The year is 2271, the seemingly innocent Eden Corporation is in the robot creation business - and business is booming. Things aren't as innocent as they seem, however, as a leak reveals a sinister plot in the corp's latest product line, which is where this VR adventure starts off.
The premise for Raw Data feels heavily inspired by the works of Isaac Asimov and essentially puts you in the shoes of Will Smith in iRobot. The mission is to uncover the secrets plaguing Eden Corp, but in order to do so you'll have to fight for your life against an onslaught of mechanical men intent on ending your existence.
Raw Data promises to be a rip-roaring, futuristic technothriller packed full of goodness, but is it actually as interesting as it sounds?
The virtual gaming environment with chills
Raw Data has an enthralling sci-fi vibe. We love the futuristic setting - the built-up skyline out of the corporation windows, the mechanical men in various shapes and sizes, the talkative AI who's tagged along for the ride - which creates an atmosphere that gels perfectly with the story.
Most of the campaign levels take place on the various floors of the Eden Corp building as you make your way from lab to lab, trying to extract data from the systems to reveal what the company is up to.
This is where it becomes clear that Raw Data is a wave-shooter/tower-defence game at its core. Dropping into the first level, you insert a device to extract the data, then the alarm bells start ringing and the robots come baying for blood.
We love the introduction to the game, where a crazed bot smashes head-first through a glass panel in order to get at you - a scene we can't help but think we've seen before...
Each level is split into several phases, where you need to fight off waves of enemies while protecting your data core against the bots. Our first experience of this action was with a pistol-wielding character named Bishop (sci-fi references abound, eh?) whose fast-firing trigger is enough to handle those bots.
The levels follow a common theme: the first two maps are essentially the same setting - an almost identical clinical lab stuffed with robot production storage bays - but it's lights out for pitch dark shooting in round two. There's something quite unsettling about part-crippled robots leaping out of the shadows trying to get you. The visual effects and the lighting here further add to the sci-fi atmosphere of the game.
Later levels follow much the same logic. The dynamic changes slightly when dealing with larger rooms, though. In one lab, for example, there's a chamber where bots gather to "charge up" - don't spot that quickly enough to stop them and they'll merge into a type of devastating super robot who's much tougher to stop. This sort of thing adds a new challenge to the game.
Further in, you venture into an apparent oasis, with gardens and a fancy futuristic dome. The air is full of psychotropic drugs and hallucinations kick in as you try to battle your way through to the main room. Each section of the gardens is treated as a phase in a similar manner to the previous levels, deploying the data core and defending it as you go.
Where Raw Data really shines is in co-op mode. Loading up the game with a friend allows you to coordinate your attacks and make the most of the various heroes available, as well as the defence tools on offer.
Characters, weaponry and adaptable enemies
When playing Raw Data in the single-player campaign or co-op you get the choice to play between four different heroes: there's Bishop, the Gun Cleric; Saija, the Cyber Ninja; Boss, the Street Merc; and Elder, the Rogue Hunter. Each character offers different weaponry. Bishop sticks with pistols, Saija chops down enemies with an energy sword, Boss uses shotguns and Elder has an energy charge bow.
You need to play each character to get a hang of their weapons and find out which style works for you. It's very a different experience shooting robots with a bow to chopping them down with a sword. We found what works best depends on the way you play and the play space you have available.
We have an unfortunate habit of bashing things in the real world when we play VR games with swords in them, but if you have the space it might work for you. Long-range pistol gunplay is where we really shone and the bow is fun, but pulling back the drawstring soon gets tiring when you have to kill 120 or more enemies to complete a level.
Once you've chosen a hero, you're stuck with their weapons for the entire level, you can't pick up fallen enemy weapons no matter how much you might want to. Sticking with a hero does allow you to unlock upgrades for their arsenal though. Duel-wielding, charged shots, bust mode, grenade launchers and more will all make your life more interesting and the devastation you can deal more satisfying.
Working with a co-op partner you can mix up your heroes to get the best results and be prepared to fight at both long-range and short. Combining your abilities will help you find a swifter victory.
