Incredible virtual worlds we can't wait to don the mask for
In an ideal world...
Virtual reality is almost certainly the most thrilling thing in the tech world right now, but without great support even the finest technologies are doomed to failure – and we're already hearing worrying things about the number of good VR experiences on the way.
So, never ones to shirk a creative challenge, the techradar team has put together a list of the worlds we'd want to don the goggles and immerse ourselves in, from Star Wars to George R. R. Martin's Westeros, and from Alaska's Katmai National Park to Pokemon world.
In no particular order, here are the worlds that fire our VR imaginations – we'd love to hear yours in the comments…
A hive of scum and villainy and other dystopias
Brave New World
Written in the 1930s, Aldous Huxley's prophetic novel dealt with a society aiming for 'nirvana' and inadvertently creating a dystopia. But this is one dystopia we'd like to spend some time exploring. The drug soma keeps everyone smiley and happy, babies are produced in laboratories and 'feelies' serve as entertainment (and of course are themselves pretty close to VR). This sterile, gleaming world is both a distant dream and a deep-seated nightmare – and that's definitely something we'd like to experience in our virtual worlds.
Yeah, it's obvious – but who wouldn't want to wander around a galaxy far, far away? This is a world that will feel instantly familiar to so many, with so much of it mapped out already in games, television and, of course, the films themselves. The cantina at Mos Eisley would be a wretched hive of scum and villainy that we'd just have to check out, and meeting Grand Moff Tarkin on the original Death Star would be awesome. A Star Wars VR world isn't just a must-have, it's almost certainly a will-be – and we're okay with that.
Takeshi Kovacs' world
Richard Morgan's trilogy started with the seminal Altered Carbon, and over the next two titles he managed to create a world so rich and beautifully realised it remains one of the most loved modern sci-fi book series. Spread over a handful of planets, it's a world where humans can download their consciousness into new bodies (or 'sleeves'), where some planets have no-go zones caused by military AIs running riot, where companies dominate politics and hold all the cards… and yet a place where humanity is at the core of everything. Morgan's world(s) are visceral, dirty and beautiful – and I'd love to spend some virtual time there.
It'll be a Primal scream...
Far Cry Primal
Primal has received a lot of criticism for reusing an old map, offering limited weapons and its rinse/repeat mission style – but you can't accuse it of not having an immersive world. And Putting Far Cry Primal into VR would be terrifying, exhilarating and awe-inspiring.
The best parts of the game are when you're traipsing through the undergrowth and you get pounced on by a sabre-toothed tiger. It's then a tooth-and-nail fight to the death as you use the last of your spears and arrows to try and claw your way to freedom. That in VR would be the number one reason to buy a HTC Vive, and clear out a room in your house.
It may turn out to be a glorified death simulator, but George R. R. Martin's complex fantasy world – which inspired the hit HBO series Game of Thrones – may also be the perfect source material for a fully immersive VR experience. The Oculus Rift has already brought us the Ascend The Wall experience, in which you became a member of the Night's Watch and look out at the gruesome and wild north. But you didn't get to move and become your own character.
I want little less spectacle, and to be thrown into the crowds of King's Landing, or the docks of Braavos, or to actually run through the woods of the north. Creating your own character within the Game of Thrones universe is sure to absorbing, and even more so if it's in VR.
Brian K. Vaughan has already stated that his comic creation will never be adapted into other media. But surely he can make an exception for a VR game? Saga is one of the best-realised comic series in recent years, with a vast, epic science fiction universe full of strange predators, galactic wars and odd parenthood. But if it appeared, I'd like to see a story that takes us away from the main line of the comics. Let's explore one of the planets we see briefly in a story but feel free to explore the galaxy rather than follow the main characters.
Dream stealers and fantasy islands
A van crashes through the bridge barrier and begins its descent to the water below. In the seconds that follow, hours transpire. The ability to toggle between viewpoints, to scan the snowy horizon, to live in one of the most intense dream sequences ever filmed, would be a fascinating way to explore the extraordinary imagination of Christopher Nolan.
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Resort
The Maldives is a very special place. Certain islands in the archipelago look like something straight out of a screensaver, but the cost of getting there is too great for most of us. The island that plays host to the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Resort is one tailor-made for VR. I'd save approximately $8,000 by virtually venturing through the island's pristine sand and otherworldly suites, and rather than shelling out hundreds to dine in its underwater restaurant... well, I'd simply whet my appetite.
