The amount of truly awesome apps, games and shorts for the Gear VR has gone up and up and up in the past 12 months. And with the new Samsung Gear VR (2016) on sale, everything has clicked into place for Samsung’s mobile VR plans even with the PlayStation VR and Daydream View for competition.
Here’s our round-up of the best apps, games, demos, short films and interactive experiences available right now. The list will continue to grow, so we’ll update this feature as and when demos become games and teasers get sequels. We’ve also tried to include a mixture of free and both cheap and more pricey paid for apps.
The verdict: Samsung Gear VR (2016) review
These can all be downloaded either via Oculus Store or Samsung’s Milk VR store, which is a bit confusing but they all end up in the same place – your Library.
Best Samsung Gear VR games
Let’s face it, you probably bought this as a gaming device so your first stop will be games you’ve heard of from mobile or titles with environments and characters you want to experience in VR.
Hitman Go: VR Edition
A kind of third person, turn-based strategy board game, Hitman Go in VR is more fun that it sounds. It looks amazing, as anyone who has played the Square Enix game on PC or console will know and is downright tricky as you help Agent 47 navigate around a grid layered on top of model-like environments. You can get it on the Oculus Rift (where it’s slightly more expensive) as well as the Gear VR. Supports both the trackpad and Bluetooth controllers.
Please Don’t Touch Anything
More than just a brilliant premise and name, PDTA is a reworking of a 2D puzzle game and it’s a hoot in VR. It’s a little short especially if you race through the puzzles (looking for clues, solving riddles, pushing buttons) but there’s new ones for fans of the original and gameplay is littered with geeky easter eggs/references.
GearVR Greats bundle
This is a deal bundle just for the holidays so we’re not sure how long it will last. With 10 VR games including Smash Hit and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (usually $9.99 , it’s worth the money. Also look out for Daily Deals and the Winter Sale – which includes apps like Affected, Dreadhalls, Hitman Go, Please Don’t Touch Anything and Esper 2 – on the Oculus Store.
Minecraft: Gear VR
Minecraft in virtual reality isn’t a perfect experience yet but with a bit of patience, and a controller (you need one of those here) this will blow Minecraft fans’ minds with Pocket Edition modes like Creative and Survival. If the full on immersion isn’t what you’re after, you can choose to play in 2D i.e. viewing your blocky gameplay on a ‘display”.
Also on Google Cardboard, BombSquad VR belongs to the type of third person, god’s eye board game-style title that we’re seeing made for VR – with a splash here of Super Smash Bros. It’s cheap, it’s cute and it’s great fun with (local) multiplayer options including co-op, teams and free for all for things like capture the flag. Oh and the explosions are the bomb.
Smash Hit VR
An example of a VR arcade game from Mediocre Games that we could play for days, this is a great transition from the smartphone game of the same name. You’ll have to get used to shifting your head from side to side to hit all your targets but when you get in the zone, Smash Hit VR can be actually pretty relaxing with alternately hued environments to experience. Plus you might find gazing and tapping easier than the mobile version.
Dead Secret is the CG animated equivalent to GONE (see below) – a mystery thriller in which you get to play detective/reporter as you investigate a suspicious death of Harris Bullard, with four main suspects.
It’s pretty adept at keeping things tense with spooky sound effects, disturbing clues to discover and head scratching puzzles to solve. Not one if you’ll get impatient reading notes, documents, blackmail letters and maps but for everyone else, well worth the money. Also out for PlayStation VR.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Most of the apps and games on the list can be passed around the group pretty easily but Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is an example of a game that’s designed for a bunch of you to play.
Only one person needs to wear the Gear VR and the rest give the headset wearer instructions (via pages and pages of a printed manual) to defuse the bomb they’re trapped in a room with. Also on regular Steam but comes into its own in VR. A special treat rather than an everyday go-to. Who said VR is anti-social?
Ustwo’s first VR game is mesmerising and to fans of Monument Valley, that should be no surprise. It’s a slow, relaxing puzzle game over five chapters (for now), which makes lovely use of the Gear VR’s head tracking as controls.
Serene sunsets, blocky mountains and a range of easy peasy to slightly head scratching – but always mysterious – puzzles. It’s best played while standing or on a swivel chair.
