How does a fast-paced multiplayer experience hold up on the HTC Vive?
Earlier this week we got hands-on with the multiplayer portion of Survios' upcoming VR first-person shooter, Raw Data. While the game is still in development, Raw Data is currently available on Steam's Early Access program, with frequent updates from the developer.
Raw Data's core premise leaves players to fend off waves of humanoid robots, in an attempt to protect a data extraction. After choosing a character with unique abilities and weapons, players must hold back Eden's mechanical forces for a set period of time.
Bundled within this package is a lengthy multiplayer experience, which branches off from the content offered in solo play. This mode inherits the same game modes, levels and abilities from the singleplayer, while adding a second player into the mix.
Raw Data is an ideal example of what cooperative shooters can provide in virtual reality, as a title bearing this functionality from launch. Built from the ground up with mechanics best suited with the HTC Vive, the game offers one of the best online shooter experiences for the platform. The game also lays the foundations for some more competitive traits, including a post-game score to compare with your partner.
But how does an online first-person shooter hold up with the HTC Vive?
The most striking concept when first entering Raw Data's battlefield was the physical presence of my cooperative partner. Having never spoken face to face with my partner in the real world, an animated representation of my colleague was undeniably a unique experience.
Real world space constraints become a much more apparent issue
For the first time in a virtual experience, I was able to get an idea of both outstanding body language of my co-op partner and any smaller hand movements. This is what gives social VR titles, such as AltSpace and Rec Room, such a universal appeal. The virtual embodiment of any real life person feels abstract, even more so before seeing them in person.
Due to the limited space when using room-scale, teleporting across the map is currently preferred method of travelling larger distances. This is an almost universally accepted standard across HTC Vive titles, allowing for larger distances to be covered without the side effect of motion sickness. With this in mind, real world space constraints become a much more apparent issue, due to the real-time nature of these battles.
After first moving around the battlefield, it was soon clear that the presence of a teammate in virtual reality wasn't as miraculous as first hoped. Between Raw Data's dark locales and each player's instantaneous teleportation, my teammate's presence in multiplayer felt almost non-existent.
While teleportation is a smooth alternative to physical movement in a singleplayer experience, keeping tracking of teammates in multiplayer in unmanageable when under pressure. Unlike traditional first-person shooters, movement in virtual reality is inconsistent and unpredictable in its current state. This has come to be of my biggest gripes with VR shooters, but is hard to address with today's consumer hardware.
Movement in virtual reality is inconsistent and unpredictable in its current state
Looking at established gaming platforms from recent years, a majority of the most popular shooter experiences retain their playerbases through their online multiplayer. This largely comes down to our natural competitive instinct which emerges in these replayable environments. Competition thrives on these equal playing fields and manages to hold a dedicated following.
This isn't an issue with Raw Data exclusively, but rather a gripe with today's virtual reality hardware and the standards now falling into place. Across the existing experiences, we're yet to see a shooter where competition can truly prosper without the inconsistencies that plague existing titles.
While the concept of shared virtual reality sessions is appealing, its current form leaves much to be desired. My time with VR multiplayer shooters has been like no other, but limitations and rising standards are steering away from the roots of traditional two-dimensional experiences. Whether workarounds are introduced or VR shooters lose their competitive appeal, the platform will have to find its ground to retain a dedicated audience.