Happy New Year, VR enthusiasts! This past Sunday, December 31st, saw Praydog finally drop the Universal Unreal VR Injector, making thousands of incredible traditional games playable in VR. It was a fitting end to a year which could quite possibly be the best that we’ve ever seen for VR gaming. Over the course of the last year, we’ve seen two of the industry’s top players re-up by introducing new hardware platforms, both of which brought about profound technical innovation in terms of hardware, as well as a slew of amazing new titles for gamers to lose themselves in. Today, we take a look back and recognize the best of VR gaming in 2023.
Best Mixed Reality Game
2023 introduced a number of groundbreaking innovations with regard to virtual reality hardware, but none of them have the potential to make as much of an impact on our future as the introduction of consumer focused mixed reality. Despite having launched only a couple of months ago, Meta Quest 3’s library is already filling out with dozens of great mixed reality titles. Titles like Track Craft and CoasterMania allow you to transform your living room into a speedway or an amusement park, while Lego BrickTales lets you play out a full fledged puzzle adventure right on your own table top.
While the library of native MR titles is already substantial and growing, it pales in comparison to the collection of free MR updates that have come to our traditional VR favorites. Dozens of great VR titles have already released incredible MR modes including Eleven Table Tennis, Yuki, Synth Riders, The Light Brigade, Espire 2, Smash Drums and many, many more. The mixed reality mode for Demeo is particularly impressive, as it lets you scale the game board within your room to any size that you like, and the co-location feature allows you to play in the same room as your friends and family. With that said, if we are to pick one MR title to recommend as a “must play” it would have to be Drop Dead: The Cabin – Home Invasion.
Drop Dead: The Cabin – Home Invasion blends classic arcade-style shooting with the bone chilling immersion that can only be felt in VR. This free MR update transforms your own home environment into “The Cabin” as you attempt to fight off wave after wave of terrifying monsters and zombies. This experience is absolutely intense and in our opinion it’s currently the best way to showcase the potential of MR gaming.
Best Ongoing Support of a VR Game
It isn’t always the state of a game at launch that determines its ultimate success in the marketplace. More often than not, it’s the updates and additions the title receives post launch, that defines a truly great experience. This is what sets the great studios apart from the good ones, and 2023 has given us a number of examples of great ongoing support.
This year, titles like Guardians: Frontline and Galaxy Kart went from ordinary to extraordinary. Games like The Light Brigade and Breachers were already great, but continued to give VR FPS fans more of what they love. Vertical Robot did what Vertical Robot does by continuing to make Red Matter 2 a technical masterpiece on every possible platform. Puzzling Places and Walkabout Mini Golf continued the perpetual cycle of bringing excellent new content to their players. But at the end of the day (or year as it were), there is only one studio who has become synonymous with the most amazing post launch support: Hello Games.
This history of No Man’s Sky is a long and storied one. A game that was once known for an infamously bad launch nearly a decade ago has become an all encompassing, one of a kind experience today. This is the game that just keeps on giving, with frequent, huge content updates and expansion into every viable hardware platform. Even after all of the polish and additions that the game has seen in recent years, Hello Games somehow delivered the definitive version of No Man’s Sky in 2023. Just a few months after launching a subpar version of the game on Sony’s PS VR2 early in the year, Hello Games followed up with an update that made use of all of the hardware’s unique feature set to deliver what is by far the best version of No Man’s Sky to date. It was the greatest among a long list of technical achievements, and we salute Hello Games for their dedication to the craft.
Best Immersive Storytelling
We all love spending time in VR, largely due to the unparalleled immersion that the technology provides. It’s this high level of immersiveness that makes these platforms so adept at telling stories. The magic of VR allows users to do more than just act as a witness to a well written tale. This technology puts you at the center of the story, as you live out the events in ways that just weren’t possible in the past. If you’re the type of person who loves a good story, 2023 provided us with a number of great titles to get lost in.
Call of the Sea VR allowed the fans of this favorite from the realm of traditional gaming to experience it in a whole new way in 2023. Before Your Eyes utilized PS VR2’s eye tracking capability to deliver an absolutely heart wrenching tale in a unique and creative manner that has never been tried before. The Last Worker presented us with ethical questions that forced many of us to see the modern world in a whole new way. Broken Spectre broke my brain, as I searched for answers across increasingly surreal environments. The 7th Guest resurrected a cult classic that has always been known for using cutting edge technology to immerse players in a chilling mystery. The voting was very close in this category, but when it comes to the very best example of immersive storytelling in 2023, we had to go with Journey to Foundation.
