We’ve all been told a hundred times that VR is the future. But it’s also the present. Between HTC Vive and Oculus Rift there’s already a mass of hugely impressive VR experiences just waiting to transport you to new worlds and previously unobtainable experiences.
Solid VR efforts aren’t limited to these bank balance-busting headsets though. Smartphone-utilizing VR headsets have come a long way in recent years, and now the Google Daydream platform is leading the charge on VR for the everyman.
A more robust enhancement of the big-G’s past Cardboard creation, the Daydream platform is fronted by the Google Daydream View, a fabric-coated VR headset that comes with its own compact controller to let you interact with your new virtual surroundings.
However, although VR is getting better, there are still a lot of sub-par experiences out there just waiting to bring your future-loving expectations crashing back down to earth.
So before you go sticking your head into other dimensions, you need to ensure you're exposing yourself to the best the VR world has to offer. Experiences like this lot, the best Google Daydream apps and games available to download now…
1. YouTube VR
Sometimes, the simple things in tech are the most effective, and that’s certainly the case with YouTube VR, which lets you live fully immersive video content. Unlike Netflix or Hulu’s VR apps, YouTube doesn’t just plonk you in the middle of a virtual cinema and make you stare at a fake oversized flat screen. Instead, with the right content, it lets you experience the visual settings you want to enjoy.
From exploring the depths of the ocean to climbing the peaks of Everest, and from enjoying the tranquility of a rolling Tuscan landscape to immersing yourself in the bustle of a Chinese street market, YouTube VR’s ever-expanding array of 360-degree explorable videos are a must, and a great way to explore the world without leaving your home.
It’s also the platform that makes dozens of other VR experiences possible, such as the Great White Shark experience.
2. VR Karts Sprint
Grab the sick bag and strap yourself in – it’s time to enjoy the head-rolling, speed-providing fun of virtual karting. Just because lengthy gaming sessions can be more than a little nauseating, that doesn’t mean this isn’t a wildly fun and compelling VR gaming experience. It’s essentially Mario Kart for the virtual world – and who doesn't like the sound of that?
You look out through the eyes of your intrepid racer, and are tasked with winning the race against a grid of fun weapon-flinging foe. Steering by tilting your controller, you’re not without some tricks of your own, with a tap on the controller’s minus key letting you utilize your own boosts and weaponry. You’ll quickly find yourself leaning into corners and hunching up on your sofa, willing your kart to go faster.
3. Archer E. Bowman
Price: £3.89 / $3.99
This is your chance to be a hero, and have fun in the process. You play Archer, a, yep, you guessed it, archer, who’s tasked with defending his rampart from a charging hoard of baddies. As wave after wave of attack rolls in and the stakes increase, so the growing excitement and intensity help you fully immerse yourself in the cartoonish virtual world.
Sure, it’s classic VR gaming, but there’s added polish. You move your head to look around, and once you've homed in on a charging attacker you use your wireless controller to aim and rain your arrows down on them. There are similar, admittedly slightly more impressive adaptations of this gaming premise on the likes of HTC Vive, but Daydream’s Archer E. Bowman is pure entertainment, and a game you’ll keep coming back to.
4. Google Arts & Culture VR
VR’s not just about shooting stuff and riding virtual rollercoasters, it’s also an opportunity to immerse yourself in the best this world has to offer, be that stunning views, natural wonders, or significant pieces of art, history and general human achievement. That’s where Google Arts & Culture VR comes in.
This isn’t a fancy app; there are no head-spinning tricks or immersive VR breakthroughs. Instead, it brings the wows by taking you closer to the best pieces of art in the world than you could ever normally get, backing it up with useful facts along the way. From letting your study the intricacies of a sculpture to the brush strokes of a multi-million pound painting. This is the art gallery of the future – and admission is free.
Price: £3.79 / $3.99
This pretty puzzler will have you sitting in your VR headset way longer than your eyes should probably be subjected to in a single session, but it’s addictive fun that will keep you coming back for more.
You play a waddling little robot, and you’re tasking with manipulating the world around him to help him get to his destination. At first the controls are tricky, but you’ll quickly find yourself using your Bluetooth remote to rotate planets and move bricks, clearing a path to ultimate success. Beautifully pairing tricky puzzles with stunning artistry, it’s a must-try game.
6. Raptor Valley
Price: £2.89 / $2.99
Hands up who wishes they could visit Jurassic Park. Now keep that limb aloft if you learned absolutely nothing from John Hammond’s ill-fated attempts to bring these prehistoric lizards back to life… yeah, we thought so. Well, Raptor Valley is what you get for not learning your lessons, as you find yourself alone in the long grass being stalked by a pack of velociraptors.
Your Daydream View’s controller transforms to your virtual gun as you’ve got to blast these pouncing dinos. Your mind will tell you to run, but all you can do is spin on the spot, fending off attacks from all directions as your heart rate quickens. It’s not necessarily the smoothest VR game, but it's got dinosaurs, dammit – and what more do you need, really?
Price: £4.79 / $4.99
This is the sort of thing VR was built for – giving you the ability to leave terra firma and explore the far reaches of the solar system in immersive 3D, all from the comfort of your sofa. Encouraging you to learn as you explore, Star Chart VR lets you discover everything from our home planet to the rings of Saturn, and much more beyond.
While its top-down view and ability to manipulate planets might give you a slight God complex, getting an immersive sense of the scale of the universe will quickly make you feel insignificantly small. Not only is is this a great educational tool, with the Daydream controller letting you grip and roll entire worlds it offers near endless exploration options.
8. Keep talking and nobody explodes
Price: £9.99 / $9.99
VR doesn’t have to be a solitary experience. Yes, it’s easy to feel isolated when you're sitting in your home in a space-age prat hat unable to see what’s going on around you, but there are already ways to make VR a group experience – such as the brilliantly innovative Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.
One of you wears a Daydream View headset, and spends the entire game sitting face-to-face with a big ol’ bomb. Your mates, meanwhile, stay in the real world, using a printable bomb defusing guide to walk you through the process of making this dangerous device safe. It’s like a tension-raising game of VR Bop-It, just with higher consequences.
9. The Turning Forest
VR is an experience for the senses, and it's not just your eyes that are set to be wowed by the BBC-created The Turning Forest. As well as being a visually stunning, artistically playful creation, this is a VR experiences for your ears.
Built around spatial sound, you’ll need to pair your VR headset with a decent pair of headphones to fully enjoy this app of exploration and mystery. As the world of wildlife and giant creatures evolves around you, you can pair the calming ambient sound with your own tunes, using the controller to play music on the monster’s teeth of hanging icicles. There’s a relaxing beauty to this incredible creation.
10. LEGO BrickHeadz Builder
There are certain things that, no matter how good VR gets, will always claw you back to the real world. Playing with LEGO is one of those things… or at least it was. But now LEGO’s made the VR jump, so other than meal and toilet breaks there's no need to leave your world of virtual escapism anytime soon.
The BrickHeadz Builder lets you build and play, putting your favourite building bricks at the centre of a puzzler. You can’t create huge brick-based sculptures, not yet anyway, but you’ll still enjoy piecing together these compact creations.