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Wot I Think: Epic's VR shooter Robo Recall

Kill robots with other robots

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Invent an exciting new games technology. Imagine all the possibilities. New worlds, new forms of interaction, new creativity mediums, maybe even new ways of humans interacting with each other.

Let’s be honest. It’s going to end up being all about guns, isn’t it?

And so it is that Unreal/Gears of War studio Epic’s Oculus Rift-exclusive first-person shooter Robo Recall [official site] joins Serious Sam VR and SUPERHOT VR in the so-far short roster of virtual reality titles I can see myself revisiting relatively often. What these have in common is, of course, face-shooting. I’m not proud, but I did have a bloody good time.

There’s a lot that’s familiar about Robo Recall, in that many VR shooters seem to be broadly singing from the same hymn sheet despite early speculation that the technology would allow for hitherto undreamed-of ways of interacting with a videogame. This means that Robo Recall, like Serious Sam and to a lesser extent SUPERHOT before it, has a little more in common with an arcade lightgun shooter than it does a first-person shooter.

Player-character movement remains a problem that hasn’t quite been solved, and so once again we end up with a hybrid approach that involves often staying in more or less the same spot, with a bit of ducking and diving and maybe a few short hops to either side of that fixed position. In this case, we get the point-to-teleport movement system too, which can be rather awkward but has one of the slicker implementations I’ve seen here, in that you can additional twitch a thumbstick in a given direction to specify which direction you want to be facing when you arrive.

It’s not quite second nature to do – every time the ‘port finishes I spin around like a Muppet, trying to work out where the enemy I was trying to get within range of has gone to – but it is fast.

I suppose that, in theory, the requirement for Oculus Touch controllers and their attendant second motion controller means this could seek a quasi-room scale approach, but given its levels involve streets and rooftops, making its spaces adapt to your own space might be an impossibly tall order. Anyway: my point is that this is a game in which the top half of my body is moving constantly, but my legs are those of a shy 14-year-old dancing at his first high school ball. There’s a fair whack of cognitive dissonance, but it’s a bit of a workout, in weird sort of way.

I should say what I’m doing, which is shooting lots and lots of robots – or ‘recalling’ them, as the sinister robot-making corporation which has tasked me with resolving a mass malfunction/rebellion puts it. I say ‘shooting’, but it is more physical than that – though in the main I’m trying to score headshots with my hands, I can also pull bullets out of mid-air and hurl them back at the bots who fired them, or grab a bot bodily then use my other hand to rip its head or a limb off. And then hurl said head or limb at the next robot.

Robo Recall makes me a frantic cyclone of destruction, the force of my mechanical slaughter matched only by my sheer ineptitude whenever I try to teleport. It’s a party, basically, mixing the accuracy of lightgun shooting with the physicality of Wii gaming.

Now, SUPERHOT did something similar, in terms of pairing shooting with furious arm-waving, but where that turned every encounter into a murderous logic puzzle (in what order and with what objects will you kill everyone in order to avoid being killed yourself?), this is more of a wave-based affair in which doing well enough gradually unlocks new weapon options, thus taking it closer to VR FPS norms.

It’s lavish with it though – robots dropping from the sky, mantling onto ledges, leaping over cars. There’s no escaping that you’re essentially playing arena-based score attack, but quite clearly a shit-ton of money and expertise has been gone into this, and it looks and feels some distance ahead of the VR shooter pack.

I think I personally prefer Serious Sam, because of its cackling straightforwardness, but this is both better-presented and a whole lot more flexible, and as such probably sells VR better than Croteam’s simpler prospect. It doesn’t have the cool or ingenuity of SUPERHOT though, with the latter very much a VR essential in my book and this more of a ‘probably.’ It’s a good time and makes particularly excellent use of the lightweight Touch controllers, with their pinch’n’grab suited to gun-catching and limb-ripping in a way that the sticky-out Vive wands simply are not.

Of course, the thing to know there is that, at the time of writing, you get Robo Recall for ‘free’ if you buy the £100 Oculus Touch controllers, or £600 Rift+Touch bundle. If you’ve got a Rift but not the Touch, this is a strong, relatively substantial and ultra-polished freebie that’ll make the cost of entry far more palatable. Though you’ll need to go right ahead and buy SUPERHOT separately afterwards.

Robo Recall is available now for Oculus Rift on PC, via the Oculus Store. It’s free if you own or buy Oculus Touch, or £23/30 if you don’t. (And yet it requires Oculus Touch to play. Hmm).

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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