This CCP Games VR game started life as Project Nemesis, which we played way back in early 2015. It’s an arcade space shooter with big attention to detail. You get a body to look down at in your fixed cock-pit and there’s cracks in the glass as you get hit by enemies.
It’s set in the EVE universe so the sequences are pretty and it’s quick to get the hang of the controls, like sliding back on the touchpad to reload. A game game for those who just want to bash a controller.
This is another virtual environment in which you do things in 2D but hey, it’s a virtual arcade so shut up. Play Pac-Man, Sonic, Galaga and more in three arcade rooms. Everything is free for a while but you have to pay to unlock unlimited play.
Esper shows off the potential of VR for puzzle games, not just first person shooters. If you liked Portal, you’ll have the patience to play along with the puzzles here with your ‘telepathic’ powers using the Gear VR’s touchpad as well as appreciate the intriguing 70s visuals and playful dialogue. Plus once you’ve played this, you can play Esper 2 – slightly more expensive at $9.99.
First person is where VR really comes into its own and the Gear VR is no exception. The journey through creepy dungeons in Dreadhalls, picking locks, opening doors, keeping your lamp going and checking behind you is damn scary especially considering how long it makes you wait to get attacked. Then you run away, heart genuinely pumping. Super terrifying. Also being developed for the Oculus Rift.
An arcade-style, strategy hacking game with neon visuals and a stern voice giving you instructions, Darknet sees you spread viruses through a network of nodes, banking the Bitcoins and causing carefully constructed mayhem.
The hacking takes place in more of a 2D game environment and a lot of Darknet reminds us of any well-crafted smartphone game that doesn’t just rely on graphics.
Anshar Wars 2
There’s two Anshar Wars games on the Gear VR now. It’s a neat space shooter in which you control the direction your ship is going with your head movements. Firing missiles is taken care of via a Bluetooth controller or the headset’s touchpad. One more thing – it’s games like this that make you realise you need to invest in a good swivelling office chair to get the most out of the Gear VR.
Samsung Gear VR Apps
It’s not all about games, here’s a few surprising things you might not have realised you can try out in virtual reality.
Make Jaunt one of your first Gear VR app downloads, it’s one of a few live action libraries but the quality here is really high. Stream short experiences from backstage at concerts to 360-degree journalism from ABC News.
A nice choice to get a hit of that travel rush without leaving the sofa, Streetview in VR is surprisingly easy to navigate with really great controls for selecting tourist attractions or natural beauty spots around the world and looking around the area. They are stills of course but it’s still freaky when you re-visit a panorama that you’ve visited before.
It’s not made by Google but don’t let that put you off – there’s 3,000 locations and the ability to bookmark images and even lead a group via audio chat. Also on Oculus Rift.
Lots of people have complained that there’s no way they would pick up a mobile VR headset without a browser and Samsung has listened. You can open up sites via voice or by selecting from favourites like YouTube. Use Gaze mode to select stuff but there’s an onscreen keyboard too. It’s in beta but works exactly as you would expect.
Oculus Social Beta
This has got to be the most random experience we’ve had in VR so far. Choose an avatar then hang out with other Gear VR users in rooms and environments to chat via your phone’s mic or watch Vimeo videos together.
You’re essentially a group of 3D cartoon heads floating in cinema seats but what’s particularly freaky is that your head movements are still tracked so you can turn to face each other as you chat. Or – as one pair of friends were doing when we rudely interrupted them – sing Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart to each other.
Oculus Social is still in beta with updates include new and larger avatars, the ability to see what is playing in rooms from the lobby and a (separate) Social Trivia app which you can connect to Oculus Social to play with friends (and friends of friends).
If you really want to feel like you’re at a sports or news event, download NextVR. It livestreams events to VR headsets like the Gear VR in 180 degrees and has tested its system out on the US Open and NASCAR. Last October it livestreamed the US Presidential debate in collaboration with CNN. Many more live sports events are to follow.
Samsung’s pre-loaded photo viewing app now includes spherical content from Getty Image’s huge 80 million+ image archives so it’s worth a look. The so-called 360° View by Getty Images collection features immersive, professional stills from Cannes Film Festival, the World Cup and from around the world.