A variety of enemies make each battle interesting. The basic bots are unarmed and lumber around attempting to get close enough to punch you, while others have weapons to fire back. Armed drones buzz about your head and large rocket-firing metal beasts lurch out of the shadows to rain down fire upon your head. There are also behemoths who fire lasers from their eyes or charge up to dash at you in a devastating whirlwind. As if that wasn't enough, the occasional cloaked stealth robot will drop into the mix, swinging a sword and giving you a battering.
Some enemies are easily dealt with, others require a lot more work. Watching arrows bounce off the frame of a hulking great metal monster is hilarious, but keep trying and you will win in the end.
On later levels, you have the ability to deploy laser, plasma and mortar turrets around the map which can be used to help you defend the data core. These are especially helpful when you're playing alone as they can help deal with multiple threats from different angles. You can repair the turrets if they're damaged or replace them if they get destroyed, but they are limited, so you need to be careful with use.
The mechanics of movement and fighting fun
Like many other similar games, Raw Data uses the classic teleport movement system to allow you to get about. And there's a lot of moving about to get out of the way of enemies and avoid incoming fire.
Where things become interesting is when the charge for this teleport depletes if you try beaming around the map too quickly. This leaves you flailing on the sport when you're meant to be actively defending your data core.
On the larger levels, you need to take this movement restriction into account and not get too far away from the data core, otherwise risk getting stuck watching helplessly at a distance while it's being bashed to pieces.
For the most part, we found the weapons to be a joy to use and they worked as they should.
Pistols, for instance, are reloaded by grabbing a clip from your hip and slipping it into the bottom. Most games like this see you dropping your gun hand to your hip to reload or ejecting spent clips. Raw Data allows you to reload at any point, which is a bonus in a fast and frantic game like this.
The shotgun needs to be pumped with your spare hand or waved around like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2 to reload for the next shot.
The energy sword can be slashed and stabbed as you'd expect, but it's also possible to throw it out like a lightsaber-style frisbee that destroys all in its path.
The only real time we came unstuck was when a friend playing alongside us couldn't reload their pistol no matter how hard they tried. They died and the problem solved itself, but it seemed to be a bug rather than user error.
Death isn't absolute in Raw Data. You can respawn and carry on fighting to protect the data core - it's only when this is destroyed that you fail and have to start the level all over again (which can be painful if you've just fought your way through four consecutive waves of enemies). As it's also possible to deploy a dome shield to protect the core, the game becomes a bit of a breeze. Thankfully, however, there are plenty of difficulty levels to increase the toughness.
Overall, Raw Data is much like a lot of things we've seen before. It's another wave-based shooter with a few mildly interesting mechanics. It doesn't do much that other VR games haven't already cracked.
The design of Raw Data does have a lot going for it though. The graphics are impressive, the mild-RPG elements are engaging, the ability to play with friends online is a welcome addition, tracking is accurate, movement problem-free, and the gunplay works really well.
However, we did feel a bit frustrated with not being able to get access to more weaponry or upgrades, while many levels feel too similar in their tactic.
With around four or five hours of gameplay in the main campaign there's not a huge amount of content, but with access to co-op modes and player-versus-player - with cross-platform player support, which is a rare and welcome feature - you're bound to be able to get your money's worth.
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Alternatives to consider
Although perhaps not as visually pleasing, Sairento VR has a lot more going for it in terms of RPG elements if that's the sort of thing you're looking for. It's perhaps a tad more intense and yes, it doesn't feature robots, but there are a multitude of weapons to choose from, special abilities, pick-ups and more that make it highly interesting a lot of fun.
Read the full article: Sairento VR review: Fast-paced ninja action with a shuriken serving of role-play
Dead Effect 2 VR
The quality of the storyline and acting in Raw Data is far superior to that in Dead Effect 2 VR, but this other game also supports co-op play and has so many weapons to play with you won't know where to put yourself. There's a lot more content on offer making it much better value for money. Though be warned, the dark corridors are more foreboding and zombies will eat your brains given half a chance.
Read the full article: Dead Effect 2 VR review: An action-packed sci-fi joy that's rammed full of content