Minecraft has never been known for having realistic graphics. The pixelated aesthetic is charming, but it’d take one hell of an imagination to confuse the real world with the cube-based one in the game.
Yet when I looked up at the night sky in Minecraft: Gear VR Edition as snow started to fall, I couldn’t help but feel like the snowflakes were actually hitting my face. I felt a similar tactile sensation whenever it rained.
I’m not sure why that’s happening, but it does show how big of an impact VR has on the massively popular block-building game. While Minecraft: Gear VR Edition is basically the Pocket Edition with a slick VR coating, it offers a totally different experience from its mobile cousin.Two new ways to play
Minecraft: Gear VR Edition doesn’t just drop you into a 360-degree world after hitting “play.” Developer Mojang eases you in by putting you in a virtual setting with a simulated TV. The cozy living room looks like it came from Minecraft itself. If you’re new to VR (or just need to take a break), you can just stay here and play normally.
When you’re in the room, you can tap the Gear VR’s touchpad to switch to the VR view. It triggers a really cool animated transition: I felt like the game was pulling me into the TV. Once you’re inside, your randomly generated world is open for you to explore.
My first experience was kind of funny. I was in the stress-free Creative mode, and when I walked up to one of the hissing Creepers, I couldn’t believe how short I was. It was weird to see the green-skinned murderer at eye-level for the first time. In general, the addition of VR makes Creative mode feel peaceful and meditative, especially whenever the beautiful soundtrack kicks in.
Survival mode, on the other hand, was terrifying. Like in the 2D version of Minecraft, Creepers, giant spiders, zombies, and other hostile enemies spawn at night. They’ve always been a little disturbing, but VR increases the creepiness factor exponentially.
I jumped in my chair quite a few times. In one scary encounter, I ran into a skeleton just as I was turning a corner near my stone hut. I had no idea he was there!
I also had a traumatic experience with one of the tall, lanky Endermen. It suddenly attacked me while I was going home one night, and because it can teleport, I had a hard time following it with my head. I swung my sword wildly, but the hellish creature avoided it and killed me.
Some technical troubles
Every time you start the game, Mojang reminds you that it’s still a work-in-progress. Translation: You might see bugs. The most annoying one I ran into splits the image into two pieces, making Minecraft: Gear VR Edition unplayable. It usually happened when I switched between the game and the Gear VR’s settings screen, or when I tried to type in server addresses for multiplayer.
The only way to fix it was to go back to the Gear VR home screen and restart the app. Overall, though, the game is pretty stable.
Traversing my own little world in VR made me realize how much I took the original Minecraft for granted. The Gear VR version turns the seemingly simple-looking mountains and waterfalls into towering vistas. The caves are more restrictive and eerie. And I never want to see another Enderman again.