In Review

Oculus Quest: a virtual escape from lockdown

The VR headset lets you soar above the earth - or stroll through a museum

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The coronavirus lockdown is the ideal time to try out Facebook’s Oculus Quest - or one of the many other virtual-reality headsets now on the market.

At a time when most of us have no choice but to stay at home for 23 hours a day, we may be more willing to accept online substitutes for real-world experiences. And as the technology advances, some of today’s products are surprisingly effective at tricking your brain into thinking it’s somewhere other than your living room.

Here’s five ways VR can help you escape the coronavirus lockdown...

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1. Go to the Moon

Relive humanity’s greatest adventure by hitching a lift aboard Apollo 11 (£7.99). Part game and part documentary, this app blends archive footage with photo-real CGI to recreate the first manned mission to the Moon. Interactive elements allow you to take control of the lunar module and explore the area around the landing site - or you can let the software do all the work while you sit back and enjoy the ride.

2. Stage your own Olympics

It may be no substitute for the rescheduled Tokyo games, but Sports Scramble (£22.99) will quicken your pulse and raise a smile. It includes three sports - tennis, bowling and baseball - which can be played in their traditional forms or in various eccentric combinations of the three (you may find yourself on a tennis court, for example, trying to hit a bowling ball over the net with a fish instead of a racket). The multiplayer online option recaptures the social aspect of sport, too, pitting you against friends and family. The action may be virtual but the satisfaction is real - so much so that you might end up with unrealistic expectations for your post-lockdown athletic prowess.

3. Learn to fly

With air travel off limits for the moment, a flight simulator is the nearest that most of us will get to a plane - with the added bonus of a seat in the cockpit. Ultrawings (£10.99) sits somewhere in between a game and a more serious flight simulator, offering the chance to progress from piloting an ultralight to more powerful aircraft as you learn the skills needed to take off, perform aerial manoeuvres and return safely to the runway. If adrenaline matters more than realism, End Space (£10.99) will put you in a laser-armed fighter jet on a galactic mission to protect life as we know it.

4. Explore Ancient Egypt

Museums may be closed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t immerse yourself in lost cultures. The British Museum is particularly well served by its virtual presence, offering a range of podcasts, interactive images and tours on Google Street View, but the best way of seeing the museum’s extensive Egyptian collection, including its gallery of mummies, is through the free VR experience. Narrated by the exhibition curator, it provides an accessible, engaging overview of this ancient civilisation - and, unlike in the real world, you’ll have the museum to yourself. For a more contemporary view of the world, National Geographic VR (free) lets you range across the planet, from the polar ice cap to the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

5. Become an assassin

For some of us, being trapped inside with the same people for weeks on end has led to the kind of tensions that are best resolved in virtual combat. Superhot VR (£18.99) is an excellent example of the breed, requiring a mix of physical skills - punching opponents, catching guns in mid-air, firing at shadowy figures - and strategic gameplay. The action is stylised rather than hyper-real and unfurls at a pace you control, which makes it easier to pick up (and less stressful) than other shooting games.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazineStart your trial subscription today –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

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