The consumer version of the Samsung Gear VR has been on store shelves for several months now – and while we last looked at the best Gear VR content back in December, there's been a steady stream of weekly new releases since then. Read on for our picks for the best new Gear VR apps and games from the past two months.
The Gear VR's content library has done nothing but improve since the headset's November launch, but there are a few key titles we've left out of this batch. One reason this "best apps" list isn't longer is that several, after you download and install them, make you download one or more large files while in VR. Sitting in a virtual lobby watching a progress bar slowly move from 0 to 1 to 2 percent is about as fun as it sounds – and pretty much the worst possible way to introduce people to VR. Though these types of apps are far from the norm, we hope this downloading while in VR trend dies a swift and merciless death.
We're also docking points for content that doesn't support gamepads, as holding your arm up to the headset's trackpad for extended periods is never comfortable.
We'd also like to see fewer games that rely on point-to-point navigation, and more that use free-roaming movement. The click-to-move mechanic works in some titles, like the terrific Land's End and Daydream Blue, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule. Ultimately VR is about feeling like you're someplace else, and clicking on a dot to automatically walk forward is an instant reminder that you're playing a game.
With that said, there were still some excellent new Gear VR games and apps from the last couple of months. Let's jump into our top picks.
We knew Second Life types of virtual social experiences would be huge in VR, and AltspaceVR confirms that. Consider this an early preview of the Metaverse to come.
In AltspaceVR you stroll around virtual environments with your avatar, interacting with the avatars of other VR users – doing things like playing chess, watching a performance or just shooting the shit. It uses real-time voice chat, you can move freely, and it offers a nice variety of environments and group tasks.
Social VR experiences like this are completely different from anything you've experienced before. Even on the Gear VR, which lacks the positional tracking and hand gestures you'll have on the Oculus Rift, AltspaceVR is very lifelike: it's one of the closest things we've seen yet to the Matrix.
LeBron James – Striving for Greatness
Despite being a huge NBA fan, I've never been crazy about LeBron James. Though he's been an outstanding player since he was a teenager, his highly-manicured public image never struck a chord with me. I'm not sure if the Gear VR short film LeBron James – Striving for Greatness has changed that, but it did make me feel like I know the man behind the persona a little better.
This 360-degree film is a great example of how VR can create a sense of intimacy. Nothing LeBron says here is anything we haven't heard, with well-worn truisms about hard work, practice and making the most of your natural ability. What makes it so dynamic is the feeling that you're really riding along with LeBron's entourage in his SUV, wading in his pool while he swims laps and getting dunked on by the Cavs superstar during practice. It gives you a more lifelike glimpse into LeBron's daily routines than you could get from any other medium.
This is one of the Gear VR apps that forces you to download the main video file after starting the app in VR, but it still made our list because at least you can take off the headset after it starts and download the file in the background on your phone. Not ideal, but better than being forced to wait in the virtual lobby.
This brief experience uses quick-time events and basic controls to put you in the helmet of an astronaut's routine ISS mission gone wrong.
These kinds of experiences will be much more immersive on the Oculus Rift, with its much higher graphical fidelity and positional tracking, but Escape Velocity is still impressive enough to remind us that the Gear VR can provide experiences that feel much deeper than your typical mobile fare.
Orion Trail VR
Somehow this title's obvious inspiration eluded us until after we'd played a couple of times, but Orion Trail VR is a modern take on the 80s educational PC game Oregon Trail.
You sit in the captain's chair on the bridge of your (retro-pixelated) spaceship and choose paths through galaxies, manage your resources and weigh the risks and rewards of dealing with fellow space travelers, while trying to avoid an outbreak of dysentery (or, in this case, a ship-wide infestation of fuzzy space critters).
Though it doesn't look or feel as high-end as third-person Gear VR titles like Herobound or Adventure Time: Magic Man's Head Games, Cityscape Repairman is a solid puzzler that has you controlling a stubby little fix-it guy as he works his shift in a sinister cityscape. To solve each room's puzzle, he'll need to do things like lift boxes, search for hidden keys and float up to platforms with the help of floor fans.
We'd already experienced this short but sweet animated experience on the Oculus Rift DK2, and it's just as much fun on the Gear VR. Remember John Cleese's taunt in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "I fart in your general direction?" Well, brace yourself: the delightful pastel-colored cartoon characters in Butts will do just that.
This arcade survival game plops you in the middle of a dark forest, gives you a gun with a mounted flashlight on it and asks you to hold off hoards of approaching zombies, skeletons and other creeps. The gameplay is very basic, but in this case the simplicity works.
Archer E. Bowman
Along similar lines as Deadhead, this short game lets you channel your inner Legolas, as you try to hold off waves of attacking ogres and giant trolls with your trusty bow and arrow. Archer E. Bowman supports gamepads, the aiming mechanics work well and you can roam freely while perched atop your castle's keep – raining a hellfire of arrows on the creatures infiltrating from below.
The only drawback to this otherwise fun game is that it's currently only a brief (roughly 15-20 minute) demo.
This quirky arcade-style game is just as fun as it is ridiculous. As the title suggests, you're playing basketball, only you're playing the role of the basket. Use head movement to catch as many balls as you can. Fun for a quick, furious-paced arcade fix.
Be sure to check back at Gizmag, as we'll be regularly revisiting the best new VR apps and games. You can also revisit our original roundup of the best Gear VR games.