January 25, 2023

December always feels like a good month for VR gaming. Maybe it’s because Christmas and VR headsets go together like cribs and messiahs, or maybe because virtual reality is the only place I’m likely to see sunlight before March. Anyway, if you’re giving or getting magic glasses this holiday season, I’ll be recommending a pair of stocking fillers at the end of this article.

But first it’s time for a more general inventory. 2022 was a big shrugging year for VR gaming. Which isn’t to say it was bad, lots of fun and interesting games launched in the last twelve months, probably one of which I would have put in my personal top ten. But from both a hardware and software perspective, nothing released this year is likely to move the needle.

BoneLab was one of the best selling VR games this year

The most notable VR hardware to come out this year was the Quest Pro, Meta’s premium headset that, while functional as a gaming device, isn’t really aimed at the average consumer. It offers some major improvements over the Quest 2 technically, such as face tracking and full-color mixed reality. But those improvements just aren’t worth the “oof”-inducing price. Aside from that, the only other notable headset released this year was the Pico 4. Pitching itself as an alternative to the Meta Quest in previews, with similar specs and price, it had a pretty good buzz leading up to its release. However, the sale reportedly disappointed the creators. In terms of games, on both Quest and Steam, your top selling VR titles released in 2022 include Among Us VR, BoneLab, and After The Fall. Decent titles, all three, but none would have you rushing out to blow £400 on a screen in front of your face.

The Meta Quest Pro VR headset and controllers, seen from behind

Very meta

As for the top VR news stories of 2022, the year has been largely overshadowed by Meta’s painfully embarrassing attempts to convince the world that the Metaverse is going to be a thing. During this year’s Meta Connect, Mark Zuckerberg had the air of an Enron executive desperately trying to convince everyone that the people banging on his door are, in fact, fans and not a conga line of irate shareholders eager to see him join the ranks. shaking ankles while Meta Horizons infamous leg tweet will forever be etched in my memory. Still, Meta’s woes extend far beyond some poorly pitched marketing. Meta has reportedly lost $10 billion in its VR and AR division, a figure that former CTO John Carmack says made it “sick to the stomach.” Meanwhile, the company struggled to get its own employees to use Horizon Workrooms, the business-focused part of Meta’s metaverse project. All this has led to a big and bitter round of layoffs, with 11,000 (!) people losing their jobs, and accusations that Zuckerberg’s obsession with the metaverse will “kill the company”.

There was good news amidst the chaos. A real Quest 3 is on the way, probably next year. Also, Meta had sold an estimated 15 million Quest 2s by June of this year, which means that, when combined with all the other headsets floating around, VR now has a well-established user base for developers to sell their games to. That’s still a much smaller user base than the say PS4 or Switch (or even regular PCs), but it does mean you can make a VR game and have a decent chance of it selling well. For example, After The Fall, a four-player cooperative VR game from the creators of Arizona Sunshine, made $1.4 million within 24 hours of launch, more than Arizona Sunshine made in its first month.

A screenshot of soldiers fighting monsters in a hallway in the VR game After The Fall

A wholesome scene from After The Fall

In short, despite Mark Zuckerberg’s best efforts, VR gaming is in a pretty healthy place right now. The market remains only a fraction of the size of your regular flat screen games, and the added inconvenience of VR means it will probably never take the lead in video games. But we don’t see a repeat of VR in the 1990s. The technique works. The games are good. VR is here to stay.

And while this year was quiet compared to 2020 or 2016, next year looks a lot more interesting. The greatest things are all happening on PlayStation – at least until we learn more about the Quest 3. But even beyond that, there are some exciting games on the horizon. Saints And Sinners: Chapter 2 – sequel to what is arguably the best full VR gaming experience outside of Half-Life: Alyx – is already out on Quest 2 and will launch on PC VR next February. Saints And Sinners developer Skydance Interactive is also working on a hip-looking fantasy adventure called Behemoth. NDreams’ Ghostbusters game seems to be turning into a riot. Low-Fi is meant to get you as close as possible to Blade Runner in VR, and I also like the look of Pirates VR: Jolly Roger. I imagine Meta has some stuff in the tank, including for the full reveal of Quest 3, and who knows what surprise magic Valve might bring to the table in 2023.


JOLLY SAINT RICK’S VR CHRISTMAS GIFT GUIDE

Ho-ho-ho! Jolly Saint Rick here. I can’t quite handle the long white beard just yet, but I’ve neatly covered the waistline and supernatural consumption rate of sherry. Anyway, if you’re looking for a new VR game for yourself or a partner this Christmas, here are three excellent titles from this year that I’d heartily recommend.

The last whistleblower

A screenshot from the VR game Clockwinder, showing many identical little humanoid robots all doing different things in a small garden

The Last Clockwinder is by far my favorite VR game of 2022, as it does something I’ve never seen in a VR game before. It is a first-person puzzle game where you build elaborate Rube Goldberg machines using your own body. To explain, the game allows you to record your body’s own movements, then spawn cute little robots that play those movements in a loop. You use this system to create chains of robots that perform different actions in succession. For example, you could record picking up an object and throwing it across the room, then rush to the other side of the room to record catching that object and placing it in a storage container. It’s super new and equally fun, all wrapped up in a gentle story about you trying to save a big magical tree.

Drifter

A barren moonscape in VR game Wanderer

Another game heavily oriented around clocks, although in this case it’s a time-traveling watch that talks. Wanderer sees you striving to avert an apocalypse that has already happened by traveling back to different time periods to change the course of history. Interactively, it’s a pretty standard VR puzzle game, with a lot of rummaging through rooms and fiddling with highly tangible objects and contraptions. But the time-traveling conceit adds an entertaining dose of novelty, as you regularly have to transport objects from one time period to another to solve the puzzles. It’s also one of the most beautiful VR games outside of Half-Life: Alyx, with impressive environments and pleasantly detailed interiors. I found the watch’s Southern Gentleman shtick a little irritating, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this ambitious and extremely lavish adventure.

Moss: Book II

A screenshot of Moss in VR, holding a tiny mouse in front of a huge snowy ice palace

While I’ve featured the sequel here because it came out this year, both Moss games are worth checking out for how they synthesize first-person VR and third-person platforming. You take on the role of a divine storyteller who must guide a little mouse named Quill through a beautiful miniature fantasy world. But it’s how Moss plays that makes it special. You control Quill as a normal platformer, using the analog stick to move her and the buttons to jump and fight enemies. At the same time, you also use your hands to manipulate objects in the environment, solve puzzles and move obstacles away from Quill. The sequel is just a bigger, better version of the original. But the first game’s only real problem was that it was pretty short, so a sequel that delivers more of the same is just beautiful.

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