With the first of the modern batch of VR headsets becoming commercially available all the way back in 2016, you can’t say that VR gaming is a particularly new art form any more. Sure, it’s not challenging traditional home consoles and PC gaming in terms of sales volume and revenue, but the headsets on the market have matured (and some have gone compellingly cable free), the challenges of designing for VR have been worked around, and 2020 has shown just how well the medium can handle big budget blockbusters and games that are grander in scale than ever before.
Coming into the year, there was really only one VR game on the lips of the technology’s early adopters, and it more than proved to be worth the long, long wait.
Whatever ghosts have been haunting Valve and stalling the Half-Life franchise for the past decade have finally been put to rest in 2020. No, Half-Life: Alyx isn’t the prophesied third coming of Mr. Freeman, but it is the most impressive VR game yet. Taking place before Gordon Freeman’s adventures in City 17, you get to explore familiar environments from a whole new perspective. Even just as fan service the detail and immersion of this game is extraordinary, with endless Easter eggs and callbacks.
There is far more to the experience than fan service, as Half-Life: Alyx combines (pun intended) some of the most detailed and beautiful visuals available in a VR title with a thrilling narrative and gameplay that genuinely feels like it belongs in the Half-Life series. Gunplay is responsive and enjoyable, environmental puzzles are present and correct, and the new Gravity Gloves are an inspired way to work with the best aspects of VR control. Eliminating the need to find the fiddly hitbox for interactive objects that plagues so many VR titles, these gloves also fit perfectly with the story and setting of the game.
Perhaps the only negative things to say about Half-Life: Alyx are that it puts so many other VR games in the shade and that, given Valve’s lengthy development times, we’ll have an interminable wait for another one. If you have access to any kind of PC VR setup, then you owe it to yourself to play Half-Life: Alyx.
– Steve C
Runner Up – The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners
Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners is a marvel for a couple of reasons, the least important of which is that it’s a good licensed game – something it feels like we haven’t seen in a very long time.
By far the more relevant factor is that it has some of the most gruesome/satisfying combat of any VR game. Rather than simply hitting an enemy you need to actively follow through with each attack to actually deal damage. That means that when you’re driving a screwdriver into the temple of a Walker trying to snack on the inside of your brain, you really have to mean it. It’s not the only remarkable thing about the gameplay here, but it’s the one that threatens to haunt your dreams, and that’s one hell of an accomplishment.
– Jason C
Runner Up – Paper Beast
Paper Beast is pretty unique. Essentially a sort of origami wildlife puzzle game, to progress through the game’s levels you have to take advantage of the behaviours and abilities of origami wildlife. There’s a shaggy dog-type creature that can dig through sand to help you get through a cave, for example, or crab-like things that gather sand into balls that can then be thrown to move sand around and access higher areas.
Most of note here, though, is the general sense of wonder you feel whilst you’re playing. The game is beautiful to behold in VR, which certainly helps, the sandstorm at the very beginning of the game had me saying wow every few seconds. This wowing escalated to Owen Wilson levels when I discovered the sand/water physics and the sandbox mode that allows you to build a little utopia of your own. Or, more likely, watch water and sand flow around whilst smiling madly.
It’s all delightfully surreal around all the wonder as well, beginning with a Japanese music video to teach you how to interact with things in the world, and each level ending with guiding your paper beasts to a tree so they can eat fruit, sprout balloons, and float away. Yeah, it’s weird, but it’s glorious and it’s our VR Game of the Year.
– Gareth C
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
- Iron Man VR
- Star Wars Squadrons
To catch up on the Game of the Year awards we’ve handed out so far, here’s a handy list!
- Best Single Player Game
- Best Narrative
- Best Gameplay
- Best Independent Game
- Best Visual Design
- Best Original Soundtrack
- Best Multiplayer Game
- Best Ongoing Game
- Best Remaster/Remake
Have you adopted VR gaming yet? Let us know if a particular new game transformed your view of gaming’s future this year.