Shooting a gun in VR is a pretty powerful experience, and the feeling of being able to look down the sights and blast away the baddies with a well-aimed shot is pretty cathartic to say the least. With games like Space Pirate Trainer (2016) and Raw Data (2016) at the forefront of the HTC Vive’s commercial release though, the ‘shoot the robot’ trope is pretty well-trodden territory by now, so what does VR’s newest wave shooter ROM: Extraction do that other games don’t? The answer: exploding grenades and tactical ‘bullet time’.
ROM: Extraction Details:
In the near future, humanity has started mining the Moon for resources. To our surprise, we find a cache of mysterious orbs containing a highly volatile energy source that—in true human fashion—we instantly want to weaponize. Continuing our mining operations throughout the solar system, we happen upon a sort of security system made up of hostile robotic drones. Perfect targets for our bouncy balls of death.
This is where the game’s explosive orb grenades take the center stage, offering a standard explosive variety (infinite) and a number of limited use power-ups that can lock-on to enemies, or cover increasingly large areas of effect.
The game offers three game modes: Normal and Hard modes, which last 3 minutes long, and an endless Survival mode—all of which have online leaderboards. Online multiplayer, although shown in the main menu as an option, is currently not yet available. First Contact has told us that ROM “has a bunch of content in store for 2017 with multiplayer being a big part it.”
Combined with the game’s bullet time function, which recharges periodically and can be activated by holding the grip button on either Vive controller or Touch, you’re effectively able to toss orbs into the air and detonate them above a group of alien drones by shooting the orb directly in slowmo—something that takes practice (and a little luck) to achieve, but is really satisfying when you do. If you think you can toss orbs wildly at normal speeds and get a good result, you’re almost guaranteed to fail, so precision is important.
Tossing orbs isn’t always easy or consistent though, because throwing things in VR doesn’t give you the same physical feedback cues like in real life. Releasing a controller trigger while whipping an orb into any given direction isn’t as straight forward as looking down the sights of a pistol and firing, so you’ll definitely need practice to get the sort of results you’d expect to have throwing a real world ball.
For better or for worse, ROM: Extraction is missing some variety you might find in other, more gun-centric wave shooters. While there are several classes of orbs to chuck around, only one semi-automatic pistol is available in the game and only one enemy type. Again, if you’re not great at tossing the game’s orbs, you’re pretty much screwed, because a drone requires multiple headshots to take down, making the pistol pretty useless by itself.
As for ROM: Extraction’s sci-fi backdrop, I’m honestly conflicted whether brush-off or actually admonish the game for its lack of multiple environments, as you’ll only be able to shoot down robot aliens in a single sci-fi spaceship area. I keep telling myself that Space Pirate Trainer (SPT), arguably the most popular VR wave shooter, only has a single gameplay environment too, but then again, SPT hasn’t attempted to weave a story around its shooting gallery either.
My point is this: ROM is dripping with style, has a cool premise, competent voice overs, a well-polished environment and real heart-pumping action—what I’d consider the beginnings of a multi-hour AAA shooting odyssey. I can’t help but shake the feeling that the scope of the game was drastically reduced somewhere along the way though, and what we ended up with amounts to an extremely good-looking, albeit single-level wave shooter. To its credit, it’s currently on sale for $16.99 on Steam.
The game’s spaceship environment gets high marks for style and execution, and really feels like it’s been ripped from Battlestar Galactica (2004) or Avatar (2009).
To get the most out of ROM’s highly detailed environment, super sampling is strongly suggested, which thankfully can be torqued all the way up to 2× in the game’s settings menu. Some farther away enemies, like those in the upper gallery, aren’t nearly as clear as I’d like, but it’s likely more of a limitation of the headset’s display than the game’s graphics.
The game gives you two arms but no body to speak of. For now though, this is one of the best solutions I’ve seen for the sake of immersion simply because you don’t have to deal with any of the inverse kinematic weirdness that usually comes with full-body avatars. When joints bend the wrong way, and your legs and body aren’t in natural positions, it really can damage the feeling of being immersed.
Robotic baddies also don’t invade your play space, staying well outside of the barricades surrounding you. This is both good and bad. Good, because it means you won’t accidentally clip through bad guys that come too close, a phenomenon that tends to crap all over immersion. Bad, because they end up waiting patiently to be murdered when they could easily jump over the knee-high barricade and shoot you in the face, which really dials down the urgency of eliminating enemies.
When too many robots surround you though, you’re sure to notice it, as your vision slowly turns a deeper shade of red.
As a room-scale game that has no virtual locomotion, and relies solely on your own two feet (and trust me, you’ll be shuffling and dodging around), ROM: Extraction is by virtue an extremely comfortable game.
Some discomfort could come from the end stage elevator in Normal and Hard modes, which drops you out of the level after the obligatory 3 minutes, but it’s quick and smooth enough for a majority of people not to notice.
We partnered with AVA Direct to create the Exemplar 2 Ultimate, our high-end VR hardware reference point against which we perform our tests and reviews. Exemplar 2 is designed to push virtual reality experiences above and beyond what’s possible with systems built to lesser recommended VR specifications.