This year has been a great one so far for virtual reality. We had the UploadVR conference at E3, highlighting some of the best the platform has to offer and now, Gamescom has brought us the VR Showcase event, giving great titles and studios a spot in the limelight. Whilst the showcase has been great at offering an insight into some of VR's best, much more is on offer, which is why we've pulled together our five favourite virtual reality experiences from Gamescom 2019.
Paper Beast - Pixel Reef
It's a peculiar thing to perceive the entirely unnatural as natural. The feeling of confusion muddled with awe is a daunting prospect, but it is wonderful, much like the world of Paper Beast. Developed by French studio Pixel Reef, this title is about an ecosystem forming, deep within the boundless memory of a data server, where decades of lost code and misplaced algorithms have come together to form something unnaturally natural.
We got to take a look at the title ourselves, in a playable demo, guided by renowned developer Éric Chahi. Starting in a closed red tent we were instructed to open the curtains, giving us the first glimpse of this strange arid world. In the distance, a creature was making its way towards us slowly, an organism that would soon become our guide as we journeyed throughout the world. A few minutes and a confusing interaction later, we were on our way, heading out into the peculiar world of Paper Beast.
As we travelled across the world, the more situations we came into contact with. From feeding strange plants and other native creatures to witnessing the development of a food chain through a predator/prey interaction - it was as if we were taking a digital safari through a completely new world. A few more minutes of journeying came to pass, and we found ourselves at a dead-end, deep in a valley, where a large sinkhole was forming spitting out heaps of what we assumed to be data, which for all we know could be a glitch in the ecological system. The creature from the beginning led us to a cave and sealed us away to take cover from the now forming storm, thus ending the demo.
If there was one feeling we took away from our time in Paper Beast, it would have to be bewilderment. The complexity of the creatures, mixed with their natural reactions, made for an experience quite unlike any other. You can look to explore the world of Paper Beast yourself next year, when it launches on PSVR.
The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets - Fast Travel Games
When living in such a high-stress world, where we constantly have something to worry about, having a relaxing environment to fall into can offer a much-needed moment of respite. The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets, developed by Fast Travel Games, is exactly this. Set across a charming series of islands, this title requires the player to follow grandpa's soothing directions, solving minor problems, and discovering lost pets along the way. This experience is all about reconnecting with your childhood, something we found delightfully elegant during our time with it.
In the demo we played, we were tasked with unravelling the mysteries of one of the few available islands. By completing strange tasks and by interacting with parts of the world, we figured out little hints as to where pets may be hiding. For example, one of the jobs we had to complete involved brewing a hot beverage, which was a little more complex than one might imagine. To start with, we had to fill the cup up with hot water, involving us lighting a candle on the other side of the island and then heating a kettle on top of it. After this, we shook some leaves off a brown tree into the now filled cup in order to give it flavour, before finishing the brew. Completing the task in its entirety showed us the location of one of the many pets throughout this particular world.
The full extent of The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets involves only a few islands but from what we played, we can say that it will be one of the most relaxing, wholesome VR experiences you could ask for. The full title will be releasing later this year on all VR platforms.
The Wizards - Dark Times - Carbon Studio
Not many things make us feel as cool as we do when we're hurling fireballs at deadly mushrooms. We can thank The Wizards and its Dark Times expansion for that. This standalone DLC for the series sees the world in the midst of a terrible blight, leaving new, darker enemies in its wake. Featuring a fresh set of spells to master, all linked to unique hand gestures, Dark Times will make you feel as though you are a sorcerer of legend.
During the time we spent with the expansion, we had a limited number of the total available spells at our disposal and even then, it was difficult to remember the casting gesture for each. We threw fireballs, conjured shields that we could hurl like Captain America, spawned ice bows that we could break into two ice swords, all at whim and entirely our choice, each feeling fun, unique and with their own effect on the available enemies.
One other part of Dark Times that caught our attention was the puzzles scattered throughout each level. These require you to cast specific spells to interact with environmental objects such as cogs or bracken in order to open a door, for example. For us, this expansion seemed to be everything we wanted from a spell casting game; it was fun and made us feel as though we were wizards. Take that, Harry Potter.
The Wizards - Dark Times is set to release on SteamVR, Oculus and Vive, sometime during 2020.
The Walking Dead: Onslaught - Survios
Tackle the horde head-on in this officially licensed experience from the show The Walking Dead. Developed by Survios, The Walking Dead: Onslaught puts players in the shoes of their favourite characters as they head out into the world on dangerous jobs. Facing countless undead and using a variety of unique weapons, each with their own firing and loading mechanic, Onslaught provides the most realistic, official Walking Dead virtual reality gameplay to date.
During the demo we got hands-on with at Gamescom, we played as the iconic sheriff, Rick, as we journeyed into an undead infested town to search for supplies. Over the mission we encountered hordes of enemies, eliminating them with machetes, handguns and lever-action shotguns, the latter being our favourite. Instead of just regularly gunning down the undead, Onslaught also has dynamic objects that you can interact with or shot at for extra effect. For example, propane tanks scattered around the world will explode when shot at, allowing you to bring down a horde much more efficiently (albeit a little more dangerously).
Whilst we will say the Walkers did feel a little feeble and lacklustre at times, the title played well with strong shooting mechanics as the main point of interest. From our experience, we can say that any fan of the show will have a blast gunning down hordes in the world of The Walking Dead: Onslaught, which is set to release this fall on Oculus, HTC Vive and the Steam Index.
Acron: Attack of the Squirrels - Resolution Games
For such a long time, virtual reality has mainly been an experience designed to be played individually or online, however, this is a thing of the past. Resolution Games' latest title, Acron: Attack of the Squirrels is bringing great local multiplayer fun to the platform, pitting dastardly rodent thieves against a dangerous old oak tree.
Acron offers two ways to play. You can either put on the headset and take on the role of defending the acorns as the tree, or you can link a mobile device to the title and play as a squirrel, with the goal of stealing acorns and bringing them back to your base. It's an unusual, hectic version of capture the flag that sees nature take on semi-intelligent rodents.
At the VR showcase, we got hands on with both sides of Acron, taking the tree and squirrels for a spin. The tree, played with the VR headset, is the tougher role, since you work alone against several players, using different-sized acorns to take down the opposition. This challenge, however, doesn't take anything from the experience as the pleasure of bopping those pesky squirrels when they think they've gotten away with thievery is timeless. The rodents, on the other hand, are controlled via your mobile devices and are much easier to jump into, especially if you have coordinated friends. We had the opportunity to try four different classes of squirrel, each with their own skill, from a deployable shield to building bridges. The various skills, which can be switched whenever you want during a match, elevates the competitiveness of the title significantly.
Considering, how limited the VR platform is, especially locally, this style is a welcome breath of fresh air both for veteran VR owners as well as new users, and we would recommend you give a go considering it's now available on SteamVR and the Oculus Store.
That just about concludes our favourite VR experiences coming out of Gamescom 2019 this year. For more great titles on the platform, check out what we thought were the most interesting VR games at this year's E3, and you can find out more about Sony's long-term PSVR plans right here.