Every few months, I fire up my Oculus Rift and check in on the state of VR PC gaming. I moved to a new house last spring and happily, my new gaming space has plenty of room for full-on, room scale VR but I rarely have the Rift connected. It’s heavy, kind of a pain to set up and configure and with a handful of exceptions, the game experiences continue to disappoint. I can’t speak for the PlayStation VR library but on the Rift the limitations of the platform still outweigh what developers have manged to create.
Bulgarian developer Repulse’s Experiment Gone Rogue is a futuristic corridor shooter for VR that has recently moved from early access to full release. Unlike so many early VR games, Experiment Gone Rogue is a full-length title that does a good job of illustrating both some of the most effective mechanics in VR action games, as well as serving as an example of where VR gameplay design needs to evolve in order to compete with mainstream action games.
In Experiment Gone Rogue, you play as a genetically enhanced super-soldier at war with your creators, the alien Cirinians, who have been performing less-than-benign experiments on humans. This is enough preamble to get the story and the character moving and additional story beats are delivered through video and audio recordings encountered along the way. However, the story takes a distant backseat to the action.
Although there is no proper tutorial, anyone who has played a modern shooter will have little trouble grasping the basic mechanics of equipping weapons, using health-boosting cupcakes and burgers or tossing grenades. Likewise, anyone familiar with the Oculus Touch controllers should have no trouble understanding basic movement in the world, or how to use weapons and interact with objects.
That doesn’t mean, however, that everything works as expected. Thanks to a lack of haptic feedback and quite significant clipping issues, climbing ladders and monkey bars can be frustratingly imprecise and awkward and hit detection when firing is very — no pun intended — hit or miss. Although the most basic mechanics are obvious, a number of other elements go unexplained, for example where the player’s health bar is located, exactly how different weapons differ in their strengths, etc.
The environment in Experiment Gone Rogue is quite Blade Runner-esque, dominated by soaring skyscrapers that ascend from a murky cityscape and lots of colorful neon light. Environments can be used for cover and destroyed, and this can be used to some advantage in battle, though boss arenas tend to be typically empty. At its core, Experiment Gone Rogue is very linear, taking place in a series of narrow corridors separated by ladders, climbing bars, elevators and short platform rides. There are a few surprises, like a go-go bar populated by scantily-glad dancers. Overall, the game never distracts by being visually or texturally primitive (as do some VR shooters) with quite a bit of detail in the weapons and especially, impressive bosses.
Experiment Gone Rogue’s level and mechanical design work well in VR but obviously often have no purpose than to give the player something “to do” in virtual reality, like climb across monkey bars or up ladders. In a non-VR game these would be superfluous filler and unfortunately, they come across the same way here. Although Experiment Gone Rogue implements VR just about as well as any shooter, it very glaringly makes obvious that even the most sophisticated VR action game is miles behind non-VR games in terms of level design, complexity and mechanical variety. One of my favorite maxims is “the qualifyers will get you every time.” The game might be pretty good “for VR,” but we want a game that is good. Period.
If you, like me, fire up the Oculus every so often to see what’s new, and are hankering for a new VR shooter, you’ll probably enjoy Experiment Gone Rogue, though it can’t compare to non-VR triple-A shooters. Developers continue to support the device and VR in general, and gameplay and mechanics inch forward towards the competition outside virtual reality. And of course, Repulse can’t be faulted for the Oculus’ limitations itself. It’s still heavy, awkwardly tethered and still not ready for mainstream.