After playing the latest build of Dead & Buried, the gun-slinging action game from Oculus Studios, I walked away disappointed. Disappointed that I would have to wait many months still for Oculus to release their Touch controllers so that I’d be able to experience again the frantic fun I just had.
I was already on board with Dead & Buried when I tried it back at Oculus Connect. At the time it was a single-player shooting gallery experience which was well polished visually and mechanically. The latest version, shown at Oculus’ Game Days event at GDC 2016 this week, takes the game to a whole new level of fun with frantic 2v2 multiplayer.
I got to play the game with my colleague Scott Hayden on my team. With both of us donning the Rift headset and Oculus Touch controllers, we faced off against another team of two journalists who were unknowingly about to face the fastest gun this side of the metaverse (I had a bit of an advantage as I’d just played the round prior).
At the outset, each of us got to choose between one of four characters (two males and two females). Once chosen, we spawned into the Saloon map. The pre-game action put each team of two at a table on opposite sides of the room with some cards on the table that showed the basic instructions.
Our first task was to learn how to pick up weapons, which is done quite naturally with the Touch controller’s hand-trigger. Two revolvers lay on the table in front of us and we each picked one up. The revolver is your default weapon which is always holstered on each hip. Once your spend all your rounds, flicking the revolver to the side opens up the chamber which automatically spins while adding new shells; flicking the opposite direction whips the chamber back into place and allows you to continue firing. It’s a really fun and satisfying mechanic, and one you’ll need to learn well to be effective while under fire.
After learning how to use our weapons, the match started by placing each of us at predetermined locations around the map. Each team has a specific side of the map and there are several different spawn locations. There’s no virtual locomotion within the game right now, but you can move within the tracking volume, and this becomes quite important as you duck and dodge to take cover from enemy fire. If you die, you’ll respawn in a different location on the map.
If you want to stay alive, you’ll be physically moving quite a bit in Dead & Buried. To make use of cover, expect to have to get down on your knees and duck your head. You’ll want to pop up at opportune times to take shots at your opponents across the saloon—but with two enemies out to get you, you might just find yourself pinned down.
There is a well achieved sense of suppressing fire in the game. As you start to take damage your screen will turn red indicating you are near death; this is your cue to get the hell behind cover unless you want to die. In some of the spawn locations around the map, you don’t actually have much cover, and your best option is to take the offensive and try to unload enough rounds in the direction of your enemy to make them duck and hide themselves.
Team work here is actually quite key. An enemy player might have great cover against your position while able to return fire through a small crack, making them hard to hit. With built-in voice-chat through the Rift, I was able to call out to my teammate Scott who had a better angle and was able to take out the enemy while I was pinned down.
There’s other weapons scattered around the map too, and you can pick them up by letting go of your pistol and simply reaching out to pick them up from the ground. There’s a burst-fire rifle, double-barrel shotgun, and grenade launcher, all of which are reloaded with a downward then upward flick (like a breech-loaded shotgun) rather than the sideway reload of the revolver. This makes things challenging in the heat of battle when you need to remember to different reload mechanisms, but it rewards those who hone their coordination.
At one point I was spawned behind the bar on the right side and was quickly pinned down by the enemy. I could see a shotgun on a shelf in the middle of the bar about five feet away. This was actually intended to be obtainable from a closer spawn point, but I physically crawled over to it (off of the little mat Oculus placed on the floor to give me a sense of my playspace), grabbed it, and crawled back. With that, I had all the firepower I needed to turn the tide and scare my opponent into cover.
There’s also TNT, which can be quite effective with a well placed throw. And when I say “throw”, I mean it… you need to really put some momentum behind your toss if you want to span the gap between you and the enemy, otherwise your TNT will land harmlessly in no man’s land at the middle of the saloon.
Amidst these mechanics is a bunch of shooting, shouting, and fun. The back and forth of taking cover or forcing your opponents to do the same, calling on your teammate to help you out when you are pinned down, and the physicality of needing to really move and duck and kneel—and even crawl—behind objects makes Dead & Buried one of the most enjoyable VR experiences I’ve played yet.
Dare I say it… after my time with Dead & Buried, thoughts of ‘killer app material’ lingered in my mind. Playing it was the sort of intense and raucous fun that I remember when playing Halo: Combat Evolved (2001) multiplayer for the first time; the sort of fun where at the end of the game you are high fiving your teammate and talking about the stories that happened inside the game, not the technology that powered it.