Katmai National Park & Preserve
Those photos you've seen of massive grizzlies standing watch over waterfalls, waiting for their next meal? That's Katmai. Getting to the park – one of Alaska's most remote – is pricey and inconvenient. Exploring its majesty through a VR headset, however, would make things markedly easier. In fact, I'd love to see America's entire national park system filmed for virtual enjoyment.
Chucking Poké Balls and battling HAL
What was once limited to a top-down experience is now a 360-degree, fully immersive one. The grassy fields of Kanto, where wild Pokémon live, are now thick, waist-high, and a lot more intimidating than before. Battling against other Pokémon and caring for your own would be a much more personal task, as you'll be tearing through the ranks with these creatures that you've raised from their smallest form to their largest evolution. What's better is that each Pokémon will be sized at scale, which would add a realistic feel to the experience.
And of course, I'd love to chuck Poké Balls in VR.
2001: A Space Odyssey
There are other, more SFX-laden movies that take place in space, but few of them deliver as much feeling as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Each chunk of the film's timeline would be awe-inspiring to be immersed in – experiencing everything from the early days of humanity to the future, covering mankind's battle with AI and our break into new dimensions and territories would be terrifying and incredible.
I'll never go into space in my lifetime, and I'm totally okay with that. But if a VR headset will let me transport myself to an airlock cabin and argue with the infamous HAL 9000, or let me travel to Jupiter (and beyond,) then sign me up.
A VR trip to the Wonders of the World
Buying a VR headset won't be cheap, but it'll certainly be more affordable than forking out the airfare to see each of the wonders of the world – those that still exist, that is. I'd love to step into an ancient world, unfettered by the clog of tourists, traffic and noise, and walk inside a pristine Colosseum in Rome, Italy, or hike up to Machu Picchu in Peru to see the Incan villages that have sat peacefully, abandoned atop a mountain range, for hundreds of years.
It's pretty easy to see how amazing this would be, not just for people who want a quick getaway, but for elderly or disabled individuals, too, who want to check these sights off their bucket lists.
Worlds of Warcraft, Wachowskis and water
I haven't played World of Warcraft for years, largely because the game hasn't changed all that dramatically in its 12-year (and still going!) run. But if developer Blizzard was to recreate the game's sprawling, lore-stuffed world of Azeroth in virtual reality, I know myself: I would get sucked in all over again.
Come on, you can't tell me you wouldn't want to hack the world if given the chance. We've all seen the Wachowski Sisters' late '90s masterpiece, and we've all thought about the moral and philosophical dilemmas inherent in such a world many times over – it's high time we experienced what that seemingly inevitable world could be like for ourselves.
The deepest depths of the ocean
It's often said that we know more about the celestial bodies that surround us than the floor of our very own oceans – and even if we only had a virtual recreation of what we already know of the ocean floor, the vast majority of us humans will never, ever see that in person. Besides, I just want to see some angler fish up close – they're so fascinating and terrifying at the same time.
Swordplay with Zelda, nut-play with Cartman
A Link to the Past is my all-time favorite Zelda game. I replay it about every other year. Twilight Princess let us swing a Wiimote for swordplay, but after 50 hours into the game my wrists got tired and I gave up, and I only recently tried to replay it with the HD release on WiiU. Take the shorter A Link to the Past plot and gameplay, combine it with the swordplay from Twilight Princess, sprinkle on some VR goodness and you can just take my money now.
The Simpsons has been an integral part of my life. I grew up watching the show – weekly and reruns every day after school – and I don't even remember the time before I discovered the family-friendly animated sitcom. A VR Springfield is something I want to experience. It could be something as simple as walking to the Kwik-E-Mart, strangling Bart Simpson with the hands of Homer, becoming Mr Burns and telling Smithers to "release the hounds", or appearing in Treehouse of Horror VII, so that I could virtually vote for Kodos.
South Park: The Stick of Truth let us experience South Park as an RPG. But, I would love to roam the streets of South Park in VR, just so I can play roshambo with Cartman, give Butters a hug and participate in Randy Marsh's shenanigans.
At my signal, unleash VR hell!
Ryse: Son of Rome
Crytek's Xbox One slasher is undoubtedly pretty, but it's also pretty vacant when it comes to gameplay. Tweak it for VR, however, and it has the potential to transport you into a battle scene from the classic movie Gladiator. Left hand to raise your shield, right hand to wave your sword around – through the wonders of positional tracking you're able to duck and weave from enemy swings while raising your shield to protect yourself from a hail of piercing arrows. Are you not entertained?
