Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat. Machine gun fire whizzes around me as I sprint towards cover. A smoldering car sits ahead, if I can only just make it there – suddenly gunfire begins raining in from another direction. Thud-thud-thud, the sound echos in my ear as I fall to the ground lifeless, crap. “Yeah, you were kind of out in the open there,” laughs James Chung founder of Reload Studios, the team of Call of Duty ex-pats that came together to form a gaming studio for a new generation of technology.
“I know,” I laughed back, “but that guy came out of nowhere!” I was talking, but my attention was already enraptured by the next encounter. As I looked around the map, this time moving more deliberately, I spotted an enemy developer lurking on the roof of one of the buildings. PShhh-rrrpt, I launch a rocket directly at him. “Nice shot!” exclaims Chung as the projectile hits its mark. I snap back around to find another enemy trying to get the jump on me from behind. I go to fire, but he had the jump on me first, “I had him!” I exclaimed loudly, perhaps too loudly, as I could hear Chung laughing a bit to himself. “Sorry,” I laughed back, “this is just too much fun, I was getting really into it for a second.”
This goes on for a while, I was so immersed in the game – not only visually, but because I was stimulated by the gameplay itself – that I completely lost track of time. I ‘Stevie Wondered’ to check my watch to see how long I had been playing… 45 minutes?! Somewhat embarrassed, I chuckled “I’m sorry I completely lost track of time.”
“No worries,” Chung smiled back, “when we have had some kids play this game, they usually play for hours and we actually have to tell them it is time to end the game.” Feeling more reassured, but aware that it was the end of the day I said, “just one more life,” knowing full well I would be saying that a lot more in the future.
Overall, I really, thoroughly enjoyed myself. Even in the pre-alpha state that I saw it in, the game felt well-paced and fun. It also looks fantastic, and animation director’s Nik Ranieri’s fingerprints are all over it. Gameplay wise – while unbalanced in this early stage, it was incredibly fun to play, with a unique control scheme that felt natural after adjusting to it. They have taken most of the current shortcomings when it applies to VR shooters, things that would create motion sickness for example, and corrected for them in a way that not only makes the game feel better but adds to experience. I was in game for over 45 minutes and not even once did I feel an ounce of motion sickness. Granted, I have spent a lot of time in VR, but usually after an extended period I tend to get a little fatigued, but not in this demo. The team is also quite proud of how “lean” the game is, saying that it was running at over 300fps in a non-VR version on Chung’s laptop (even a game “built from the ground up for VR” needs a flat version, for now, as well). This bodes well for the game’s portability as well as for its prospects on the Morpheus, which Chung confirmed to me that the team is developing for.
So what is this game that Reload is cooking up? Well, I can tell you it is a first person shooter. I can say it is multiplayer (and that you better bring your A-game when you are playing against a bunch of ex-Call of Duty developers). What I can’t tell you – yet, is what it is about. The team just completed its first playable build, and still wants to keep the veil on to a degree. One thing is clear however, in making this game the Reload team is “not looking to make another Call of Duty,” but rather “[they] wanted to go back to the basics where you are just jumping into a game and having fun.” And they accomplished that with flying colors.
Gamers should expect big things from the title, which will be receiving a public alpha release at E3 this year, with a full launch expected later this year (although the team is not willing to fully commit to that date at this point). Reload wants gamers to know they should really expect a polished product, “we’re not kidding when we say it’s going to be the first VR consumer ready game… we are not here just to make some demo or tryout.” The pre-alpha I saw still has some ways to go to get there, but it is early and the bugs I saw were minor at worst. I fully expect that when they show this to everyone at E3, it there will be more than a few people asking, “can I just get one more life?”
Update: A previous version of this article listed Nik Ranieri as the game’s designer, that has been corrected. Nik is the team’s animation director.