I’ve been suffering from a frightening number of blackouts recently. I don’t drink heavily or abuse drugs, so there must be something wrong in my head. Just a couple of weeks ago, I woke up at the bottom of a well, and when I climbed out, I found that I was on an island inhabited mostly by feral dogs and a giant mean guy with a scythe. If the dogs didn’t get me, the big ugly dude decapitated me. It wasn't a nice place, made worse by my not knowing how I got into the well or how to get out of it.
If that was bad, this time was worse: not only did I wake again without a clue where I was or why I was in an unfamiliar dorm room, but I also became brutally aware that there was now a second voice in my head. If nothing else, having an unwanted “guest” in your head can be more than a little disconcerting, but it’s far, far worse if that voice accuses you of being in his body! The icing on top of that especially repugnant cake is when the guy with the voice is a petulant jerk.
Go ahead, ask me how I know.
Yep, this guy was a real piece of work, but as it turned out he was not the worst person I was going to encounter that day. In fact, he was the only one that I only mildly wanted to kill. You see, in my ignorance…. I opened the door. It went downhill fast from there! Mutated Zombie Cyborgs were all over the place! And they were even less happy to make my acquaintance than the guy in my head/the guy whose body I had invaded had been. They were also quite a bit more prone to violence against me/us. It was a close thing, but I was able to grab a big steel pipe and pound them into a pile of actually-truly-dead-this-time carcasses.
My in-head buddy and I had found something we could agree on: we needed to get out of the A-Tech Cybernetics lab as quickly as possible.
We also agreed that it was quite likely that we would have to wade through hordes and swarms of these guys, although my obnoxious brain pal helpfully pointed out that “hordes and swarms” are synonymous, to which I replied with a carefully considered counter-point, which was “shut up.” His point was valid, of course: we/I would have to find a better weapon than the steel bar. With all of the dead people lying around, some of whom were wearing military garb, it didn’t take long to find a couple of guns and an adequate amount of ammo.
It was time to get out of this place!
Or, and this was the path I chose, I could simply take off the Rift headset and take a break.
A-Tech Cybernetics isn’t a real place, of course. Rather, it is the name of a VR shooter being put together by an indie developer called Xreal Games. Currently being sold on Steam as an Early Access title, A-Tech Cybernetics offers up two primary modes of play: story mode, which currently has two chapters, and swarm mode for people that just want to kill/maim cybernetic zombies. That latter crowd won’t even be bothered by the incongruity and innate conflicts in the very idea of a cybernetic zombie, but the “tell me a story” folks may at some point find out how something that was never actually alive can be considered to be a living dead person.
Life was a lot easier to understand a few years ago when everything was about vampires. Although when you think about it, weren’t they kind of live but dead too? Has anyone done a VR solitaire game yet? I could get my head round that…. but this stuff with the undead unsettles me.
So, you start the game as described above, albeit after a short, optional tutorial that demonstrates the mechanics of mobility and weaponry. That kind of stuff is becoming fairly standard these days, and A-Tech follows along with a fairly typical methodology. Motion is via either or both of teleportation and move-the-thumb-stick walking. I ended up, as I usually do, using a mix of both. Teleportation is less disruptive to my balance, but it’s a relatively coarse way to move in that it isn’t quite precise enough (or I’m just not good at it) to get positioned exactly as needed to activate a door switch, open a drawer, or whatever.
Picking stuff up is similarly intuitive. Also, putting your guns in their holsters and ammo in your pouch are every bit as persnickety and fallible as it is in a lot of other similar games. Even grabbing a gun back out of the holster while in a swarm-induced panic often resulted in a counterattack comprised of me pointing a finger at a charging zombie and ineffectively pulling on what would be the trigger if I actually had a gun in my hand.
Good way to die, that.
With the basics out of the way, you soon find yourself hunting through a military-esque kind of facility crowded with storage crates, electronics consoles, and dead bodies. Waypoint indicators guide you through your search, even though you aren’t exactly clear about what you’re searching for. Not to worry, though, because Mr. Chattyface in your head provides a running commentary. You soon learn to be prepared for a swarm and/or horde to come flying at you whenever you open a door. Sometimes they don’t, but more times than not… they do. That’s fairly easy to handle if you have plenty of ammo, and a little less easy to get through if you only have a melee weapon or your bare hands. The real trouble comes when they pop up behind you. You can often hear them coming, which helps, but it can get pretty awkward when you haven’t finished off the crowd in front of you yet. It’s a tough thing to multitask, I’m here to tell you.
In its current state, there are two chapters to the story. It’s more than a little exaggeration to use the word “story,” if I’m being honest. I’m not sure what the word is for snarky, belittling, and utterly useless commentary, but that’s what’s really going on inside your/his head. The two chapters also go by pretty quickly, although that could very well be due to my having selected “Tea Party” as my chosen difficulty level. Naturally the completeness of the story is one of those areas where we give a little latitude to an Early Access title - there will likely be more to it by the time full release comes around.
What you do want to see in Early Access is a more or less stable game with most, if not all, of the mechanics in place. Other than my difficulty with dropping things on the ground accidentally, everything worked pretty well. I was able to move around easily enough, although I do have a tendency to get myself all twisted up in the Rift headset cable. The hands that you stole/inherited/borrowed from the chucklehead in your, uh, head, are very, uh… handy when it comes to picking things up as they have the power to retrieve certain items via some kind of attractive force, and the weapons work great when and if you manage to grab them out of the holsters. There is ample variety in the types of mutant-cyborg-zombie-not-vampires to keep them interesting, with some being slow, some being fast, some having weapons, some being twice the size (or more) of the “normal” ones, and some being sneaky. They do tend to gather in a cluster which makes mowing them down as easy as can be, although that can get a bit tricky when ammo runs low. Pro tip: a correctly applied crowbar makes their heads explode like a December Jack ‘O Lantern.
If there are any weaknesses inherent in this Early Access, they are a lack of any intelligence at all in the cyborg zombies and a story that really doesn't tell a story. An argument can be made that zombies aren’t intended to be smart, cyborg or not, but the mindless swarming to the choke point of an open door where they can easily be dealt with wholesale is not going to keep a player’s interest too very long. Personally, I could not care less about the story, but opinions will vary broadly on that subject. There is definitely potential here, but to be a truly great game there will likely need to be more to the story than just chopping your way through a horde of swarming zombies, or a swarming horde of zombies, or, well, whatever they want to identify as.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.