Just over two years into VR’s consumer reality and AAA gaming is finally starting to make its way to the platform. Whether it is ports of past hits like Skyrim and L.A. Noire, optional support in games like Resident Evil 7, or entirely new titles like Lone Echo, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR owners are finally getting a taste of big budget titles. But it’s been a long road to get here, and many VR veterans will recall the agonizing years in which we waited for games from well-known developers and publishers to show up on these platforms.
During that time there were a bunch of promising demos from major series, many of which never amounted to anything more than E3 showcases. Let’s take a look at some AAA games from the past few years that had surprising VR demos.
DOOM 3: BFG on Oculus Rift
These days Oculus would probably rather forget the bond it once shared with Bethesda, but the pair were once closely entwined. In the early, early days of the Rift, John Carmack, then of Bethesda-owned id Software, showcased a prototype of the headset running id’s Doom 3 in VR. It was famously known as the Duct Tape Prototype for the Rift. This was one of our first glimpses of true VR gaming. You could run through one of the game’s moody levels in VR with an Xbox controller, looking all around you with the head-tracking. It might sound primitive by today’s standards but, six years ago, it was a revelation.
In fact, Oculus originally even planned to deliver a VR version of the game alongside every development kit it sold during its original Kickstarter, though this never materialized. Now the partnership between Oculus and Bethesda has been overshadowed by a messy legal battle concerning who actually made the Rift. It’s safe to say we’ll never see an official VR version of Doom 3, but there’s a pretty great mod out there now that even works with the Touch controllers. There is, of course, Doom VFR, too.
Alien: Isolation on Oculus Rift
Another well-known VR demo that never made it past expo floors, Alien: Isolation became a star showcase of the Rift’s second development kit (DK2). First shown at E3 2014, the demo took a small section of developer Creative Assembly’s survival horror title and let you experience it with Rift’s new 1080p display and positional tracking. You found yourself in uncomfortably close proximity to the iconic Xenomorph and had to hide in lockers and under desks as you tried to sneak through the room. DK2’s tracking camera allowed you to lean around surfaces for quick peeks, which was incredibly immersive.
It was an amazing demo with several highlights, including looking down at your body to see the alien’s tail pierce your torso (there were a few screams coming from the E3 booth that year). Sadly, the full version was never to be; the Rift and Vive didn’t release for another two years after Isolation’s launch and by then the game was somewhat forgotten. That said, another unofficial mod can get you playing in VR pretty comfortably, and fans bring up continued hopes for full integration quite often.
Thief on PSVR
There’s a good chance you don’t even remember Thief, let alone recall the rarely-seen VR demo. The 2014 reboot of the stealth classic was not well-received at launch and was quickly forgotten as the new generation of consoles kicked into gear. Thief did briefly live again, though, when Sony’s PlayStation VR was announced under the codename of Project Morpheus at GDC 2014. A number of demos accompanied that reveal, including EVE: Valkyrie and Ocean Descent which would end up on PlayStation VR Worlds, but Thief VR would never find a full release.
The demo was a little ramshackle, using a DualShock 4 controller and not really being optimized for VR, but there were certain thrills to sneaking through the dark with a headset on. These days we could actually imagine a pretty amazing Thief VR game with motion controllers but, given that we haven’t seen a sequel to the 2014 game yet, we’d assume that’s not very likely to happen.
Dying Light on Oculus Rift
Dying Light is a zombie-slaying game that’s still seeing updates to this day despite releasing over three years ago now. Sadly, the promising VR support that developer Techland had teased during development hasn’t made it into the game yet. Techland even showed this support off to journalists during one event back in 2014 with the caveat that support might not make it into the final product.
Again, a slice of the game was available to try in VR, allowing you to test out the Mirror’s Edge-style free-running system. If that sounds like it’s not a great fit for VR it’s because it really wasn’t (especially sliding on the floor). It’s possible that the comfort issues or perhaps just the sheer demand of running a game like Dying Light in VR stopped a full VR port from ever happening, though we’d still welcome it with open arms if Techland wanted to give it another shot.
Final Fantasy XIV on PSVR
Perhaps one of the stranger VR demos to never materialize as a full game is VR support for Final Fantasy XIV. Yes, we do mean XIV, the massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, and not the rubbish shooter spin-off for XV. Back when Sony finally announced the full title for PlayStation VR at the 2015 Tokyo Game Show, Square Enix provided a fresh demo of the already-released game to play inside the headset.
The demo allowed a group of characters to take on a boss, still utilizing the traditional third-person camera view. I don’t think anyone was especially wowed by it, which is just as well considering Square said during the show that full VR support wouldn’t be happening. At least we ended up getting Monster of the Deep, which is a surprisingly engaging spin-off to FFXV.
Lucky’s Tale on Gear VR
Here’s one that doesn’t get mentioned much. This was all the way back in 2014 when Oculus announced its partnership with Samsung on the original Gear VR Innovator’s Edition. At the event, which saw John Carmack take the stage, a playable version of Lucky’s Tale running inside Gear VR could be found. You could run around one of the environments from the game with a bluetooth controller.
After that event the demo was never seen nor heard from again. Obviously Lucky went on to be one of the stars of the Oculus Rift launch and eventually made his way to Xbox One, too. With Oculus Go launching later this year, though, we can’t help but wonder if the Rift mascot would find an ideal new home with mobile VR.