At Oculus' 2015 developer conference, much of the chatter at the Hollywood event centered around Epic Games' Bullet Train, a furiously-paced demo that felt like a breakthrough in VR gaming. While we've since seen its core gameplay principles mimicked in countless other virtual reality titles, the full-game manifestation of Bullet Train still stands out. Join New Atlas as we review Epic's outstanding Oculus Rift exclusive, Robo Recall.
The pillars of the old Bullet Train demo were AAA presentation, teleporting, a time-slowdown mechanism and the ability to wield dual weapons using Oculus Touch (hand-presence) controllers. While teleporting has since been pounded into the ground by seemingly every VR developer, there's something about the way all these ingredients were put together that makes Bullet Train – and now Robo Recall – one of those games that feels like an instant classic from the first moment you play it.
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While its demo predecessor could have easily spawned a full game with a more realistic (albeit sci-fi) tone, along the lines of the Deus Ex series, Epic opted for an over-the-top, arcade theme for Robo Recall. While I'd also love to eventually see the same gameplay applied to something grittier and story-based, the frenetic pacing and jaw-dropping action works just as well in a go-for-the-high-score arcade title.
So rather than slow-building tension and a complex story overlaid with grim dialogue, you have a comical AI voice cheering you on and telling you what a badass you are while you rip off a robot's head and fling it across a nearby rooftop. Multipliers are flashed in the air in front of you (in a non-distracting way) and you're given bonuses for dismantling and obliterating the attacking droids in creative and expressive ways. Arcade-like, indeed.
The game is also funny: Kudos to Epic's writers and voice actors for making me laugh while in the heat of battle. (The main comic-relief sources were a robotic enemy who gained sentience only from reading online memes and other internet-speak, along with an AI companion whose outlook and lingo are a bit behind the times.) Many a game has tried to be funny, but the list is fairly short of developers that can pull this off without eliciting the obligatory sarcastic rimshot.
I suspect Epic's decision to take an arcade approach was also tied to the length of the game, which isn't especially long. (I beat the final boss after a little over three hours of playtime.) Making it arcade-y allows for repeat playthroughs, going for higher scores (which you can compare to other players) and better weapon upgrades. Despite the relatively scant amount of levels, I can see myself continuing to play Robo Recall long after having seen the final credits.
At heart, it's a wave-based shooter – something we've seen a lot of in first-person VR games. In each level you teleport across barren urban environments (including vertical travel, on ledges and rooftops), meeting several waves of attacking robots. There's a solid variety of enemies, and a few opportunities to take control of a large brute bot (which essentially becomes an immobile version of a Titanfall style of mech) to more easily destroy lesser robots.
In addition to firing your weapons, you can also throw objects at enemies or grab nearby robots to rip apart (and, if you like, chuck at another robot). Slowing down time allows you to grab their bullets and fling them back. The bots come at you quickly and from all angles, but the combination of teleporting around the environment and going into slow motion gives you a chance to stay a step ahead.
I appreciate that Epic went in a single-player direction. Many of the best Rift/Touch titles have been multiplayer affairs (Dead & Buried, The Unspoken), but we finally have a killer solo title in Robo Recall.
The physicality of the game is intuitive and exactly what you'd hope for. Reach down to either side of your waist to draw duel pistols, or reach one or both hands behind your shoulders to unsheath a shotgun or laser cannon. Sticking with the arcade tone, reloading is as simple as dropping your old gun and grabbing a new one, which, in the game world, has been teleported to your holsters from headquarters. (See, it's all far from realistic.)
We do recommend buying a third Oculus positional sensor (an optional US$59 purchase) for not just Robo Recall, but many other Rift/Touch games coming in 2017. When in the heat of battle, you don't want to worry about rotating your in-game camera because you aren't facing the right direction. I played the entire game with the third sensor and never had a single tracking issue, turning all around on a regular basis. (And while I could have used a room-scale setup, the illusion and physicality were rock-solid while staying planted in one general area.)
VR gaming is supposed to be fun and immersive, and Robo Recall ticks both of those boxes with gusto – while adding one of the best (if not the best) overall presentations in VR. It looks, sounds and plays like a $60 AAA game (length being the only compromise), and the frenetic pacing and physicality combine to make for the most fun you can have in VR today.
If you own an Oculus Rift, Robo Recall is a must-install game. The Rift exclusive launches today as a free download for all Oculus Touch owners. (That's thanks to Oculus' funding, as this is a premium experience.)
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