Back in 2015, hidden in a tiny soundproof room at CES in Las Vegas, a demo for a cops-versus-giant robot game called Showdown blew me away.
At one point, I watched in amazement as fully rendered, three-dimensional bullets whizzed by my virtual face in slow motion. When I took the Oculus Rift off, all I could think was, "this is the experience that will blow people away when it finally reaches the public."
Well, that day has come, in the form of another game called Robo Recall — the best and most polished virtual reality gaming experience I've seen to date.
Developed exclusively for the Oculus Rift with the Oculus Touch controllers in mind, the game (developed from an early demo of Bullet Train) is incredibly well designed and sophisticated, but still easy enough to grasp for new VR users.
IMAGE: EPIC GAMES
The premise is pleasingly simple: Masses of robots that were previously subservient have experienced a malfunction and are now out for human blood. As an agent of the RoboReady company, you are tasked with recalling (read: destroy with extreme prejudice) the defective legions of robots.
Thankfully, even though the game is technically violent, and could get very dark based on its theme alone, the light-hearted execution evens things out. From the voiceovers of your AI assistant Dolores (a nod to Westworld perhaps?) to the witty reactions from injured robots, the carnage is mixed with enough levity to ensure that it's not simply a grim death march through VR hell.
As soon as I started the game up, I was struck by the vibrant the colors and crisp renderings of the city environments. Oculus-friendly titles like The Unspoken and Arizona Sunshine deliver amazing gameplay and immersive environments, but Robo Recall is a significant step up.
IMAGE: EPIC GAMES
From the reflections on the metal bodies of the rogue robots to the satisfying recoil and impacts of the weapons you use to fight off metal hordes, Robo Recall pulls you in immediately. And like that early CES demo, you can watch as bullets stream past your face, only in this case you also have the ability to swat those bullets away, dodge them or even grab one and throw it back at your attacker.
I've only spent a few hours with the game, but I'm convinced that this is the best example, on any VR headset, of what many have been hoping for in a VR game.
So far, the only complaint I've heard from users has to do with the game's teleportation mechanic. Instead of giving you a 360-degree range of motion, the game is geared toward a 180-degree viewpoint, allowing you to teleport in any direction, during which you must first choose the direction you want to face.
For hardcore VR gamers already accustomed to 360-degree motion, the game's teleportation dynamic takes a bit of getting used to. It's not ideal for those who have added a third sensor to their Oculus set-up in order to achieve better 360-degree tracking, but it makes perfect sense for most users who will likely use the two sensor set-up that comes with the Oculus Rift package.
IMAGE: EPIC GAMES
Once you get used the game's teleportation approach, it's about as much fun as any classic arcade shooter, except in this case you're "inside" the game, and in addition to shooting you can also pull robots apart your bare (virtual) hands.
You can also play Robo Recall in a sitting position, but you'll get the most out of it when you stand. And yes, the rumors are true, you can get a workout in VR. After an hour of fighting for my life against robot swarms, the VR the game had me sweating and panicky (in a good way). There's been a lot of hype around the Resident Evil 7 game for PlayStation VR, but even just looking at the trailers for both games will tell you all you need to know about which game is the current standard-bearer for VR gaming.
There are a couple of other aspects that make this Oculus release special — timing and price. The game was released at the same time that Oculus decided to drop the price of its system by $200.
As for the price of Robo Recall, amazingly, it's free. And I don't mean "free for people new to buying the Rift." No, it's free to anyone who owns the Rift with a pair of Touch controllers.
This is VR Christmas, goddamnit!
And while I still think that the HTC Vive is probably the best headset to get if you're primarily a VR developer or entrepreneur, if you're primarily an end-user, there is no longer any excuse for not hopping on board the Oculus Rift train.
Based on this release, it's almost disturbing to imagine what we'll see in VR in the next three to five years. But make no mistake, this isn't an early version of what "might be" incredible VR in the future — this is stunningly immersive virtual reality right now.