At Oculus Connect 3, Epic Games revealed a new virtual reality title for Oculus Touch called Robo Recall. It also announced that the game will be completely free.
Update: The embargo is up! Here’s our full, hands-on impression of Robo Recall.
At Oculus Connect 3, Epic Games revealed a new virtual reality title for Oculus Touch called Robo Recall. It also announced that the game is going to be 100 percent free.
The studio solved the problem of how to maneuver within virtual reality within the framework of a fast-paced shooter with its Oculus Connect 2 Bullet Train demo last year. The core mechanics of Bullet Train — gunplay, time slowing, and bullet grabbing — have since evolved into the wonderfully chaotic Robo Recall.
The $0 price point of the game was explained by representatives from Epic on site at OC3. The reps stated that Oculus provided financial support to fund the game and that this support was sufficient to release a full, AAA quality experience at no cost to the user. They also said that they viewed Robo Recall as a chance to improve the Unreal Engine for VR developers while simultaneously providing a strong example of its potential for success. The studio is targeting a Q1 2017 release for Robo Recall.
A 10-minute demo of the game was playable during Oculus Connect 3, but we went hands-on with the fun throwback-inspired VR experience early at Epic’s Cary, NC-based headquarters last week.
Once you put on the Oculus Rift headset and pick up the Oculus Touch controllers, you’re transported into the basement of Robo Ready. The company is the world’s largest robot manufacturer, which has allowed the tech giant to basically own the city. According to Nick Donaldson, lead designer of Robo Recall at Epic Games, the robots have been watching too many cat videos online and they “go bad.” This also sets up the humorous tone that couples well with the arcade shooting action.
Hence, the under-funded basement operation, Robo Recall. You’re actually employee No. 34, which tells you that it’s not easy work. The basement area is used as the beginning of the tutorial to get you used to the controls. Anyone who played Bullet Train already will be familiar with the instant point-to-teleport controls and the Matrix-style slow-motion bullet dodging, but Epic has also added another twist, literally. You can choose where to teleport, as well as in which direction you want to face. This will come in handy once you’re out on the city streets battling robots because you can teleport behind them and be facing the right direction to target them with weapons, or rip them apart limb by limb. It’s also easy to teleport to ledges and other areas above enemies to target them below.
After you have the navigation down, which is a pretty seamless endeavor, it’s time to learn the combat. You’re armed with two pistols that are stored in your hip holsters. Every time you run out of ammo, you simply toss the guns and grab another pair from your holsters. Aiming is instant and accurate, which comes in handy once the action amps up.
A bit later in the tutorial it’s revealed you also have a pair of shotguns strapped to your back. The same reload options are available here. And now you can get creative by simply grabbing the pistols off your hips or reaching behind your back to grab the shotguns. And you can dual-shoot using one of each gun, if you want.
“We wanted to keep the general weapon archetypes that you expect and then we built an upgrade system that allows you to unlock a full auto for your pistol, which turns it into an entirely different weapon,” said Donaldson. “And you can get holographic sights, which in a regular game just means you have a shiny new dot on your screen. But in VR when you’re looking down the barrel of the gun and it actually let’s you know that you’re going to hit something, it makes a world of difference.”
But firearms aren’t your only weapons in this gig. The tutorial teaches you how to rip apart robots using the Touch controllers. There are four types of robots featured in the game, and the humanoid form is the one with the most touch points (pun intended) for you to grab and pull using Touch. It’s amazing how easy it is to just rip apart robots with the controllers, thanks to conveniently placed handles that you can grab. And when you marry this close-combat option with the firepower, it opens up all types of combos straight from the classic arcade shooters and tosses in some fighting game mechanics to boot.
Donaldson said one of the key tenants was the ability for players to hijack all of the robots and use them in different ways.
“You can throw them into the air and juggle them and mash them together,” Donaldson said. “You can tear off their limbs, throw them and use those weapons against other robots. You’ve got little spider crawlers that you can pick up and use as grenades, a flying robot that you can hijack and shoot rockets out of his jetpack and release him and use him as the ultimate weapon. He’s not in the demo, but he’s going to be in the full game.”
In keeping with the hacking theme, after taking out waves of all four types of robots in the first seven minutes of the demo, the game introduces a boss battle against a giant robot armed with a laser canon on its right arm. Just as you can dodge incoming slow-motion bullets throughout the demo, you can jump over or duck beneath the red laser as the giant robot strafes the area. The demo alerts you to weak spots in the enemy’s legs, which takes the giant out. It’s here that you can jump on top of the robot and take control of that laser gun on incoming waves of all types of robots.
What’s cool about the game’s epic finale is that you can go all-out with the style of combat you prefer. While standing atop the robot I was able to use my right hand to control the red laser and cut through enemies with ease, while using my left hand to target robots with my pistol and/or shotgun.
It was just a lot of fun to switch things up on-the-fly as I mowed down the incoming baddies from every direction. And this was without even needing to teleport around the city streets.
“We’re working on a what are we’re calling Achievement Unlock, where every level has different score objectives the player needs to reach and different other level objectives that you can do on them,” Donaldson said. “You can get one, two, or three stars and your abilities get higher, and higher scores increase as you get new weapons and new abilities to unlock score multipliers.”
The entire look and feel of the game is filled with vibrant colors and rich 3D city streets filled with vehicles and other objects that can be used for cover. The game’s layer of humor makes this playing field feel like stepping into a retro arcade screen — although one built with Unreal Engine 4 — rather than having to deal with menacing, evil robots like the ones Will Smith battled in I, Robot.
Donaldson said the creativity of designing the game’s levels was spurred by Unreal Engine VR Editor, which allowed the team to keep the Oculus Rift on while building out levels and testing gameplay. That technology didn’t exist when Bullet Train was conceived. And I’m looking forward to seeing how Epic has used that tech for the rest of Robo Recall’s levels, which will be revealed with the game’s full launch.
The arcade-style game was funded by Oculus Studios and will be exclusive to Oculus Rift, with a scheduled release window of Q1 2017.
John Gaudiosi is a freelance reporter with experience covering the world of videos game for multiple outlets, such as Fortune and [a]listdaily. Follow him on Twitter: @.