Survival horror is an obvious fit for VR: if you have slow reaction times and aim like a cross-eyed musketeer, you're dead meat. Imagine a snarling Necromorph from the Dead Space series lumbering towards you, spikes raised and ready to sink into your shoulders. Aiming the HTC Vive's controller, you dismember the beast's kneecaps at the last minute with a single Plasma Cutter blast. Gnarly.
And then there's the death scenes: Dead Space 2's Eye Poke Machine was horrific enough when watched on a 2D screen, so imagine what it would be like in VR, with the needle a millimetre away from your quivering retina. Bleagh.
TrackMania Nations: Forever
I love playing TrackMania Nations on a 34-inch 21:9 monitor because it feels like you're strapped into a wacky, petrol-fuelled rollercoaster. I can see the thrill of its twisty tracks only being amplified by VR as you hurtle from ramps, perform loop-the-loops and spin 360-degrees in the air. I'll admit there's more than a slight risk of motion sickness with this, but hey – at least you'll have a bin next to your feet.
A VR coaster that's really virtual
We're beginning to see real-world theme parks incorporate virtual reality into their rollercoasters, such as Alton Towers' 'new' Galactica rollercoaster; I say 'new' as it's really an existing rollercoaster – Air – with some Gear VR's thrown in. I'm a massive fan of theme parks and rollercoasters, and I thought Air was exciting enough without VR. Instead, what I would like to see is games where I can build my own crazy coasters that also allow me to ride them in VR.
I've been a huge fan of theme park sims since falling in love with Theme Park on the Amiga, and we're seeing a renaissance in the genre thanks to Planet Coaster (and to a lesser extent Rollercoaster Tycoon World). When I spoke to the people behind Planet Coaster a few weeks ago I mentioned virtual reality support, and while the game won't launch with it, it's something they are looking into. Exciting times. Just don't get trapped in a VR Mr Bone's Wild Ride.
When I first played Bioshock Infinite in 2013, like many people I was blown away by the gorgeous setting of the game. The floating city of Columbia was beautifully realised, with breathtaking graphics that hold up to this day. Those first few moments as the heavy gates part, allowing you to wander about this wondrous and inventive city above the clouds, are almost perfect.
Sadly things take a turn for the worse, with the city of Columbia having a dark and nasty side, and the gameplay soon lets the setting down thanks to some pretty boring gunplay and by-the-numbers enemy encounters. But while Bioshock Infinite as a game disappoints, the graphics, location and world-building all shine, making it an ideal world in which to enjoy some VR sightseeing before everything goes to hell.
J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth has always held a special place in my heart – and imagination – since my dad read the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to me when I was young. Back then my mind raced with images of fantastical lands filled with elves and wizards, so when Peter Jackson brought Middle Earth to the big screen so well – thanks to the real-world wizards at Weta and based on John Howe and Alan Lee's iconic paintings of Tolkien's fictional world – I was both relieved and enraptured. Being able to chill out in Hobbiton, hang with elves in Lothlórien, avoid horse shit in Rohan and lob jewellery into a volcano in Modor would be amazing.
From Walking with Dinosaurs to A Bug's Life
Earth 66 million years ago
I've always been fascinated by what the world was like in the age of the dinosaurs – these amazing creatures were around for many millions of times longer than us puny humans (although they didn't manage to work out how to open a door until a mad scientist brought them back to life…). So what was it that killed them? Was it the huge meteorite that smashed into Mexico, blasting dust into the air that blocked out the sun? Or was mass volcanic eruptions that tipped a world, already cradling a fragile climate, into apocalypse that wiped out the mega-lizards?
I don't know how we would manage to replicate this virtual world – it would take a phenomenal amount of processing power and algorithmic understanding of the world's ecosystem to re-create – but being able to see the world as the extinction-level event unfolded would be incredible.
The world under our floorboards
The great thing about VR is that it offers us the opportunity to view the world from perspectives that wouldn't otherwise be possible. Imagine being able to see your home from inside every nook and cranny, in the manner of a mouse or an insect – seeing the secret world that lives beneath our floorboards would be insanely cool. Okay, you'd probably get bored of it after a few minutes, but imagine the moment when a vacuum comes into shot... hurricane time!
The Great Fire of London
This is the experience on my wish list that's probably the most feasible, giving us a look one of the world's great cities in the 1600s, and allowing us to see how different (and similar) it looks to today. While I wouldn't want to witness the destruction and death as the fire ripped through its buildings up close, seeing the city before and after the fire would provide a fascinating insight into how that disaster shaped the way the city looks today.
Let's just not include the 'authentic' smells of the time, okay?