One for music makers, Soundscape is a very cool experience that lets you tap to add musical notes, change effects, add drums. Jam alone or with two random people in a multiplayer mode. The theory is that because the notes are based on a pentatonic scale, no matter what you do, it’ll sound good-ish.
Yep, Netflix. You can now download and view the movie and TV streaming service on a Samsung Gear VR. Like Oculus Cinema, it simply gives you a private, virtual space (a luxe/rustic cabin living room with a big screen) in which to watch regular 2D content. Still, people are very much spending their time doing this.
Free (with subscription)
The social platform AltSpace VR is pretty exciting. It’s cross-platform (Gear VR, Oculus, HTC Vive) so it’s a virtual hang out space that one-ups Oculus Social. You can watch streamed videos with other headset wearers and even share virtual web browsers. Well worth a look.
There’s interactive games then there’s interactive experiences. Many of the below VR apps blur the lines between active and passive consumption. All are pretty magic.
Affected: The Manor
We don’t want to spoil the VR horror scares too much but if you want something jumpy and squealy, give Affected a go. Try it out in the privacy of your own home then subject your mates to it and make sure you have a spare phone to capture the reactions.
Notes on Blindness
The Night Cafe
This one is nestled in the ‘Concepts’ area of the Oculus store. Part animation, part VR experience, it is a wholly odd way to spend a few minutes – or more. The Night Cafe is a tribute to Vincent Van Gogh and his oil paintings – sunflowers, the chair in his bedroom, self portraits – from Borrowed Light Studios and this VR app lets you well, walk around inside them. It’s somewhat surreal (lower case ‘s’) and feels a little like intruding on someone else’s dream.
This is a big deal and well worth checking out, via the Milk VR store (Samsung’s). Gone is a episodic thriller from the creators of The Walking Dead and it shows.
It’s a TV show-style narrative, which enfolds in front of you but you can follow ‘hotspots’ via your gaze to zoom over to a clue or conversations that might be relevant. So it’s interactive but you don’t seem to impact the plot. The storyline and ‘clues’ are very much in the True Detective style which is not a bad thing. You’ll race through the episodes.
Cirque du Soleil – Inside the box of Kurios
This is a great intro for someone who is putting on a VR headset for the first time. A classy Felix Paul Studios production, you get a private performance of Cirque du Soleil’s steampunky Kurios show and it’s pretty magical. Everything is perfectly choreographed to stun and unlike the previous Zarkana effort, it’s a decent length too. You’ll be clapping to yourself by the end.
This animation by Tyler Hurd is… short and sweet? No, short and eye-boggling. We don’t want to ruin the fun by giving the game away too much (it really is short), it’ll suffice to say that you won’t have seen anything like this before. A mini delight.
This app is designed to be the home for CG animated VR shorts and the first one – Rosebud – is blooming adorable. It’s by Penrose Studios which was founded by ex Oculus Story Studio head Eugene Chung.
We won’t give away the plot too much, but do the tutorial first to get the hang of zooming in and out for the charming action in front of you. You can also hold to ‘grab’ an object to make it and anchor point and rotate round it, which you should try out towards the end of this short.
Within (previously VRSE) is a must if you’re looking for quality. You can watch some of the most impressive VR vids made so far including Vice News and Spike Jonze’s VR broadcast from a NYC protest – it’s rough around the edges but you really do feel like you’re right there in the middle of it – and Evolution of Verse, the beautiful short film by Chris Milk which debuted at this year’s Sundance.
Also, in the Within collection is the collaboration with the UN which includes the short films Clouds over Sidra and Waves of Grace.
This funny Pixar-like animated VR short, in which the viewer is a fluffy bunny welcoming some aliens to earth, comes from Baobab Studios and we saw more material in April at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Download the app to view the first short, from the director of Madagascar no less, which looks superb, makes great use of sound cues and will genuinely have you chuckling and you’ll be ready to try out the next instalments when they arrive.
Oculus 360 tours – world, Iceland
These are the (short) demos that you show to your mates and your mum who want to see what all the fuss is about with the virtual reality thing. They will give newbies a bit of vertigo, though, as a lot of the 360 degree footage is filmed from helicopters. It’s still early days for virtual tourism but even the relatively low res footage here will elicit cries of ‘Oh I’m in Petra, I always wanted to go here!
Let us know your favourite apps, games, shorts and experiences for the Gear VR in the comments.