The best apps for the Samsung Gear VR

Unsure what to do with that Gear VR headset that came with your new Samsung phone? Wonder no more!

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The most accessible true VR system

While we wait for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive to actually become reasonably available, Samsung has an alternative that is surprisingly impressive. Partnering with Oculus, the Gear VR uses its own Oculus store and offers a ton of content for VR-hungry Samsung phone owners. There are a lot of interesting and creative apps to experience, amid plenty of less-than-stellar choices, but what follows is a list of apps that really sold us on the Gear VR as a viable platform.

Most of these choices are games, but the Gear VR lets users do a lot more. Whether you want to joyride around a futuristic city with a personal jetpack or enjoy some personal time in your own private theater, the Gear VR lets you dip into VR cheaply (so long as you already have or were planning to get a new Samsung phone) and without any pesky wires or high-end PCs to configure.

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Anshar Wars 2

Developed by OZWE and published by Oculus, this space-based shooter is gorgeous and surprisingly fun. Using only head tracking to control your ship, you’ll blast your way through deep space, asteroid fields, and above alien worlds. Shooting makes clever use of the side touch panel and the game is incredibly responsive. Space-based games are especially impressive in VR and while there are several good choices on the Gear VR, this is the most polished and playable.

Anshar Wars 2 ($9.99)

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BombSquad VR

Anyone who remembers the classic Bomberman will find something to love in BombSquad. While it ditches the mazes for a more open playing field, this is a remarkably good use of VR. It feels like you’re hovering over the field, watching and controlling little minions of doom. The overarching perspective and adorable graphics make BombSquad feel like the high-tech evolution of a board game. It’s a great use of the third person perspective as well and offers a horde of multiplayer-centric mini-games, although only over a local network (it’s cross-compatible with other versions though).

BombSquad VR ($2.99)

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Esper 2

First person puzzle games are popular in the Oculus store, but few are as polished as Esper 2. Using some top-notch voice actors and sporting an excellent presentation, the game offers an array of challenging object manipulation puzzles using only your head and the Gear VR’s touch panel.

Taking the role of a telekinetic test subject, you’ll grab things with your mind (and a tap on the touch panel) and move them by moving your head. Everything works terrifically, but the variety of cleverly designed puzzles is the big draw. Thanks to its impressive presentation and intuitive design, Esper 2 is also an impressive game to introduce VR to your friends.

Esper 2 ($9.99)

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Land's End

Given that it hails from the makers of the beautiful Monument Valley, it’s no surprise that Land’s End is a stunner. This exploration and puzzle game plays out as a lonely trek through a gorgeous, but eerily empty landscape of beaches, rocky cliffs, and sea.

Using just the touch pad and, of course, your head, you move from one scene to another manipulating objects, hitting switches, and finding gates to new locations. The game feels intentionally experimental—partially a VR walking tour through a lovely space and partially a relatively simple puzzle game—but it’s a vital addition to every Gear VR library.

Land’s End ($7.99)

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Minecraft: Gear VR Edition

If there’s one quintessential killer app for the Gear VR, it’s got to be Minecraft. From the early days of the Oculus Rift onward, this has been one of the benchmark games that people wanted to experience in VR. The Windows 10 version of Minecraft will eventually support the Oculus Rift, but today the only official VR version is for the Gear VR.

Minecraft VR offers the chance to play the game in true VR or in a ‘2D’ view—where you’re essentially viewing the game on a big screen within VR. The latter option is for those who might otherwise suffer from motion sickness in the full-on immersion mode. The game requires a controller and, thus far, it’s incredibly picky about it, leading to a lot of frustration among users who have pads that simply won’t work. Beyond that issue (which we hope gets patched up quickly), this is a thoroughly impressive take on the classic block survival game.

Minecraft: Gear VR Edition ($6.99)

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Netflix VR

It might sound odd that one of the best uses of the Gear VR is a decidedly non-VR app, but Netflix on the Gear VR shows the power of having your own personal theater. Find a comfy chair, put on a good pair of headphones, and this is the closest we’ve seen to the feeling of sitting in an actual theater, without having to bother leaving the house. That said, Netflix also does a great job of showing the limits of screen resolution and  pixel density, since you can see every dot on the screen. The picture quality is quite good overall, but once you start to notice all those dots, it’s hard to unsee them.

Netflix VR (Free)

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Omega Agent

If you’ve ever wanted to fly through the city with a jet pack strapped to your back, Omega Agent is a virtual dream come true. Although it’s probably sure to cause absurd amounts of motion sickness for those vulnerable to such things, the sheer scope and level of freedom here is fantastic.

Zoom through races, shoot bad enemies, and just explore the giant levels. Omega Agent is a perfect example of how first-person games can benefit from VR to create an otherwise impossible level of immersion.

Omega Agent ($9.99)

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Samsung Internet

Samsung’s experimental web browser is one of those odd things that we’re glad to have, but wonder about the overall usefulness of. Are you in VR to browse? Probably not, but sometimes, you want to take a quick side trip to the web for whatever reason, without leaving the confines of VR.

The browser works well and has an impressively intuitive interface (for the most part). We’d like to see it sync automatically with our previously stored bookmarks, but it does just what you’d expect a browser to do.

Samsung Internet for Gear VR (Free)

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Darknet

Even after spending hours with Darknet, the actual rules of the game are still a foggy mess, but somehow that doesn’t seem to matter. This VR hacking game is just a great looking and immersive excursion into a cyberpunk world within a network. The player hacks nodes within the system, starting with smaller more vulnerable nodes and working up to larger and heavily guarded ones.

You can buy viruses and other apps to help things along, but at heart this is a puzzle game where you attack data points within the node with viruses to take over its core. Although the presentation is fairly simple, Darknet is terrific looking and fascinating.

Darknet ($9.99)

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The Night Café

This is less a full app and more a beautiful and creative experiment about how VR can be used to elevate art into something more personal and interactive. The Night Café takes Van Gogh’s famous painting and makes it an actual place you can explore. It’s a bold use of VR, giving depth and scope to the gorgeous painting that, will serve to fire up your passion for learning more about not just this painting and artist, but art as a whole.

We would have preferred the app take a more educational approach instead of just dropping you into the painting with no explanation of the elements involved in Van Gogh’s art, but this is still a VR experience well worth your time.

The Night Café (Free)

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Milk VR

Samsung is investing heavily in their Gear VR platform, especially in terms of VR films. Milk VR is their inhouse video player and service app, offering a host of 360 degree videos. Everything from educational and music videos to actual series are available for free through Milk and there’s some really impressive content.

Milk VR also doubles as a VR movie player for outside content too, so if you find a VR video somewhere else on the web, the odds are Milk will play it. The one caveat is the picture quality is far better if you download the content instead of stream, which is inconvenient.

Milk VR (Free)