When you think of virtual reality, you probably think of immersing yourself so deeply in a game you could almost leave the world you exist in behind. But when Oculus VR releases at the end of March, one of its least-involving launch titles may also be one of its most fun. While at the annual DICE Summit last week in Las Vegas, I had a chance to sit down and go hands-on with the Oculus port of Defense Grid 2.

Now, a port of a 2014 tower defense game may not sound like the most thrilling use of VR, but what Defense Grid 2 lacks in bombastic action, it makes up for in allowing players to focus on the task at hand and bringing them closer to the game like never before. After placing the retail Oculus headset over my eyes and grabbing the Xbox One controller, instead of feeling like I was in an alternate reality, I felt like I was lording over an elaborate playset, able to see the entirety of the level at once in what has become known as “God view.” If I wanted to look at the level from a different angle, I could simply get up and walk around, or slide my chair into a different position. Sure, when turning my head and craning my body, the hotel room around me had changed into what looked like a sci-fi boiler room, effectively placing me in the game like all other VR experiences. The core gameplay of Defense Grid 2, however, had remained entirely the same.

By using my sightline as a surprisingly intuitive cursor, and the controller to then interact with what I was seeing and to select options, I could perform the same actions I would in the console and PC versions of the game. I placed and upgraded towers of varying purpose as I saw fit all along the set, trying to protect a collection of power cores that invading waves of aliens wanted for their own nefarious purposes. With the Oculus headset closing me off from the outside world, I was able to sit down, concentrate, and plan out winning strategies with the greatest of ease.


The Oculus version of Defense Grid 2 isn’t just a straight port, though, and does feature some upgrades over the console and PC original. A handful of new challenge levels have been incorporated to further lengthen the experience. Each level also has five collectibles on them, which often require you to get in close to the playset and peer around every corner before using the controller to snatch them up. As well, many levels now feature special interactive elements—some are for cosmetic purposes, while others can actually change the layout of the map.

The biggest addition, however, may be the ability to jump into any individual tower and change the game’s perspective in an instant. Although not as intuitive for implementing strategies as one might hope due to the limited range of sight, this view provides a front row seat for all the fighting once your towers have been placed to your satisfaction. Seeing the detail of the aliens and the world up close is actually kind of breathtaking, giving you a sense for that over-the-top action you may still be craving in VR.

With Defense Grid 2 acting as one of the Oculus’ launch titles, it also serves the important purpose of offering us another way to enjoy virtual reality. It shows that various game genres that might not leap off the page as obvious choices can work just as well, if not better, in VR, and that creating immersion doesn’t necessarily mean putting you squarely in the shoes of a hero character and building a new world around you. Now, it’s just a matter of seeing if the install base for Oculus will be there to take advantage of this fun, re-imagined experience.