One of Raw Data’s Early Access trailers proudly proclaimed it to be the “ultimate VR experience”. It’s not hard to see why; explosive action with weapons that feel awesome to wield, cooperative play for friends and competitive modes to prove your dominance, what more could you want from a VR game, right?
And, to some extent, it’s true. As an extension of the gaming technologies VR was built upon, Raw Data offers bombastic thrills on par with games like Robo Recall. It plays like a greatest hits of the well-explored wave shooter genre; dual wielding pistols, pump-action shotguns, laser swords and, of course, a bow and arrow make for a familiar but well-honed arsenal, all activated with Hollywood-style quickdraws and over the shoulder grabs. If you ever wanted to feel like Neo in the climactic scenes of The Matrix, this is as good a place as any to do it.
Ten campaign missions see you fending off menacing hordes of robots, quite intimidating in their steely-faced expressions and iron determination. You can pick one of four classes with the aforementioned weapons to dice your way through several phases of increasing difficulty. Special abilities add to the empowerment; leaping up into the air with your sword and causing massive damage over an area is a riot, as is linking pistols for a dual-charged shot. You’ll also encounter enemies worthy of your stylized slashing; camouflaged ninjas with laser swords are a fitting tribute to Metal Gear Solid and larger tanked enemies need wearing down before they succumb to their injuries. Position-tracked dodging also adds a welcome physicality to the action, though coordinating your movements in more overwhelming action moments proves a bit too much.
Levels inject a good bit of variety, too. Though the first and second missions use the same environment, the latter turns off the lights and introduces leaping robots to surprisingly scary effect, while later designs will funnel enemies in specific ways and show you more of the game’s cyberpunk aesthetic, which provides fitting context for making mountains of scrap metal if not much else.
Though using radically different weapons, the game’s four classes feel more cosmetic in their differences more than anything else. Using different characters doesn’t really require different skill levels or vary in effectiveness. While it’s nice to have the choice between them, I found myself longing for deeper underlying mechanical applications for each class, similar to games like Battlefield. Without it, there’s a surface-level feeling to Raw Data’s thrills, though it’s not completely brainless.
An appreciated level of strategy is introduced through a turret system, for example. You’ll need them for the harder difficulty levels; one of the game’s most appreciated features is the ability to find a mode that works just right for you. Shooting your way through the hordes on Normal can grow tedious, but ratchet the difficulty up to Hard and you’ll need concentration and determination to avoid incoming attacks. It’s in these mindless moments of panic that Raw Data’s at its most frantic.
And yet, for all of these features and every effort made to transform you into the ultimate badass, Raw Data can’t quite escape the wearisome familiarity of the genre it’s locked to. For all the explosions and excitement, I couldn’t help but wish this was something that more represented a true first-person shooter (FPS) campaign rather than a series of arena-based defense challenges. It’s like the perfect recipe for, say, pizza; an unforgettable taste but still something you’ve experienced countless times before.
Working in its favor, though, are the various multiplayer modes, that stave off some of that repetition with the help of friends. Pairing up classes in co-op and communicating as you hold off waves in different directions is a lot of fun, as is tackling others in the 5 vs 5 multiplayer mode. The latter is especially noteworthy, as there aren’t many places in VR it’s worth heading to for competitive multiplayer, much less ones where you’ll actually find opponents.
Despite first releasing all the way back in July 2016, Raw Data stands above the many, many wave shooters that have succeeded it, with lavish production values, plentiful play options and the stylish blockbuster action that many of us envisioned when first putting on a VR headset. That said, the game never shatters the ominous glass ceiling of this restrictive genre; it’s an absolute masterclass in what makes wave-based combat tick, but just as much a case study for its limitations. Not quite the ultimate VR experience, then, but a pretty good starting point.
Raw Data is now available on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive for $29.99 (discounted from $39.99). Check out these official review guidelines to find out more about our process.