We missed Archiact while they were away. Prior to 2023, it had been 4 years since the studio released their last in-house original, Freediver: Triton Down. As brief as this experience was, it clearly displayed this team’s talent for telling a story. The seed that was planted back then, has now grown into a full length story driven VR adventure. Journey to Foundation brings to life Isaac Asimov’s Foundation in ways that were not previously possible, and the lead character’s psychic abilities allow you to extract as many of the details surrounding each character as you are willing to uncover. This title is truly one of a kind.
Best VR Game to Play with Friends
It always gets me when I hear some clueless executive from the world of traditional gaming talk about how VR as a technology isolates players. As we have all come to find out, just the opposite is true. I was pretty much a hermit before I found VR. Today, I’m a leader in multiple, sizable online communities. In fact, most of my best friends I met in VR or because of VR. The fact is, there’s no better way to spend time with friends and loved ones than in the digital realms. This technology instantly erases the limitations of physical space, allowing us to step into a room with any one, at any time. If only some tech somewhere could discover how to bend the rules of time, I could create even more great memories in one of these great multiplayer titles that launched in 2023.
Demeo Battles allows players to experience a VR classic in a whole new way, as your former allies turn foe. Galaxy Kart and Gran Turismo 7 send you off to the races at breakneck speeds. Grab your guns and team up to defend your territory in Guardians: Frontline and community favorite, Breachers. You and a friend will struggle to defend your home against relentless waves of evil monsters in Drop Dead: The Cabin. Crossfire: Sierra Squad delivers countless hours of action for you and your friends, as you infiltrate enemy lines. As for the best VR multiplayer title of 2023, there is a clear winner: Dungeons of Eternity.
Dungeons of Eternity is a bit of a unicorn in the VR space. This co-op title went relatively unknown prior to launch. It was only after this Quest-exclusive dungeon crawler dropped, that players became aware of it through word of mouth. In the following months, DOE went on to become one of the year’s most popular titles, keeping players hooked on the game’s addictive gameplay loop to this very day. With the game’s developer Othergate having recently released a very ambitious roadmap for 2024, the sky seems to be the limit for this instant classic.
Surprise of the Year
Surprisingly, many of the year’s very best VR titles ended up having very little pre launch hype. In fact, this seems to have been a recurring theme in 2023. Some of them were even delivered by studios that were relatively unknown at the time. Here are some of the past year’s most pleasant surprises.
When PS VR2 exclusive Synapse was announced, we all had very high expectations. With that said, I don’t think anyone was expecting the mechanics of this game to be as groundbreaking as they turned out to be. The initial reveal of The Light Brigade was relatively overshadowed by a number of higher profile titles, but the game itself turned out to be one of the absolute best of the year. It has taken JoyWay some time to find their identity as a studio. With that said, 2023 proved to be a breakout year for them, having delivered 2 of the year’s best action titles in Dead Hook and Stride: Fates. Gazzlers was initially written off as being “just another rail shooter”, but time has proven this game to be insanely addictive. Breachers has single handedly demonstrated the VR community’s need for a great tactical shooter. However, there can only be one winner. Without a doubt, the Surprise of the Year was Dungeons of Eternity.
I have nothing new to add that I haven’t already stated above. This brand new title came out of nowhere to become one of the most addictive and popular games in the Quest library. Well done, Othergate!
Early Access Game of the Year
This past year also saw some very compelling VR titles begin development by entering the market in an “Early Access” state. While some of these titles are good enough today to compete for Game of the Year honors as they are, we feel that it would be unfair to them to be judged before they have reached a finished state. Here are some of the titles that are likely to make an even bigger impact this year.
The Events at Unity Farm is a very unique, story driven spell caster that will have you fighting for your life against all manner of evil creatures. We’ve been waiting on Samurai Slaughter House for some time, but this artistic hack-n-slash title is a load of fun already. Glassbreakers will allow players to experience the world of Moss in an all new, competitive multiplayer setting. Grimlord is already an incredible fantasy RPG, built from the ground up for VR. The depth of progression in this game is uncommon in the VR library. If you’re a VR gamer that’s been looking for something substantial to sink your teeth into, you should give Grimlord a look. However, there is no question which title was 2023’s Early Access Game of the Year: Ghosts of Tabor.
