Raw Data, a first-person combat game from Survios currently in Early Access, is one of the most fast-paced and exciting games out for HTC Vive and Oculus Touch right now. Far from being a simple shooting gallery, Raw Data gives you an impressive range of abilities and physical agency, making you feel like you’re in real danger. And if you can master the controls, you’ll feel like a superhuman badass too.
Raw Data Details:
Available On: HTC Vive (Steam), Oculus Touch (Home)
Reviewed On: HTC Vive. Oculus Touch
Release Date: July 15th, 2016 (Vive) – March 16th, 2017 (Touch)
Note 03/16/17: The article has been updated to include impressions of the game’s recent support for Oculus Touch. You’ll find those impressions in a section at the bottom. The article is otherwise untouched, save the insertion of ‘Oculus Rift/Touch’ where needed. Because of the herculean effort of updating every Early Access review to reflect changes, you’ll see that initial impressions are left intact, but you’ll also find a section below discussing updates since the game’s July 2016 launch on Steam.
Note 07/18/16: This game is in Early Access which means the developers have deemed it incomplete and likely to see changes over time. This review is an assessment of the game only at its current Early Access state and will not receive a numerical score.
Eden Corp, your standard “we’re not evil” evil video-game corporation, is oppressing the world, and it’s your job as a member of hacker group SyndiK8 to infiltrate them. Choosing your character—the gun-wielding ‘gun cleric’ Bishop or the katana-swinging ‘cyber ninja’ Saija—it’s your job to extract massive amounts of data and defend vulnerable data cores so you can expose Eden Corp for what they really are, a “we say we’re not evil, but in all actuality we’re super evil, and you probably should have known that already” type of company.
Oh. And they have killer robots.
Although Raw Data is essentially a wave-shooter, it’s anything but simple, as it presents an engaging blend of tower defense elements, special unlockable moves, and a multiplayer mode that will have you battling alongside your friends on Steam or Oculus Home. Yes, that’s cross-platform, folks.
There’s a real sense of immediate danger in Raw Data too. I don’t know if it’s the fact that the game’s robot adversaries are well over 2 meters tall, or that they creep forward with seemingly no regard for their own safety, or that they’re constantly firing lasers at my face, or that when they come up to you they start punching you in the face—but it’s safe to say that Raw Data put me in a real panic the first few times I played.
If you choose Bishop, it’s best to practice with your pistol back at the starting point before you jump right in, because once you’re in a mission the learning curve gets steep fairly quickly. Because robots. Are. Everywhere. And if you don’t immediately understand how to reload consistently, you’re due for a robo-beating.
Later on in the game I learned how to reload my pistols instantly by touching them to my hip/ lower back, but the early manual reloading—using one hand to pull out a magazine and slide it into my pistol—was pretty frustrating. Several times while ducking behind a barrier to hide from an onslaught of baddies, I ended up swapping my empty pistol into my non-dominant shooting hand somehow, which is super frustrating when you have a load of enemies firing laser and punching you in the face. It happened consistently enough to make me more aware of how to carefully reload, and also keep an eye on my bullet counter so I didn’t run dry of bullets in time of need.
Then again, if you do screw up somehow by reloading, you can always punch them. No, really. You can punch a robot in the face to death. This is great when it works, which isn’t all the time though, and the same goes for Saija’s swords.
Using the sword should probably be the easiest, and most gratifying of the two, and Saija’s energy katanas sound good on paper if you’re the sort of person who wants to dispatch your enemies up close and personal ninja-style. I didn’t feel like they always worked as they should though, as slashing at a target sometimes didn’t register a hit. Thankfully you can also fire range weapons like ethereal shurikens, and even toss your swords like boomerangs, which are both reliable. If only up-close combat was.
Whether you’re slicing or shooting though, detaching an evil robot’s head from its body and seeing purple fluid spurt out gives me a clear sense of accomplishment. And getting through all four, which took me well over 3 hours, was an even bigger one, requiring me to recruit the help of a friend to accomplish.
Since it’s in Early Access, there are currently only two heroes (see update section), but Survios told us that at least two more are coming out with the game’s full release. They also gave us a better look at the individual abilities and weapons in our deep dive with the Raw Data devs if you’re interested in a more detailed look at the game.
As far as VR first-person shooters go, Raw Data is probably the most feature-rich out there. The world is cohesive and clearly approaching what I would call ‘AAA level’ of polish. That said, there are a few things that may thwart your attempts at feeling fully immersed in the space, all of which are no real fault of the game itself.
