Both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift hit consumers earlier this year, with a limited range of titles at launch. Now that virtual reality's appeal has been proven, developers are starting to get onboard, but this hasn't completely solved the platform's lack of content.
Steam's Early Access program has become more relevant than ever since the introduction of SteamVR, by getting titles in the hands of gamers ahead of their official launch. This not only helps bring new experiences to consumers faster, but also provides developers with a significant volume consumer feedback.
However, due to the program's nature, not every title that comes to Early Access is perfect. With more developers working on virtual reality experiences than ever before, finding hidden gems is becoming an even more daunting task. We've rounded up our favourite in-progress titles available through the Steam storefront.
Fight the system
Raw Data only recently released to the public on Steam's Early Access program, but quickly emerged as one of the HTC Vive's most compelling experiences to date. Set in the far future, Raw Data places players in a world dominated by a looming corporation known as Eden Corporation. As an operative for a nefarious hacking group, you're tasked with entering Eden Tower to extract confidential data.
While extracting the data, Eden Corporation's security systems will kick in, unleashing waves of humanoid robots on your location. Taking advantage of cover, you must fight back against Eden's varied robot army using your weapons of choice.
In the current version of Raw Data, players are limited to two playable characters – Bishop the gun cleric and Saija the cyber ninja. These each grant unique weaponry and abilities and eventually slot into the game's promised campaign. While little is known about the campaign, the game's developer promises 12 parts of story-driven content.
As Raw Data moves forward, the developer also promises to mostly expand on each of the game's existing elements. This includes new characters, enemy types weapons and more.
Raw Data is currently available on Steam for $39.99, which gives access to all future updates to the title.
Conquer the universe
House of the Dying Sun
One of the biggest problems with today's most popular virtual reality titles is a significant lack of replayability. No matter their content, some of the most interesting titles just lose their appeal after a couple of hours. This is where House of the Dying Sun stands out from the crowd, with an already established genre reformed into a virtual-reality experience. With influences from Star Frontier and Elite, House of the Dying Sun provides accessible space shooter, interlaced with deeper technicalities.
Unlike some of the more complex tactical spaceship simulators, House of the Dying Sun has a noticeable arcade feel to its approach. This style massively helps when immersed inside the headset, by streamlining movement and combat.
While the game can be played with a keyboard and mouse on a traditional display, a controller is required when in virtual reality. The game is a solely seated experience for both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and delivers an immersive experience from within the ship's cockpit.
House of the Dying Sun is currently available for $19.99 but isn't expect to see a price increase when the final version releases.
Beats and bass
For all you virtual musicians, SoundStage offers a feature-rich platform to create your own music. With over ten distinctly unique instruments in its current implementation, players are able to compose melodies in real time.
After combining the instruments and creating your own tunes, players can save them to be revisited at a later date. In the final game, SoundStage is expected to introduce basic sharing functionality, to share your creations online.
As SoundStage continues to develop, the number of instruments is also set to double, alongside other features to provide creative freedom. To enhance the performances, laser shows, microphone support and a live sampler will all be thrown into the mix.
SoundStage is currently available for $9.99 on Steam, however, may increase at release. The developer has also promised to continually support the game through updates and paid instrument packs after launch.
Point, click, shoot
Hot Dogs, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
Hot Dogs, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is an experimental weapon simulator for the HTC Vive, which takes full advantage of the platform's motion controllers. With an unlimited armory at your disposal, the game provides a wide range of weapons, gadgets and expansive firing ranges.
Each of H3VR's highly detailed weapons feature moving components - staying true to their real-world counterparts. These can be decked out with various attachments and ammunition types on the fly, to tweak their performance at various ranges.
In recent months Hot Dogs, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades has started to introduce more unconventional game modes, including 'Grenade Skeeball' and the 'GUNasium'. These meld the game's robust game mechanics with more abstract concepts, to create more outstanding experiences.
Hot Dogs, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is currently available on Steam, with more weapons, game modes and levels to arrive in the coming months. The game is available for $19.99 in its current state, with promised updates arriving weekly.
Fly yourself across the world
Aerofly FS 2 Flight Simulator
Aerofly FS 2 Flight Simulator is one of the few simulators to support virtual reality from the outset, with a majority of previous titles having added support after launch.
Aerofly FS 2 might not be the most content-rich simulator on the platform but makes up for this with its notable polish. In its current state, the game has a majority of the features envisioned in the final product, which will be continually built up leading up to the official launch.
The game brings together a range of complex features to accurately simulate flight, including detailed aircraft, realistic physics, and photorealistic scenery. When paired with joysticks, throttle units, and pedals, Aerofly FS 2 provides one of the best virtual flight experiences to date.
