With shooters like PUBG (2017) and Epic’s Fortnite (2018) taking the traditional gaming world by storm as of late, many VR developers have seen the success of the battle royale games and attempted to replicate the winner-take-all game mode in virtual reality. While far from the first to do so, Against Gravity’s social VR game Rec Room (2016) is diving head-first into the battle royale genre with its newest activity, something they dub Rec Royale. It’s currently in open beta until the end of today for PSVR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Windows “Mixed Reality” VR, and is slated for full release on June 7th.
If you haven’t played Rec Room before, here’s a quick primer:
Rec Room is a free social VR game set in a cartoony re-imagining of a YMCA, replete with activities like dodgeball and low-gravity racquetball, but also more fantasy-based multiplayer games, called Quests, that let you team up with other players to have mini-adventures. You can also style your avatar in a number of ways, with some default items like hats, clothes, hair (etc) on offer, but now players can also earn in-game coin by exploring the platform and completing Quests. The more you play, the more coins you earn, and you can buy items in the store—all of it for fun, with no microtransactions or real world currency implied. Although free, it’s also one of the highest quality VR experiences out currently, and offers many of the same features you find in other social VR apps like being able to make friends, host private chats, and although it lacks the ability to share photos and stream video not captured from within the confines of Rec Room, people usually come back for the insane amount of games on the platform.
Now for Rec Royale:
This isn’t Rec Room‘s first shooter, as both paintball and a few other Quests feature guns too. Keeping with the game’s family-friendly vibe, Rec Room’s guns are modeled after either paintball guns or Nerf-style toys that let out varying degrees of splats and pops. Oh, and there’s a crazy number of kids on the platform too.
Putting a blanket mute on everyone in the game is an option if you don’t feel like chatting, trash talking, or dealing with kids under 13 (12 and under are officially limited to junior accounts, which prevent them from hearing and transmitting via voice chat and have other privacy restrictions). If you don’t mute everyone though, you’ll really only have to deal with about a minute of chatter before the game starts, and all 16 players are ready to hang glide from the giant flying gondola to the map below.
Experienced battle royale players will instantly recognize what comes next. You have to scrounge for guns, ammo and health and duke it out with everyone on the map, all the while paying attention to the constantly shrinking barrier, called ‘The Swarm’, that limits the size of the play area, resulting in closer quarters combat until only one player is left. The map isn’t very large, but decidedly large enough for 16 players.
You’re given two hip holsters for guns, and are allowed to fire only one at a time (no dual wielding). It took me a while to get used to the guns, and find out which ones were peashooters and which ones could land powerful shots. A mix of pistols, automatic rifles and sniper rifles fill the map, a big island which includes summer camps, mountains, forests, outposts, ravines and lakes—plenty of places to stock up and hunker down for when the Swarm begins. Drinkable health potions let you add health and armor, and of course you can loot your fallen enemy for anything they were holding.
Reaching to your back, you can also take out your map, which shows your position on the island, and where the Swarm is at any given time.
Games are typically very quick thanks to the 16-player cap on player numbers. Since all players have an integrated mic, there’s a lot more teaming-up than I originally expected, as the beta only offered a free-for-all deathmatch. I don’t suspect there will be any real punishment for players caught teaming up, although a team switcher icon in the lobby leads me to believe there will also be eight vs. eight team deathmatch available too (see update below).
Rooms featuring both teleportation and ‘free’ locomotion are available, but I found myself playing in the free locomotion games for greater immersion. Variable snap-turning is available as well, letting users with 180-degree sensors setups engage in the fun too while seated or standing.
Once the game is over, you’re tossed back into the lobby to either chat with other players, or restart a new game.
That said, optimization can definitely be improved in Rec Royale; UI objects like your healthbar can be jittery, and judder is pretty apparent in the beta overall—not a gamebreaking, or entirely uncomfortable occurrence, but definitely on the checklist of things to address before serious shooter fans can call Rec Royale a true winner (winner, chicken dinner). This is, afterall, a pre-release open beta, so there’s bound to be bugs.
In the end, Rec Royale has proven to be a really fun game in its own right, and is built on some very strong core foundations, that over time could become a big draw for the already successful VR social platform. Giving people a reason to come back and stay is fundamental to continued user engagement, and it’s clear Rec Room is hoping to land another big score with Rec Royale. I would personally love a larger map with more players, but as Against Grav makes continual strides to attract users, we can only hope for more, bigger, and greater things to come.
‘Rec Room’ Platforms
Update (6:00 PM ET): A member of Against Gravity reached out to us to clarify some points in the article. It was previously reported that children 12 and below weren’t allowed on the ‘Rec Room’ platform, but the studio has since updated the terms of service to allow children 12 and under, provided they signup with a junior account, which includes certain restrictions including the inability to transmit or hear voice chat.
Against Grav also reiterated via Reddit that the open beta was indeed intended for solo gameplay only, and that the inability to team-up was “a temporary pain that will be solved soon.”
Both points have been clarified in the article.