Raw Data is the debut game from indie developers, Survios. It is a fully immersive sci-fi thriller, explicitly built for VR platforms, and is available on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and more recently PSVR. Personally, I was champing at the bit when I learned the four recent graduates behind the game had also worked together on Project Holodeck – a research program paving the way for motion input virtual reality. There has been a lot of hype around the development “Active VR,” a phrase coined by the Survios team, which aims to cover all aspects to make a deeply immersive virtual reality experience. Raw Data is the epitome of this concept and is definitely a quintessential game for your VR library.
Raw Data is a first-person shooter VR game, set in the dystopian future where megalomaniacal tech giant EDEN Corp runs the world. Your mission, guided by a celestial hacker, “Angel,” is to delve into EDEN’s data chambers and extract data to take them down. It features challenging enemies, coupled with an eerie futuristic vibe that will completely immerse you. You can play solo or team up with a friend (or stranger) to become the adrenaline-charged heroes of your own futuristic techno-thriller.
To be blunt; it’s the best all-around VR FPS I’ve played. It’s an action-packed combat game, with a simple premise: to steal data, while wave-after-wave of increasingly aggressive and sophisticated robots try to stop you, with a passive storyline unfolding around you.
The realistic mechanics are the absolute highlight of this game. It features incredibly smooth firing of four unique weapon types, and each weapon is intuitive and easy to use. Needless to say, with four unique weapons comes four unique classes (characters), each with six special abilities to unlock. A quick tutorial mode takes you through each weapon type, and then you can decide which of the four hero classes to be before starting each mission. Each hero has a unique gameplay strategy and backstory; Bishop with (dual wielding) Crusader Pistols, Boss with the Dominator Shotgun, Saija with the (eventually dual-wielding) Flash Blade, or Elder with the Viper Bow.
I played mainly as the mythical archer, Elder. Pretty much every VR FPS has a bow-and-arrow gameplay type, but the archer mechanics here are aeons ahead of every other VR title out there at the moment. One quirk of Archer’s Viper Bow is that it doesn’t require traditional reloading; you don’t reach back into a quiver to draw your bow, you just pull back the bowstring and an arrow appears, which means you can easily rapid-fire arrows, if your arms can handle it. The Archer’s special abilities include, charged arrow, multi-shot arrows, tagging arrow, crystal hazard AOE, and the last but not least – explosive arrows! As the game progresses, you need to pull out all the stops, and you’ll start thanking your lucky stars for those explosive arrows.
In terms of gameplay, the first five levels are very repetitive and are pretty much a tutorial to introduce the game strategy to new players. I was relieved when I discovered the entire game wasn’t like these first levels – we do eventually get to go outside. Possibly the biggest annoyance was the voice of ‘Angel,’ the narrator, which infuriated me. She acted surprised each time she got locked out of the EDEN system or triggered defence protocols. It’s like, cool, we get it, let’s shoot the robots. That being said, the value of the first levels is clear; hero progression. These levels allow you to unlock all your hero’s special abilities, which make the game compelling. However, even after you’ve slogged through these first levels, there are four different heroes, which means playing through another three times to unlock all the special abilities in the game, if that’s your thing.
Aside from the amazing combat, the interaction with most objects in the game is limited – it often does not require anything more than pulling the data extractors to trigger the next phase in a level. However, in the later levels, the complexity increases slightly, and there is a token puzzle to complete with time restrictions to get your adrenaline racing. Game tactics on each level are very similar and include protecting a data core, destroying generators, and sometimes making your way to different areas on the level. For the most part, it’s a classic ‘defend-the-flag’ wave-shooter tactic, which is fine. In the later levels, the waves of enemies do get very, very hectic, and you thank the Lord that all you are doing is protecting that data core. The campaign mode is simple, with an interesting storyline. With only 10 level in the campaign, it left me wanting more. It has an engaging, thematic storyline, with a Black Mirror-esque statement of the future of technology (which I won’t spoil here), but it was more of a sci-fi novella than an epic trilogy, and I’d love to see more. It reaches its conclusion a bit too fast, with the inevitable epic boss fight, which brings together every enemy type from the entire campaign. The good news is that the campaign ends very open-ended, nudging players towards the PvP gameplay.
Let’s face it, the multiplayer capabilities make Raw Data such an attractive game. A prerequisite of mine before buying any VR game (online or otherwise) is a co-op mode, which is essential for me as both my partner and I have VR headsets, and it’s so much more fun playing together. I can play co-op for hours on end, with either my partner or a complete stranger (he just loves that). I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that there is no forced solo play, so you can team-up straight off the bat, which doubles the fun (and unlocks some cutesy achievements).
Multiplayer is obviously a key focus for Survios, as the game is heavily geared towards matchmaking. This is evident in the game lobby, as there is the constant presence of ghostly apparitions, which are other available players, which is just creepy if you aren’t looking for other players. This can be overwhelming for new players, especially when you’re getting bombarded with invites when you first enter the game and have no idea how to make them go away. I can see how it would be very convenient when you’re matching-making, though, as you can quickly assess how many players are available. I’ll also admit that the developers have made a damned intuitive option menu system to invite players to multiplayer, and I did eventually figure out how to decline PvP requests.
Now for the PvP. I’ll be the first person to admit my distaste for competitive PvP games, and my first experience with the PvP was the main reason why. I joined the match, and immediately there was someone running around yelling “I will CIRCUMCISE YOU ALL!!!”, so I had to figure out how to mute players. The objective of the game is not clear at first, but it seems like a stock-standard new-age PvP setup, with an Overwatch vibe, and with the look-and-feel of early Halo multiplayer maps. However, most people are unlike me, and really love the PvP in Raw Data. Other players I’ve spoken too exclusively play the PvP mode for hours on end and can’t get enough of it. As it is available on HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, the developers have made the multiplayer cross-platform. Maybe I’m a bit cynical, but being cross-platform was probably out of necessity to make PvP viable, not because they just want everyone to get along. The emphasis on multiplayer matchmaking makes this game have exceptionally high replay value.
Another thing I was very impressed with was production value of Raw Data; it looks polished, and more importantly, it runs smoothly. The dystopian cyberpunk backdrop accentuates the heavy narrative theme and action-packed gameplay. The locomotion is standard of most VR games, with a joystick walk and teleport function. However, the walk option is not on by default, so I would highly recommend turning it on. I personally find tactical strafing paramount for high-intensity combat, but think carefully about this option, as it can cause motion sickness. The soundtrack also adds to the mood and reminds me of the Star Wars soundtrack (incidentally, the Raw Data OST is also available on Steam).
Raw Data is a must-have for the modern VR gamer. It boasts incredibly realistic mechanics, action-packed gameplay, amazing multiplayer capabilities, excellent (if too short) solo play and satisfying hero progression. It’s the first game to showcase the power of VR platforming as a multiplayer experience, which is critical for success in this modern era of social experience. The solo campaign also left me hungry for more! If Survios diversified the early stages of the campaign, added more complex interaction, and made the overall narrative longer, Raw Data would be the perfect game. All the same, though, it’s still leagues ahead of all other VR games out there and is quickly shaping up to be a quintessential game for your VR library.