Aerofly FS 2 Flight Simulator is currently available for $49.99 on Steam until the game leaves early access. If you're looking for a virtual reality flight simulator, make sure to pick up the title before its price increase at launch. With the game's current offering the price may seem steep, but is a must-buy for any avid pilots.
A night at the arcade
Space Pirate Trainer
Looking back at old arcade shooters, Space Pirate Trainer feels like a natural successor to what became a staple of the cabinet gaming. Inspired by the sci-fi digital worlds of the 80's, the game's neon-lined worlds immediately spark a flair of nostalgia.
Space Pirate Trainer is a stripped down shooter for the HTC Vive, which attempts to create an intuitive experience for players with any amount of virtual reality experience. Armed with weapons that precisely map to the HTC Vive's controllers, players are tasked with fighting waves of hostile droids.
The current version of Space Pirate Trainer features a limited range of content but has laid the foundations for further expansion. With the game's robust mechanics already in place, the number of unique weapons and enemies is expected to grow.
The game's developer, I-Illusions, has stated that Space Pirate Trainer's price may increase as more content is added. For now, the game is priced at $14.99 on Steam exclusively for the HTC Vive.
Vanishing Realms is one of the best RPG experiences for the HTC Vive, taking full advantage of the technology available with the headset. While the game's current offering only consists of two chapters, they provide unrivalled combat and immersion in the role-playing genre.
With easy-to-understand mechanics, Vanishing Realms is accessible to nearly any new HTC Vive user. Fans of the RPG genre will feel right at home, with dedicated health bars, collectable equipment, and magic. These come together to give players a sense of progression as they fight through dungeon-dwelling enemies.
Vanishing Realms brings together strategic combat and puzzle solving into a single experience. While not as complex as a majority of established franchises, building the title for virtual reality brings a new level of depth to the role-playing genre.
Available on Steam for $19.99, Vanishing Realms is a must buy for RPG fans. Only two chapters are offered in its current state but is expected to receive more content in future updates.
Out of Ammo
While first person shooters have gained huge popularity in the virtual reality, any limit to physical space introduces a massive boundary to the player. Out of Ammo is a shooter that tries to bypass this limitation by interconnecting the moment to moment action with a developed real-time strategy game.
Out of Ammo's RTS roots become clear from the get-go, allowing players to set up defences to repel oncoming attacks from enemy forces. To fight back against the attacks, players must place defensive measures and soldiers on the front line, in an organised manner.
The game's more strategic angle is only half the experience, however, with a limited but robust shooter hidden underneath. Players are able to transition down onto the battlefield at any point in time, taking control of any friendly unit. This delivers an even balance between slow-paced strategy and hectic action.
Out of Ammo is currently available for $19.99 on Steam, which provides access to a substantial portion of the final game's content. More recently, a majority of updates have continued to add polish as the game nears its public release.
Fun for all
Rec Room is one of the recently emerging social experiences for the HTC Vive, which allows players to meet up from across the world. Packaged alongside a wide variety of competitive mini-games, Rec Room is a great way to meet old friends or even meet new ones.
Virtual reality is often referred to as an isolated experience, but titles like these are set flip the narrative. As free to play title, Rec Room is a more accessible that some titles, but is currently limited to the HTC Vive headset. While there are a number of competitors accessible through cheaper headsets, Rec Room offers unrivalled immersion and functionality.
Players enter the Rec Room with their own customizable avatar, and able to converse using the game's in-built proximity chat. A number of other gestures and features have made their way into the title, to help streamline the overall social experience.
Maybe the more impressive component of Rec Room is the game's social activities, which allow players to bond through physical activities. Currently, these range from more passive games such as 3D Charades and Disc Golf to more active modes like Paintball and Dodgeball.
Rec Room is now available on Steam as a free to play title for any HTC Vive owners.
Take me anywhere
Destinations is an example of educational virtual reality, acting as a portal to anywhere in the world. Through the software, players are able to explore three-dimensional photorealistic environments without leaving their home.
Upon starting the title, Destinations is packed with a few demonstrations to grasp an idea of the software's potential. These include a large scan of Mars made using the Curiosity rover and a beautiful tour of a churchyard in Yorkshire.
This library of experiences can be expanded by heading over to the Steam Workshop, which is packed with hundreds of user-created models for the program. While these vary in quality, they're a massive improvement over traditional 360-degree photos.
Destinations is available for free on Steam, for both the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Currently, HTC Vive owners are provided with more functionality, thanks to the headset's included motion controllers.