If, like me, this month’s trailer for Zero Caliber caught your eye, you might be cautiously optimistic that this could be a VR shooter genuinely worth looking forward to. I say cautiously, because it wouldn’t be the first time VR developers have made big promises for first-person shooters (FPSs) and come up short, right Reboant? While I still can’t tell you if developer XREAL Games will deliver with its new game, I can at least reassure you by telling you its last one is pretty darn good.
It’s easy to pick apart the DNA that makes up A-Tech Cybernetic. Monster-ridden facility set in the wastelands of a red planet? That’s Doom. Hordes of shambling mutants that pour towards you? Hello, Resident Evil 4. Strategical dismemberment that allows you to slow enemies down and prioritize where you spend your ammo? That’d be Dead Space. And, while A-Tech obviously doesn’t measure up to the heights of these AAA inspirations, it already towers above some of its VR rivals.
For starters, common issues with current VR shooters are circumvented (though not resolved) with context. The game’s spooky mutants, for example, can be forgiven for being brain dead because they’re, well, brain dead. Most of the early encounters consist of two or three enemy types charging at you in hopes of ripping your face off, and you’ll need a fast trigger finger to stop them. XREAL uses brute force to distract from the simplicity; it’s not long before enemies tally in the double digits and you’ll be too busy using everything in your arsenal to slow them down to think about the similarity of these encounters.
A-Tech is a game about having your back against the wall, biting your lip, keeping one eye closed and firing as quickly and efficiently as you can. It’s a game that wants to push past that initial thrill of holding a virtual gun in your hand and deliver some actual content. There are moments in which you’re locked in rooms with super mutants, or begging gates to open as a swarm surrounds you. In one particular highlight, you have to keep one hand pressed on a button while holding off a crowd of approaching enemies directly behind you. It makes for a deliciously nail-biting scrap.
There’s a genuine sense of invention to A-Tech’s campaign, and a real desire to deliver something different around every corner, be it those twists on mechanics, new weapons or deadlier enemy types. With so many VR shooters coasting by on dual-wielding motion controls, it’s a relief to play something that can adhere to at least the basic rules of engaging videogame design. In fact, while the influx of new missions is great to see, I’d also welcome expanded editions of existing chapters that retread some of these scenarios.
If XREAL really wants to make you sweat, though, it needs to go back and do some difficulty tuning. The current build of A-Tech is generous with its ammo count and enemies topple too quickly. My favorite moments in the game had me gripping one controller with two hands for hard-hitting, steady pistol shots, controlling the crowd Leon Kennedy-style. But, in truth, almost every combat encounter is made all too easy the moment you grab a shotgun and let loose.
It’s true the existing content could be refined, then, but XREAL is doing a marvelous job of adding to the campaign, too. While they’re both a little on the short side, chapters 3 and 4 of the Early Access version break out of the game’s somewhat repetitive facility and explore the planet’s surfaces and mines whilst adding new enemy types and weapons. With the foundations laid, XREAL is having fun designing new puzzles and missions types. They don’t all fit well (a simple archery minigame makes one appearance in the campaign so far), but you can tell the developer is determined not to tire players out before the credits start to roll.
Outside of the campaign, there’s also a swarm mode which, yes, plays pretty much like a wave shooter. It gets by on the strength of the game’s mechanics; shotguns, pistols and machine guns all feel great to fire and melee combat packs punch as a last measure-option. With plans to implement co-op later down the line, I’d expect this mode to grow into a worthy side-feature come full launch.
A-Tech Cybernetic is a sci-fi zombie shooter that, simply put, feels great to play and has an actual campaign. That’s not something you can say all that often in VR. Oddly, it’s an Early Access game can could currently benefit from revisiting its existing content rather than adding new stuff. Suffice to say it’s a little rough around the edges in its current state and is in definite need of a tune-up, but there’s a diamond in the rough here that I really hope XREAL manages to seize. This is never going to be VR’s very own Resident Evil 4, but with it a little more work it could get closer than anything else.
A-Tech Cybernetic is available now in Early Access on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive for $24.99.