VR flight simulators is the VR game genre tailor-made for virtual reality. It transports you into the hectic cockpit littered with knobs, levers, and buttons while you gaze out into the clouded horizon for a meditative moment or plot your next loop during combat. Thus, this article will highlight the best VR flying games in 2023 and the best VR headsets for flight sims and simulators.
It is no surprise that the undisputed champion of immersive flight simulators is Microsoft Flight Simulator Premium Deluxe. If you have a premium headset like Varjo Aero or even the Oculus Quest 2, this flight sim can become your go-to VR game for the foreseeable future.
The level of detail that MS Flight Sim presents is mind-blowing. For example, the developers achieved a photorealistic representation of our entire planet using photogrammetry from satellite images, airplane pictures, and more. It is impressive and can be checked out here. The result is a flight simulator that makes you save on travel tickets as the play sessions you will have with MS Flight Simulator Premium Deluxe Edition is engrossing and fun.
I particularly love the care put into the details in replicating over thirty airports with photogrammetry and LiDAR scanning. While toggling real-time weather and air traffic is the cherry on top. It has been getting 10/10s from many other outlets and is a virtual reality flying game I would recommend to anyone, flight sim fans or not. Finally, we recommend going for the 40th Anniversary Edition as this package features:
In some ways, Elite Dangerous is more complicated and realistically immersive than the ‘succinctly titled’ Microsoft Flight Sim Premium Deluxe Edition. In fact, Elite Dangerous is nicknamed the NASA testing game, as the steep learning curve and frequent trips to the game’s Wiki required is a common stopgap for the average VR gamer. Though once climbed, blimey, are you in for some captivating space scenery, colorful nebulas, asteroid mining, and laser-based dog fights. Elite Dangerous by itself is captivatingly beautiful, but nothing compares to exploring the universe in immersive virtual reality with true-to-life vistas and lonely expanses of the great empty void.
If you are less inclined to spend 2+ hours learning to recede your landing wheels in Elite Dangerous, No Man’s Sky is, in other ways, a better VR game. Despite a bumpy reception at launch, this procedurally-generated, infinite RPG/base-building/multiplayer/exploration/automation space game is a Jack-of-all-trades and master-of-most. It has a gorgeous shell-shaded art style taking you back in immersive virtual reality, which incidentally, after the Fractal update, also doesn’t require a gaming master race PC to run. Speaking of which, the 25 entirely free and sizable content updates make No Man’s Sky defy the gaming industry and should be supported. Here is a list of all the No Man’s Sky updates.
Jump portals and new procedural missions
Multiplayer, character creation, and large space freighters
Underwater bases and submarines
Expanded planet variations
VR support and a space hub
Upgrade and salvage ships
Random space encounters
A new playable and large mech
Crossplay support for improved multiplayer experience
A horror update adding derelict freighters to explore
New biomes and hazards with Dune-style giant sandworms
Expansion of the desolate freighters from the Desolation update
32 player online support
Capture, taming, and breed pets
Timed events for unique rewards
Adding the opportunity to oversee planets settlements
Improved combat mechanics
Adding outlaws and pirates (ships and stations) with new missions and friendly squadron NPCs
Larger active freighters with customization and base mechanics
Quality-of-life improvements and a relaxed game mode
Improved VR experience and numerous minor updates
Expanding Sentinels and corrupted planets to explore
Touted as the Microsoft Flight Simulator but for military aircraft rather than civilian and commercial planes. DCS World features the same mind-blowing graphics as you break the sound barrier across the sky in your F-16C Viper. In fact, the level of detail on these military planes feels like it should be hidden from national security, and yet, DCS World exists and VR gamers are better for it. In particular, it is also worth pointing out that WW2 hobbyists should be overjoyed with DCS, as the developer continues to release new updates for the game – the latest is of Normandy: see the featured trailer.
Due to its slightly less crisp graphics and less content to support hours-upon-hours of VR flight, VTOL VR was built with virtual reality in mind and thus delivering the best overall VR flying experience. For example, with VR headsets where controllers have finger and gesture controls – like Valve Index – you can press buttons by pointing your finger. It might sound insignificant, but it adds to the overall immersion.
One of the two VR flight simulators which have been developed with virtual reality in mind, Ultrawings 2 offers you to steer your aircraft performing impressive air acrobatics with full hand tracking enabled. And while Ultrawings 2 does feature a relaxing flying mode, its main focus is the popping of balloons and dogfighting combat. As a bonus, you can also try your skills at flying a helicopter. Finally, we recommend Ultrawings 2 with standalone VR headsets like Oculus Quest 2 and Pico 4.
While some of the VR flight sims on this list feature World War 2 missions, modes, and themes, Warplanes: Battles over Pacific focuses on WW2. Again, this VR flying game is ideal for standalone devices like Pico 4 and Quest 2 for its focus on fun gameplay rather than realistic weather and physics simulations. Not only that, Warplanes: BoP also focuses on a stellar single-player experience fueled by competent AI opponents who keep you on your toes. Although an area I wish they have added more is on the plane selection, as there are only ten planes available. In short, Warplanes offers a great VR flying and combat experience set in the early 1940s.
Another World War 2 VR flight sim worth mentioning is IL-2 Sturmovik. If you seek an enthusiastic and advanced VR flight simulator that will test any civilian veteran knowledge of WW2 war planes IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad is for you. For example, you will battle with realistically simulated aerodynamics, weapons, engine behavior, and weather dynamics.
While the fidelity of VR flying and combat is not the cream of the crop, War Thunder delivers a commendable VR flying game experience considering its free price tag. It is an online battle game incorporating ground and air combat, seeing you fight other players in the air and on land. One notable feature of War Thunder is its lengthy upgrade trees, keeping the game fresh and adding many VR flight hours. Yet, I am not the biggest fan of the Pay-To-Win mechanics implemented in these upgrades.
For the overall best visual delivery related to price, we recommend the Varjo Aero tethered VR headset. Particularly, the 2880 x 2720 pixels per eye and 90 Hz refresh rate make it ideal for VR flight simulators.
Alternatively, if money is no issue, you cannot beat the resolution revolution that the Varjo VR3 headset offers. Namely, Varjo’s unique display technology mirroring how the human eye sees means the visual experience is akin to looking out your window.
For a traditional VR headset tailored to gamers, you can’t go wrong with the popular Valve Index, manufactured by the same folks behind Steam. While the Index limits your freedom by being connected to a PC, it is an overall great headset for VR gaming.
Upon release, the Pico 4 became our go-to, all-in-one VR headset tipping off the Oculus Quest 2 first-place podium. Thus, the Pico 4 offers the most powerful feature set for the most affordable price and is ideal for most VR flight sims.
While it comes with significant drawbacks you must accept that you can read more about it in our thorough review. The recently released PlayStation VR2 offers the most powerful plug-and-play VR experience.
Jakob Pii is Writer at VR Expert and currently lives in the UK. He started his career in VR gaming in 2015 and has stayed in XR since, from exposure therapy in VR to 360-degree video documentaries. He is fascinated by how emerging technologies change how we live, play and work.