If your holiday haul included a VR rig, but your own gift-giving left you broke, do not despair. These ten free apps and games will provide many hours of virtual reality fun at no cost to you.
Google Earth VR
There is no better app for introducing newbs to virtual reality than Google Earth VR. Users can walk through a 3D rendering of anywhere Google has sent Street View cameras, and that’s almost everywhere on arth. Everyone at your New Years Eve party will want to walk through their childhood hometown, find their apartment, and see what’s going on in Tokyo. It’s simply amazing that this app is free.
Platforms: Oculus, Vive
Beat Saber Demo
Beat Saber is one of the most popular VR games ever made, and it’s easy to see why. It’s incredibly badass to cut neon cubes apart to bass-heavy music, and it even provides a good workout. The demo comes with two songs and a tutorial — just enough material to make you say, “I want to do this all the time. Here are my credit card numbers.”
Platforms: Oculus, PS VR, Windows
Epic Roller Coasters VR
Riding roller coasters and virtual reality go together like peanut butter and jelly. Because the users don’t have to do anything to “play” this one, it’s a perfect introduction to VR for older people and non-gamers who might get freaked out by all the buttons on the controller.
I hate all chat programs — if I wanted to talk to people, do you think I’d have a damn computer strapped to my face? — but a lot of people like to get social, virtually. Rec Room is geared toward younger players, and it lets you create a full-body avatar, play mini-games like dodge ball and tag, go on quests, and tour thousands of user-created rooms. Plus, you can play it in non-virtual-reality, too.
Platforms: Oculus, PS VR, Xbox One, iOS, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X and Series S
Netflix and Prime Video VR
The virtual versions of these two popular streaming services are remarkable. They allow you to watch Netflix/Prime content on a virtually huge screen, with virtual surround sound, and they’re both totally free (other than the subscription to the normal streaming service). Neither offers VR-specific content, but if you just want to check out some movies or shows, they’re perfect.
Platforms: Oculus, PS VR, Gear VR
Superhot VR Demo
Superhot has been out for five years, but it’s still the best shooter game in virtual reality. It’s unique time-stop gameplay works with VR perfectly, and its semi-abstract visuals are just-right, too. The demo is pretty short, but it makes up for the brevity with incredible coolness. The non-VR version of Superhot is available, too.
Platforms: PS VR, Oculus, Switch, Windows, iOS, Google Stadia, Linux
Anne Frank House
This educational freebie uses virtual reality for something other than playing cool games. “Anne Frank House” was originally developed for use at the Anne Frank Museum, and gives you an education into the lives of Anne Frank and her family, and also lets you poke around a virtual version of the “secret Annex,” the attic where the Frank family spent years hiding from Nazis. Spoiler: It’s tiny!
Platforms: Oculus, Gear VR
YouTube’s VR app lets you watch any YouTube video in your headset, plus you can step into 360-degree virtual reality videos and do stuff like tour your favourite YouTuber’s closet. “Normal” YouTube videos can be displayed in theatre style, and navigation has been tweaked to make it work smoothly with virtual reality controls, and you can use it on basically any VR gear.
If you just want to go (virtually) fishing, Bait! is there for you. This polished game has a plot of sorts (you’re trying to catch a specific fish) but it’s really more about relaxation than a specific goal. There are four lakes to check out, two fishing stores to upgrade your gear and buy jerky, and you can even fish with other anglers.
Platform: Oculus, Gear VR
This social game lets you sit down at a table and play Texas Hold’em, Stud Hi/Lo, and other games with fellow virtual gamblers. You’re not playing with actual money, which defeats the entire point of playing poker, but if you’re cool with that, you’ll enjoy it. The variety of interactive props are nice, too, and keep games action-packed.