Over the course of the past year, Combat Waffle has seen unprecedented success with the early access release of Ghosts of Tabor. This military-style extraction shooter has become an overnight sensation, with its legions of fanatical players driving it to break sales records and garner numerous awards. This game is a testament to the success that can be found when you listen to the community and deliver exactly what they ask for.
Most Highly Anticipated VR Game
While 2023 delivered a large number of great titles to the VR library, there are just as many incredible looking titles that have yet to see release. Here are just a few of the most highly anticipated upcoming VR games.
A couple of favorites from the realm of traditional gaming made headlines in 2023, when they announced that their VR counterparts would be coming soon. But now, 2023 has come and gone and we’re still waiting to get our hands on Bulletstorm VR and Madison VR. We’re very hopeful that we might finally see Blair Renaud’s LOW FI this year, but we can appreciate the fact that perfection takes time. Wanderer: The Fragments of Fate is set to remake one of the best titles in the VR catalog this year, and two of VR’s most prominent studios have already revealed monumental new projects in Mannequin and Behemoth. Vitruvius is set to make a return this year, with the absolutely stunning sci-fi fantasy Arken Age. We also have some upcoming sequels to a couple of VR classics with Swarm 2 and Zero Caliber 2. In fact, our most anticipated upcoming title also happens to be a sequel: Into the Radius 2.
VR enthusiasts everywhere are absolutely hyped for the launch of Into the Radius 2, and the reason for this hype is simple: because the first game was so damn good. Whether you prefer to play your VR games on PC or standalone, Into the Radius is among the very best shooters available. The gameplay is challenging, the environments and lore are haunting and the enemies are absolutely terrifying. After years in early access, Into the Radius turned out to be a masterpiece, and we expect nothing less from the upcoming sequel.
PCVR Game of the Year
So that brings us to the very best of the year. The best of the best. The cream of the crop. (Insert cliche here). Let’s start by looking at PC, where despite experiencing a marked decrease in releases over the past couple of years, we are still seeing some quality support, almost exclusively from independent studios. These studios deserve our gratitude, because the fact remains that the boundary of what’s possible for VR technology still resides with PC hardware. We can see this clearly as we take a look at the best of PCVR in 2023.
As you might expect, most of PC’s notable VR titles from the past year have been cross platform titles. In fact, PC was the only place to experience Hellsweeper VR in all of its bone splitting glory. We also saw surprise favorites like Breachers and The Light Brigade well represented in the PC library. Arizona Sunshine 2 was also incredible on PC. Fred never looked so good! Speaking of zombies, have we ever played a more complete VR masterpiece than The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners Chapter 2 – Retribution? Maybe not, but we definitely have never seen a longer title. But despite all of these awesome cross platform titles releasing on PC this year, it just so happens that the PC’s Game of the Year was an exclusive: Vertigo 2.
Vertigo 2 is incredible. The product of over 7 years of effort from VR development wizard Zack Tsiakalis-Brown, this game takes you on a fantastic, cosmic scale adventure that could only be possible inside a headset. This game oozes creativity, in its environments, characters, creatures and weapons. Everything about it is one-of-a-kind, even it’s off the wall sense of humor. This game is a must play for any PCVR enthusiast, and is one of the biggest reasons for PS VR2 gamers to be excited for 2024.
Meta Quest Game of the Year
Now, let’s take a closer look at Meta’s platform. Let’s be honest, in terms of software, standalone VR had been stagnating for well over a year as we moved into 2023. However, as we started to approach a new hardware generation, the dam began to break. We now stand at the forefront of a renaissance for standalone XR, as new, more powerful hardware is raising the bar for what’s possible on an almost weekly basis. Here are a few highlights from Meta’s 2023 catalog.
We’ve already spoken volumes about the impact that surprise favorites like Dungeons of Eternity, Breachers, Stride: Fates and The Light Brigade have had on the VR landscape over the course of the last year. This impact would not have been possible if it weren’t for the reach of the Quest platform. Speaking of surprises, how about Bolverk Games’ Genotype? This instant classic reminded us of the sci-fi adventures of old, and has quickly become one of our favorites. Arizona Sunshine 2 came to Quest this year as well, allowing legions of zombie shooting maniacs to get their fill of blood and guts. Fast Travel Games brought a popular franchise to VR for the first time with Vampire: The Masquerade – Justice. This title stands today as the best work that this prominent VR studio has ever put forth. But the biggest headline for standalone VR in 2023 has to be the return of AAA games to the catalog. Quest 3 brought with it some all-time greats, including the long anticipated release of Assassin’s Creed Nexus. By all accounts, this isn’t some watered down version of a traditional gaming favorite, but rather a full-fledged Assassin’s Creed adventure, built from the ground up for VR. However, impressive as it was, it was not the best that the Quest library had to offer in 2023.