Avatars in multiplayer are kind of wonky. Because both the Vive and Oculus Rift only has three tracking points (the headset and two controllers), Raw Data is essentially making its best guess at the position of your full body. It does this by using inverse kinematics (IK)—a method of predicting how your joints bend—and then cleverly blending animations to smooth out any accompanying strangeness. That doesn’t always stop elbows and knees from bending the wrong way though in VR, making you look weird to your friends in multiplayer. This is however pretty much unavoidable when dealing with full body avatars using the Vive’s provided gear, so you certainly can’t knock Survios for putting their best effort forward.
Robots sometimes clip through you. On one of the levels (I won’t say which as to avoid spoiling the fun) you’re introduced to crawling, zombie-like robots. Their beady glowing eyes stare at you as they crab-walk in from the darkness, predictably scaring whatever bejesus you may still have retained from the previous level. That is until they jump at you and clip through your body, breaking the illusion. It’s clear that AI just isn’t good enough yet to guarantee that enemies will react to your physical movements, or anticipate where you’ll be next.
These are relatively minor gripes when talking about immersion, and aren’t unique to Raw Data.
Teleportation is one of the best ways to get around in VR in terms of comfort, and Raw Data has a special take on it that has some interesting trade-offs. You don’t actually blink-teleport, but rather you quickly glide to your chosen spot. Because the game uses plenty of particle effects, and the transition is quick enough, danger of motion-induced VR sickness (aka ‘sim sickness’) is pretty minimal, but more than you would experience with blink-teleportation. This, I felt, keeps you more present in the game by letting you keep an eye on the action as it happens around you so you can better plan your next split-second attack.
With the exception of Saija’s jump move, which launches you in the air for high-flying downward strike, the game is surprisingly comfortable for what is shaping up to be one of virtual reality’s greatest first-person shooters.
Oculus Touch Impressions
According to Survios, the Oculus version of Raw Data—which for now only seems accessible through Oculus Home and not Steam— has been “completely optimized and reengineered specifically for its two- and three-camera tracking and Touch controls.”
If you have three or more sensors, you’re likely to experience the game’s room-scale glory just like the Vive, letting you turn around and slash and shoot with nary a care for your IRL direction. However, if like most people you only have two sensors, you’re in for a bit of a learning curve to get past the Touch controller’s biggest out-of-the-box limitation: occlusion.
To combat this, Survios has enabled a 90-degree snap-turn, aka ‘comfort mode’ to go along with the game’s frenetic teleportation scheme as well as an ‘arrow guardian’ to help you recognize when you’ve turned completely around and are about to lose Touch-positional tracking. The arrow guardian isn’t at all annoying thankfully—i.e. no audio cues, or big ‘TURN AROUND’ signs to block your line of sight so you can take a quick shot at an incoming robot. It simply flashes a neon arrow to get you turned back around, something that may seem garish in any other game, but works well in the high stress, 360 environment of Raw Data.
Raw Data is still in early access, meaning small things like button mapping aren’t final. That said, I had trouble with this aspect of the Touch-compatible game.
To snap right, you press the ‘A’ button on your right controller; and to snap left, the ‘X’ button on your left—logical and simple. In the thrill of the fight though, I kept instinctively wanting to use the joy stick for this like many other games. Also, because the left snap is mapped to ‘X’, I kept accidentally mashing ‘Y’ which brings up a menu screen, effectively rendering my reloading hand useless until I could figure out what I did wrong. I concede that sometimes I have what is called in the medical field as ‘dumb baby fingers’. Again, three sensor setups won’t suffer my dumb-baby-fingered plight, as you can play the game with the knowledge that your Touch controllers will be tracked in room-scale.
Despite the dumb-baby-finger learning curve and having to pay closer attention to the new arrow guardian, Raw Data on Oculus Touch can be just as fun as the Vive version.
Survios has pushed several updates for the game while still in Early Access, including a new shotgun-wielding hero (‘Boss’), greatly improved multiplayer, and a new mission called Cataclysm which the studio promises is “the most challenging level to date.” According to Survios, players on both platforms also gain access to several brand-new features, including a balancing of new and reworked abilities for heroes Saija and Boss.
You can check out all of those any more on Raw Data’s Steam announcements page.
Summary: Raw Data is a heavy-hitting, fast-paced game that’s more than just a simple wave shooter. While it presses all the right buttons with atmosphere and feel, the game is on the bleeding edge of virtual interaction, which sometimes doesn’t work as well as it should. Despite its technical flaws, it’s one of the best VR shooters for HTC Vive and Oculus Touch out currently.
We partnered with AVA Direct to create the Exemplar Ultimate, our high-end VR hardware reference point against which we perform our tests and reviews. Exemplar is designed to push virtual reality experiences above and beyond what’s possible with systems built to lesser recommended VR specifications.