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Why VTOL VR Is One Of The Best VR Games Aroundby@nicolasng
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Why VTOL VR Is One Of The Best VR Games Around

by Nicolas NgOctober 10th, 2022
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VTOL VR is a flight simulator that’s designed to be played entirely in virtual reality. Unlike many other VR titles, you’re not supposed to stand up. The player has to reach out and use every button and switch in the game's four aircraft while using the headset to look around the cockpit. The vast majority of these levels are focused on combat, using a simplified version of the real-world technologies used in combat aircraft. It's not as difficult as its more advanced counterparts like [DCS: World] and Microsoft Flight Simulator.

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The main selling point for VR has always been its ability to fully immerse its players in its games. The popularity of Blade and Sorcery’s intense swordfights and Hot Dogs, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades’ detailed weapon handling has been proof of that. Those two titles, alongside other immensely successful VR titles like Half-Life: Alyx and Beat Saber have given the impression that VR is about pulling players in using physically intense situations. While that is absolutely true, VTOL VR offers a different perspective on what the technology can provide.


Just What Is VTOL VR?

Image Credit: Boundless Dynamics


For those who’ve never seen the game, VTOL VR is a flight simulator that’s designed to be played entirely in virtual reality. The player has to reach out and use every button and switch in the game’s four aircraft while using the headset to look around the cockpit. Unlike many other VR titles, you’re not supposed to stand up.


VTOL VR’s content comprises a small collection of missions produced by its developer, Boundless Dynamics, and an expansive collection of player-designed levels available on the Steam Workshop. The vast majority of these levels are focused on combat, using a simplified version of the real-world technologies used in combat aircraft.


That means that players need to manage their radar, use chaff and flares to evade incoming missiles, fiddle with the targeting pod, fly at supersonic speeds, and deal with their onboard weapons. Good odds that you’re doing all of these at the same time, too.


It’s also surprisingly accessible. It’s not as difficult as its more advanced counterparts like DCS: World and Microsoft Flight Simulator. Starting up each jet is a matter of seconds instead of minutes while the incredibly steep learning curve (or cliff, to be honest) from DCS is eased out to only need a couple of tutorial missions to understand instead of reading a 300-page manual.

What Most Flight Simulators Are Like

Image Credit: Eagle Dynamics

If you’ve watched Top Gun: Maverick, like any self-respecting lover of military aviation, you’ll know that flying a jet needs a good amount of hand-eye coordination. G-forces aside, you’ll need to handle the throttle and stick while keeping an eye on several systems to maintain situational awareness.

One situation can have you looking down at a screen, trying to slew the targeting pod at the right target while having to look outside and ensure that you’re not on a collision course with the ground. Another can have you checking your radar for a target’s position, making sure that you’ve got your nose pointed at the right spot and checking your Radar Warning Receiver to make sure that nothing unwanted has been sent your way.

On other flight simulators, physical limitations require many functions to be controlled via keyboard shortcuts and other, less immersive methods. While it doesn’t free you up from having to bury your head in the cockpit’s Multi-Function Displays and instruments entirely, it does make things a little easier.


DCS: World's F-16C Cockpit. You'll need to know it like the back of your hand to fight well. Image Credit: Eagle Dynamics


Another limitation conventional flight simulators face is the need to look around; actually checking between the displays would usually need some sort of mouse or joystick input to adjust where the camera is pointing. Considering that you’ll also be using the mouse to hit buttons or that you’ll need as many buttons as your joystick can provide to just fly the jet, trying to find a better way to control what the player is looking at is a pretty big deal.

The usual workaround is a head tracker. Products like the TrackIR 5 essentially combine an infrared camera and a set of emitters worn by the player to track head movement and reflect it in the simulator. This solution works really well, just that you still need to look at the screen to see what’s going on meaning that you need to make small, precise movements to control the camera.


You could also use your VR headset in most of these games, though you’ll need some top-of-the-line hardware to use it. And you won’t be able to actually see your devices which can get really annoying if you’re not used to it.


Why VTOL VR Does It Better

Image Credit: Boundless Dynamics


With a VR headset strapped to your head and a pair of controllers to reach out and press buttons, flying in VTOL VR feels far more engaged than in the simulators. You need to move your head as if you were in the real world instead of the smaller and more precise movements that head trackers require.


Dogfights have you craning your head over your shoulder to make sure that enemy aircraft aren’t about to send a missile up your exhaust while quickly glancing forward to make sure everything is fine. Using precision weapons becomes an exercise in knowing how to navigate a menu as fast as humanly possible. Even reaching behind the stick to jettison external fuel tanks can turn into frantic fumbling once everything is happening.


VTOL VR’s other features, like the voice commands that have you issuing instructions to your wingman and air traffic control, make everything feel that much more real.


That said, it’s not nearly as good as an actual simulator. There’s no need for mastering formation flying or understanding the difference between three different radar modes and their quirks. If having as realistic a military aviation experience possible is what you’re after, VTOL VR won’t be giving it to you.


What you do get, however, is an easy flight simulator that brings out the best in VR without needing a whole room to enjoy. If you have even the smallest interest in aviation and a VR headset, don’t sleep on this title.