There's no shortage of shooting games for Meta's virtual reality headsets. It feels like the left and handed controllers were made specifically to mimic the feel of holding two pistols or the trigger and pump of a shotgun. But that doesn't mean great VR shooters are always easy to find.
Robo Recall and Robo Recall Unplugged, both among the very first games for the Oculus Rift and Quest, respectively, set the bar really high when they came out — and not just for wave shooter games. They harnessed the full capabilities of Oculus hardware to deliver crisp and immersive graphics, responsive controls, and unrelenting action that's just as challenging and playable years after its release.
So why hasn't anyone tried to produce a sequel? Stephen Hawking taught us that robots with cognitive abilities are destined to disobey their programming and try to take over humanity. It's inevitable that the robot recall we thought we quelled five years ago will happen again and I can't wait any longer for Epic Games and/or Meta to make it happen.
Our Oculus Quest Game of the Week column highlights recent Meta Quest titles, indie gems, App Lab up-and-comers, or cool sideloaded mods. Games that we didn't have time to review but deserve recognition.
The Meta Rift and Quest versions of Robo Recall are the same story-driven shooting game in which players take on the role of Agent 34, a corporate recaller for the Roboready corporation. The game opens with a creepy, first-person cinematic where you're standing in the middle of a crowd of helper robots watching a breaking news story about a sudden robot uprising on a TV in a street-level store window. As the details unfold, the robots begin to turn their gaze on you as something overrides their programming and makes them turn on their human masters.
The setting is called the City Center, an urban landscape of streets, alleys, and rooftops that look like something out of Walt Disney's original plans for EPCOT. You'll traverse across nine maps, completing various missions that involve shooting rogue robots in the face, ripping them apart with your own hands, or throwing them at each other or into a Roboready transporter for further study.
The goal could not be simpler for a shooting game. If something tries to shoot at you, you shoot back at them as fast and creatively as you can for higher multipliers and your overall score. So what, you may ask, makes them so special?
Good, bad, I'm the guy with the guns
Robo Recall's main function is as a shooter. Even though you only have the very basic arsenal of pistols, shotguns, revolvers and machine guns at your disposal, there is more than one way to skin a defective robot in this game.
You start with a pair of pistols that you grab from your left and right hips like a Western gunslinger and you can wield two guns at once for maximum damage and multiplayer. Your score isn't just based on how many robots you kill or how accurately you dispatch them. You can increase your multiplayer by keeping their lifeless chassis in the air for a series of "Juggler" bonuses, "Kneecap" the robots before taking them out with a "Headshot" and grab the bots by their chest handles and rip off its arms or head for a "Beatdown" bonus. The potential for funny achievements and abilities is limitless.
You unlock more guns as you progress through the levels and earn special upgrades like increased ammo capacity, muzzles, and laser sights for your guns by completing achievements like high scores, shooting accuracy and time completion. So even if you've completed the basic story line, the challenge of improving your skills creates more playability that doesn't feel stale even if you're starting over from scratch for the fifth or sixth time. Just imagine how much play you could get out of it if the game was even longer.
There's also a melee system that you can use to better your offense when the robots start piling up on you. You can throw robots into each other, which comes in handy on levels where you need to collect a minimum number of robots in an allotted amount of time by throwing them into a transporter without killing them. You can deflect bullets, buckshot, and laser blasts back into your enemies by blocking them with your guns. You can catch a bullet in midair and throw it back at them for an impressive kill and "Return to Sender" bonus. You can grab and throw oncoming missiles for a satisfying kill. There are even some robots that turn into powerful weapons when you grab onto or take control of them.
Go get 'em, tiger!
New consoles or VR headsets need simple games that can show players what their technology can deliver when they first hit the market. Robo Recall was one of the first games for the Oculus headsets that aimed to do just that with Epic's Unreal Engine.
But Epic Games and Oculus clearly put a lot of work and heart into something that made it more than a mere launch experience. They created something that's a cross between Isaac Asimov and Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies, and proved how intuitive or immersive VR could feel to gamers.
The atmosphere and style of the game never take themselves too seriously. The game is narrated by two voices: a cold, calculating voiceover named Dolores who lays out the instructions for each mission and an overexcited color commentator AI named Philip who lays out catchphrases and exclamations for your sweetest kills and moves. He's like a PG version of Duke Nukem with ring announcer Michael Buffer's booming voice. Some of Philip's lines occasionally repeat but you're too wrapped up in the action to notice and they always give you a confidence boost and a good chuckle.
Pretty much all of the dialogue is pure satire and comedy. Robots sing "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do" as their life force drains. Dolores talks like a weak-willed boss trying to encourage her staff under the whims of her corporate masters. Odin, the game's deep-voiced, missile-tossing big boss, is hell-bent on not just taking over humanity but ruling the Internet like a tyrant who promises to "delete you both like an embarrassing Tweet."
It feels like you've stepped into a Douglas Adams cyberpunk novel and if the right writer came along, they could create an expanded universe that deals with very real technological concerns in a fun and engaging way.
Somebody needs to issue another recall
Robo Recall may not have been designed to be a full franchise like Fortnite, another Epic Games title launched in 2017 that achieved much more cultural impact. Despite that, its more obscure VR title feels like the start of something more.
It has a witty story that lays out a dystopian foundation for a satiric universe where our worst fears about artificial intelligence and automation have all come true at once and are likely to happen again.
It delivers immersive levels with meticulous details that you don't notice until you've played it a lot like the correct time on the office elevator's floor screen or the witty comebacks that Philip and Odin deliver in the heat of battle.
It has a sleek, slick arsenal of weapons that looks like Apple went into the gun manufacturing business. The only difference is that these guns work and you don't have to sacrifice a house payment to get them.
The original Robo Recall may still be playable after all these years but the potential for an expanded sequel with more levels, locations, and one-liners for your sweetest kills and executions is also still there.
The most likely reason we haven't gotten a Robo Recall sequel is the cost. Fortnite is a fiscal behemoth compared to Robo Recall; it's likely not cost-effective to pour resources into a VR experience that won't reach as many people. But that's a shame, because there's something special in Robo Recall that feels like it's far from finished. Every time I complete the game, I feel myself wanting more.
I've never wanted a robot uprising to happen this much.
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Danny Gallagher is a freelance tech, game and comedy writer based out of Dallas, Tex. He's written features for places like CNET, Cracked, Maxim, Mandatory and The Onion AV Club. He's also written material for games produced by Jackbox Games and SnapFingerClick.