One, two, three shotguns blasts and the most dangerous robot is junk. I teleport behind the two already shooting at me, grabbing my revolvers from my hips. As they fall, I turn to look at the newcomer already firing. I grab a bullet mid-air and fling it back at him, then teleport to the other side of the street. I take another shotgun from my back and prepare for the next wave.
Robo Recall is the latest free release for Oculus Touch, this one a collaboration between Oculus Studios and Epic Games, the company behind the ubiquitous Unreal Engine, Gears of War, and Unreal Tournament. Robo Recall has been presaged by Epic’s Showdown and Bullet Train demos, but now the full results of the company’s labor have arrived.
The First Person Shooter (FPS) is one of the most revered genres of PC gaming, but it is probably the hardest to do well in VR. Most traditional FPS games move you at a pace that will make most people absolutely sick in VR. And aiming with a crosshair inside an HMD via mouse or Xbox controller isn’t very intuitive, but the arrival of motion controllers like the Vive wands and Oculus Touch banishes that limitation.
In Robo Recall, you are Agent 34 of the Robo Ready corporation. Your task is to “recall” robots that are out of control in the city, slowly uncovering that the seemingly random malfunctions are the work of an AI named Odin. Through three levels divided into nine total missions you will face him and his mechanical minions.
But is your duty as a Recall agent any fun? Well, how could teleporting around and destroying robots be anything but fun? You point with a Touch controller, gesturing with both your arm and the analog stick, painting a spot with a target. When you let go of the analog stick, you teleport there. Time is temporarily slowed, allowing you to shoot enemies leaping through the air or running at you. Just grab guns from your back or your hips and start firing away.
Waves of robots come in a variety of types with different weapons. So you are hopping around to dodge attacks, get better angles on enemies, or get away from being surrounded. And you shoot in response, managing the use of your four weapons, always balancing out the ammo so that you aren’t stuck waiting there while an empty gun is still being respawned.
If you are weaponless, you can get close and grab enemies from certain points indicated by white circles. Rather than holding the Touch’s grip button like when you hold a weapon, you press the button to hold the robot. Then you can even use the other hand to grab another part of the bot and tear it in two. Ripping your arms about in those instances is incredibly satisfying. You can also grab a robot’s guns to use against them.
The moments of just teleporting around and dispatching enemies are interrupted by Time Trials to destroy a certain amount in two minutes or capture a particular number of robots by grabbing them and throwing them into an energy funnel that will teleport them away. Other times you might defend a relay for two minutes by killing all the enemies that try to attack it. And there are of course boss battles to survive.
If the frantic turning and teleporting, weapon juggling and bullet throwing overwhelms you, you will take damage. If not enough time passes for your life to regenerate, the screen turns red and you’re dead. After a 10% respawn fee you are immediately back in the action.
This is a minor setback, except that loss of points might cost you. As you make kills, you earn points. Do more stylish things like headshots, juggles, and simultaneous kills, and you get more points. The more points you get on levels, the more stars you earn. Hitting certain thresholds of stars will unlock new weapons or upgrades for the weapons you already have, such as laser sights, bigger ammo magazines, and more.
Each level also has a variety of challenges that earn you additional stars. Kill 10 robots by ripping them apart or only use scavenged weapons for a whole mission. And after finishing all of the challenges in a level, you unlock All-Star mode for it, where the difficulty of the game is kicked up a notch. There are leaderboards so you can compare how your score in each mission or All-Star version of it compares to the rest of your friends’ or the world’s.
These challenges and leaderboards, after beating the game’s 9 missions gives you a slight reason to go back and play Robo Recall again. Completionists will find getting all the stars difficult, but it is impressive to see the guns evolve into more and more lethal weapons. And it does help to have an excuse to jump back into a mission from the beginning of the game long after you have defeated Odin.
But this replayability also points to the game’s biggest flaw: repetition. The nine levels aren’t really that different, except for a handful of new enemies that come up and the boss fights on every third level. That is a nearly identical bossfight in missions 1-3, 2-3, and 3-3. And within the levels you are either shooting freely, shooting within a time limit, capturing within a time limit, or fighting the boss. More variety would be appreciated. There is mod support available for users to tinker with, but who knows how much variety that will really bring over time — it’s up to the community.