Oculus at GDC 2017
While the world speculates about whether virtual reality is worth its investment, Oculus is doing everything in its power to make its product, the Oculus Rift, a worthwhile purchase.
It took on initial complaints people made about the system head-first with the ability to add additional sensors to your setup – enabling room-scale sized play spaces – and remedied the lack of hand-tracking with the Touch controllers it released in December of last year.
Sure, these were great solutions to problems the HTC Vive figured out on launch day, but they were nonetheless appreciated when they came to the Oculus Rift several months later.
But for many, these improvements just weren’t enough. Now that the hardware has finally made the grade, there’s growing concerns about a lack of content – making some people question if there are enough games coming out to keep gamers tied to their $600 (£499, AU$859) investment.
Whether or not you put much stock in the lack of content argument some have made about the Rift, Vive and its console cousin, the PlayStation VR, however, is totally up to you. That being said, it didn’t hurt that Oculus held a small press event in San Francisco the first day of the 2017 Game Developers Conference to showcase nine games it thinks will have the potential to keep your thumbs busy and head immersed in VR for a long time to come.
Some of the games had us more convinced than others about the headset’s future (cough, Robo Recall) but each of them had enough charm and uniqueness to warrant a closer look.
So, are you looking for a reason to justify the purchase of your pricey new Rift and additional Touch controllers? Here’s nine of them for you.
1. Robo Recall
One of our favorite games of the whole set was Robo Recall, a stupidly fun first-person shooter. For lack of a better description, Robo Recall is the writing of Portal meets the style of Bulletstorm meets the action of Superhot. The story revolves around robots running amok and leaves you, as the game’s sole living recall agent, to clean up the mess. How you clean up is using pistols, shotguns and your fists to decapitate the renegade robots. The game’s developer told us to expect around nine missions, each of which have a day and night mode that have been enabled by the Unreal game engine. Each mission takes 15-20 minutes to complete for about a five-hour game, which is slightly lengthier than the limited shooting galleries we’ve seen so far on the platform. The game will be out first-quarter of 2017 - which at this point, means sometime this month.
An Oculus Touch exclusive, ARTIKA.1 is a first-person shooter (we’re seeing a trend here) from the team that created Metro franchise. If you’re a fan of the post-apocalyptic shooter, we’ve got some good news: the similarities between the two series are uncanny. First off, it’s set in post-apocalyptic Russia after a natural disaster that destroys any shred of normal life. You’re tossed into a private military group to help collect and defend the Earth’s scarce resources from bandits and, when they’re drawn out from hiding, mutants. Second, it looks like the game can get downright frightening when you’re in a room full of Baba (the name given to the ghoulish mutants who haunt your supply depots).
Thankfully you’re given a vast armory of weapons to choose from to help you do so that range from a hyper-accurate pistol that can curve bullets around corners to a laser beam that can bounce of walls and disintegrate flesh. No one said cleaning up after the apocalypse was going to be pretty.
3. From Other Suns
OK, one last shooter. From Other Suns was described to us as “Borderlands meets Faster Than Light” and we think that’s a pretty strange, but apt, description. In From Other Suns, you play as a ship captain, a role you inherited (and will inherit again) from the previously deceased captain. We say “will inherit” because when you die – and you will die – you’ll respawn as one of your crew mates who have become, as you might’ve guessed, the new acting captain. Your end-game here is to prevent an alien race for closing a wormhole that links you to another universe. It’s another shooter but with a neat sci-fi spin that its developers say should take about 15-20 hours to play through ... if you don’t lose your entire crew first.
4. Rock Band VR
If you bought an Oculus Touch you probably noticed a strange accessory in the box waiting for you: a Rock Band guitar adapter.
Disregarding the audaciousness of packing a rather niche accessory for your game in with every single Touch, we’re actually quite happy that decision was made after playing around with the new game for awhile.That said, if you’re expecting the traditional hit-every-note-perfectly-or-fail experience you’ve grown accustomed to over the years, you might not feel the same way.
Rocking out in the VR version of the franchise has more to do with your rhythm and chord shapes than it does with hitting predetermined notes in a set pattern. That means hitting the first and the third fret will score you just as many points as hitting the second and the fourth fret, as long as you’re playing in time with the song. Of course, there are recommended chord structures for each phrase in a given song that range from arpeggios to power chords, and using them in time with the music will help you score higher than your friends.
It sounds confusing on paper, but in practice it’s more or less the VR equivalent of playing air guitar that we never knew we wanted.
5. Brass Tactics
Brass Tactics is a real-time strategy game that will have you holding and contesting key choke points on a map against AI or a real, live armchair general like yourself. Sure we could've gotten bogged down with build orders, counter-attack strategies and resource allocation, all of which plays a key role in Brass Tactics, but the main takeaway we got was that this is a much more casual take on the hardcore genre. To that end, the game is just as much about fending off counterattacks as it is about summoning war-zeppelins to rain destruction on your foes. It also comes from one of the minds who made Age of Empires II, so it has that going for it too.
6. Blade and Soul
If you walked through the nine demo-strong Oculus Rift event without really looking closely at each offering, you might come away with the impression that the only genres developers can make in virtual reality are first-person shooters and real-time strategy games. Blade and Soul, another real-time strategy game from the bunch, might not do anything to buck that trend, but it does add something to the mix – a battlefield that becomes absolutely littered with creatures that you summon in an attempt to destroy your opponent.
Which creatures you can summon depend on the cards in your hand, and that means how you stack your deck becomes a challenge of balancing spells, tanks and ranged units in a way that can react to – and hopefully – outperform anyone you come across.
7. The Mage’s Tale
Like Brass Tactics or Blade and Soul, The Mage’s Tale might not appear to have that much unique about it. It’s a dungeon crawler (similar to several games we’ve seen on the Rift and Vive already) that focuses on magic and puzzle solving to get you through its endless depths.
But underneath its admittedly generic leather-tome exterior lies a game with a fair bit of spunk – enough to even give games like Fable a run for their money.
The beauty of The Mage’s Tale only comes when you relinquish control of your future career as a magician to your familiar – a sidekick of sorts – who has a rather distaste for you and your missing master. He’s reluctant, but he’s your guide to the arcane arts and can teach you some fun tricks – with only a little bit of complaining and mocking along the way.
It’s the familiar’s humor, alongside the abstract puzzles and strenuous boss fights, that make The Mage’s Tale a game we’re going to keep our eyes on.
8. Killing Floor Incursion
We’ve known about Killing Floor Incursion for a while now. The game debuted at the PC Gaming Show in 2016, and has been floating around gaining a following ever since. If you have yet to read about it elsewhere, however, here’s what you need to know about it: it’s a co-operative zombie shooter that pits you and some friends against wave-after-wave of the undead.
You’re all high-powered soldiers who have no problem wiping the floor with a zombie or two. Add a few more, however, and things get dicey. And while your superior firepower might lead you to believe that you’ve got the whole situation under wraps, it’s only until you see yet another wave of zombies come shambling towards you before you realize it’s not as easy of a job as it looks.
9. Dragon Front: Delirium DLC
While it’s not necessarily new for GDC 2017, Dragon Front was at Oculus’ event to show off its new Delirium DLC pack that adds a fifth playable race to the pre-existing four factions. As we’re not the best armchair general who ever graced the battlefield, we were led hand-first as we deployed our creatures using the Touch controller (it was also announced at Oculus' event that the game would support Touch) to drop units onto the field and march to their inevitable demise … er, victory. Yeah, we meant victory, that’s it.