Asgard’s Wrath 2 released just a few weeks ago, and it has already done for standalone VR what its predecessor did for PCVR. It has raised the bar in a big way. Whether you’re talking production value, scale, story, gameplay mechanics or variety, Asgard’s Wrath 2 is in a league of its own. Like no title before it, this one has a way of making you forget that you’re playing a mobile VR game. That is, until your battery dies. (I’m sorry. I just had to.) All jokes aside, this title is the technical masterpiece that we expected it to be, and because of it we’ve never been more excited for the future of VR gaming.
PS VR2 Game of the Year
Finally, we arrive at PS VR2. In many ways, the presence of VR2 set the tone for this year. Its incredible launch brought overall VR enthusiasm to amazing heights. When the release schedule slowed down mid-year, we saw unprecedented discontent among VR gamers. (You would have thought that VR is dead.) However, the end of the year saw the platform bounce back strong, to conclude one of the most incredible launch lineups that we’ve ever seen. No matter what you think about PS VR2, one thing is beyond dispute: This was the home of AAA VR in 2023.
PS VR2 brought us some of the best versions of cross platform favorites like The Light Brigade, Red Matter 2 and Arizona Sunshine 2. In fact, it was the best way to play The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners Chapter 2 – Retribution and Crossfire: Sierra Squad. With that said, the real story was VR2’s exclusives. It’s here where Sony’s bankroll came into play in a very big way. The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR returned players to a gameplay concept that is just perfect for VR. (Seriously, why aren’t more studios making roller coaster combat games?) Synapse took the features that set VR2 apart and showed the world what can be possible with a little creativity and the willingness to take some chances. Horizon: Call of the Mountain was Sony’s flagship launch title and it was meant to show a wide variety of gamers what’s now possible in VR. Gran Turismo 7 was the game that actually showed those aforementioned gamers what’s now possible in VR, bringing an all new level of realism to a VR game. We also saw the long awaited release of Resident Evil Village VR, which provided some of the most memorable moments that we’ve ever experienced in a VR game. Now, that alone makes for one hell of a year, and that brings us to 2023’s PS VR2 Game of the Year: Resident Evil 4 Remake VR.
It was an absolute shock when Capcom decided to release its 2nd blockbuster VR release in the span of 10 months. When Sony revealed that this game was coming earlier in the year, most of us believed that it must be some kind of mistake. How could it be possible for a studio to deliver a suitable follow up to such a masterpiece in such a short amount of time? But that’s exactly what they did. Resident Evil 4 Remake VR is the definitive version of one of the most beloved video games of all time. It builds upon the foundation that Village laid by refining the VR centric controls, and delivering epic moments on an ever bigger scale. Games like this are the reason you should own a PS VR2.
VR Game of the Year
So, as we wrap up an unprecedented year of VR greatness, which game should walk away with our Game of the Year honors? If you’ve read up to this point, then you know who the nominees are. I guess this would be a good time to talk about how all of our winners were selected. After all, I am just the messenger. All categories were voted upon by our panel of experts here at XR Update. If anyone has published an article on this website, then they were given a vote to cast as they see fit. Our staff is a very diverse group of VR enthusiasts that come from all different backgrounds and walks of life. Our tastes with regard to gaming and entertainment are diverse, as is the case in the larger VR community. With that said, our Game of the Year votes were predictably somewhat varied, but in the end we have a clear winner: Asgard’s Wrath 2.
As I said before, Asgard’s Wrath 2 in a very short period of time has raised the bar for every single aspect of standalone VR gaming. This game does things that were previously thought impossible, and future games will be better simply because this game is so good. Asgard’s Wrath 2 stands as a testament to what’s possible when money, time and effort are focused and applied by a capable team of developers. We congratulate Meta and especially Sanzaru Games on delivering such an incredible, groundbreaking experience to the VR faithful. Thank you for reminding us all that the future of our technology is incredibly bright.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy New Year from the team here at XR Update. We hope that you have enjoyed the content that we have been able to deliver over the past few months. With that said, we have big plans for 2024. We are just getting started.