There is something intrinsic in the science fiction genre that speaks to robots. So it’s only appropriate that with the newest virtual reality headsets hitting the market that some of the better Oculus VR games take this to heart. A whole range of new titles feature robotics in one form or another, whether it’s actually fighting off mechanical hordes or becoming one in a first person adventure game. So where exactly do these Oculus VR games derive their inspiration?
The earliest form of the word robot was originally Czech and was meant to imply a “worker”, and to a certain degree robotics still adheres to this philosophy. Robots infiltrate our lives on a daily basis, whether it be in the simplistic automation of a dish washer to some of the more advanced varieties like those that work on assembly lines to manufacture and produce cars and computers, right up to our present day incarnation of artificial intelligence in the form of SIRI on your iPhones. We have a cultural fascination with robots, and whatever your theory about this obsession – whether they’re an example of our technological prowess and quest to create, or a way to help us navigate our own questions of what it means to exist – it usually boils down to something philosophical.
We could be talking about HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey or C-39O from Star Wars, but the main appeal of artificial life is here to stay. And that’s something that Microsoft has tried to emulate and explore in some of their recent or upcoming Oculus VR games.
Leading the charge in terms of robot-esque inspired titles is Robo Recall from Epic Games. Of all the Oculus VR games featuring robots, this one has to have had one of the better intro trailers at the last E3 conference, and is actually the completed vision of a previous demo from the same studio called Bullet Train. It opens with the classic consumer-style advertisement pitch talking about a new personalized robot called TAL – or Technology for Assisted Life – replete with saccharine elevator music in the background and a calm reassuring narration. As the commercial continues, it begins to fluctuate and cut to a first-person steady-cam shot of the selfsame robot rampaging in the streets of an urban center. The stage is set for some serious collateral damage.
The basic premise behind Robo Recall is that the RoboReady industry complex that builds and produces the TAL units is in crisis mode: those supposedly harmless robo-servants have turned murderous and are now on a killing spree. You take on the role of another robot tasked with hunting down these runaway droids and “retiring” them. As far as graphics go for Oculus VR games there is the same crisp visual sheen you would expect from a studio that heralded in the Gears of War franchise – high-tech devices, be it robots or a vast arsenal of different guns, demand a high attention to detail and in this game you get it in spades.
Advertised as an FPS, the thing that really stands out in this Oculus VR game is the physics. As a robot yourself, you’re encouraged to do as much damage as possible – this includes everything from throwing enemies high into the air and keeping them aloft with a hailstorm of bullets, ripping off their appendages and beating them with their own arms, and using enemies as shields and projectiles. There is a huge degree and opportunity for humor here, and Epic Games seems to have caught onto the potential. The robots themselves are full of amusing one liners (in the trailer one unlucky TAL unit continues to exclaim “Ow!” as you punch it in the face) but it’s definitely the game physics that seal the deal, incorporating rag-doll dynamics and a very fluid movement through urban spaces as you hurl, slam, kick, and generally demolish the robot hordes.
Some of the cooler elements of the game include the ability to grab bullets out of the air (you are a robot, so why not?) and hurl them back at enemies, as well as chances to hijack some of the robot bosses and use them against their own underlings. You’re definitely going to need haptics for this game though, as it lends itself to the use of controllers. Beautifully and stylistically rendered, this arcade-style shooter is one of the Oculus VR games that should not be missed.
Visuals: 8/10 – Gameplay: 9/10 – Story: 6.5/10 – Overall: 7/10 – Release Date: 2017
Space was the final frontier for Star Trek, now it’s the final frontier for Oculus VR games. The brainchild behind Ready at Dawn Studio takes players into the cosmic darkness aboard a space station circa 2126. The main character is portrayed as Jack, an artificial intelligence robot, who lives and work with the human crew.
This is one of the more highly anticipated Oculus VR games, for a number of reasons – first and foremost, it takes full advantage of the immersion of virtual reality by getting rid of conventional physics altogether. You’re living and working in space, so it’s all zero gravity – something that translates remarkably well to VR gameplay (as anyone who has tried to walk in other VR titles will attest to). This also translates to some novel ways in which movement through a game is handled. In order to work your way through the space station you have to grab onto bulkheads and push yourself along, and this contributes to a much more integrated gameplay, something that is echoed in other Oculus VR games like Crytek’s The Climb that feature’s a similar dynamic.
Secondly, Lone Echo is one of the very few games in recent memory that allows you to become an actual robot. This has some unique potential in terms of character driven narratives, and in how you play the game. As you proceed through the narrative, you’ll have to take into account the fact that you are not, in fact, a human – saving lives, operating a wrist mounted torch, etc. all become an unusual and unique facet of the mission objectives. You’ll also be working alongside other robots, so it’ll be interesting to see how this works on a social level.
The third reason that we’re so attracted to this game is the fact that the graphics and storyline look amazing. The opening title sequence features some of the most hyper realistic rendering of human faces we’ve yet seen in Oculus VR games. Although other titles like Robo Recall get away with their own stylized artwork, there’s something clearly artifact about it – in Lone Echo the designers wanted to go with something else entirely: veracity. In one scene, the space ship you’re on has encountered some sort of spatial anomaly and (obviously) something goes wrong while you’re outside taking a space-walk. Part of the station explodes, sending debris everywhere, and as you’re holding on for dear life and trying to avoid getting hit by cascading space junk it’s tough not to feel like you’re actually there.
Visuals: 9/10 – Gameplay: 8.5/10 – Story: 7.9/10 – Overall: 8/10 – Release Date: 2017
The last robo-themed game on our list of new Oculus VR games is another FPS arcade style adventure game from 4A Games, the studio that brought us Metro 2033. Their newest game called Artika 1 sets us in a post-apocalyptic future where some sort of catastrophe has done a number on civilization, creating a horror-scape of crumbling infrastructure populated by mutated monsters. Having suffered a new ice age, you’re cast as a mercenary hiding out in one of a handful of human outposts in Russia where the last survivors attempt to hold out.
While not specifically putting you in the role of a robot protagonist, there is definitely a fascination with the creative armory of guns at your disposal. As you descend into a subway you’re confronted with an onslaught of bandits and beasties alike. Some of the weapons seem pretty straightforward – futuristic revolvers, shotguns, etc. But one of the cooler looking weapons is a high-tech pistol that you can program to shoot around corners – once you lock on a bullet trajectory appears, allowing you to curve your shots in a way that’s so far exclusive to any other Oculus VR games.
The one downside to Artika 1: movement is not as fluidly oriented as in Lone Echo and requires immediate teleportation to get from one spot to another, and the method of reloading involves sheathing your guns (something that arcade enthusiasts will actually love). The one thing that apparently sets it apart? Look forward to some interesting storyline and plot development in this one alongside some Doom style action.
Visuals: 7/10 – Gameplay: 7.8/10 – Story: 8.5/10 – Overall: 7.9/10 – Release Date: Q2 2017
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