in comparison to most of the VR field.
When people look at the VR space, battle royale is probably not anywhere near one of the more feasible options for a genre on the platform. Those people likely haven't seen Population: One, which pulls it off rather adequately. Coming from the folks at BigBox VR, Population: One puts all the staples of a proper battle royale at your disposal, including air drops, looting, and gunfights down to the last players standing. Where it succeeds greatly is in corralling the length of these matches down to a point where jump in and jump out play feels right. Back when we previewed Population: One, matches only took about 5-10 minutes. Even so, the gunplay felt good and satisfying and the FreeMotion system of the game ensured tactical strategy and mobility remained intact when engaging or fleeing opponents. It's hard to say if battle royale will really be that big of a thing in VR or not, but at least with Population: One, the genre has good a proof of concept in this space.
Phantom: Covert Ops
Phantom: Covert Ops combines two very unlikely bedfellows, kayaking and first-person shooter combat, into a stealth-action VR experience. We couldn't have possibly guessed that a concept like this would be so intriguing to tackle, but nDreams married the two diverse concepts together well. As a spy, you work your way through various watery levels in your kayak. Levels are menageries of enemy soldiers, helicopters, and base installations that need a healthy dose of sabotage. You have every tool you'll need in your boat, including pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles, bows, and plastic explosives. Taking out enemies draws attention, so navigating around them is just as important and the multiple opportunities for completing your missions throughout areas make this game truly interesting to explore and re-explore. Who knew chill kayaking and intense spy games could be such a match?
Oh, pleasant thing of pleasant things to see that Tetris Effect landed on the Quest environment in 2020. We are literally never going to miss a chance to talk about this game because Tetris Effect is just so dang delightful. Engaging with it is a visual cornucopia of music and gameplay that simulates the Tetris experience nicely, but another amazing experience comes from the Theater Mode, in which you don’t even have to engage with it. Just sit back, relax, and watch and listen to Tetris Effect happening from the comfort of your headset. The Quest 2 makes this experience better than ever as well, because there are no wires. You are free. Free to lay on the couch, sit in your office, and generally enjoy the cavalcade of goodness that is Tetris Effect. Tetris is nearly always stressful and Tetris Effect can feel that way too, but it also might be one of the most chill ways to ever go about the block-busting classic ever.
That covers our current list of the best VR titles of 2020 so far. There’s still plenty of year left, so we could still see some lovely titles come out of the woodwork yet, especially with the launch of the fairly stellar Quest 2, so stay tuned and let us know if we missed one of your favorites in the 2020 year of virtual reality fun.
TJ Denzer posted a new article, The best VR games of 2020
Alyx and Boneworks were my favorites
I really need to try out population one.
When I get my $20 credit from Oculus for doing a UX survey I think that's what I'm gonna throw it towards.
It’s really good! Seems to be a decent little community.
How is Paper Beast not on that list? Otherwise, pretty good list overall!