Dead and Buried is the latest game to come from the first-party Oculus Studios; built specifically for the company’s Touch controllers, the game has you gunning down targets backset by an old west mining operation. With your hands directly in the game, there’s room for your own style to break through into the experience.
“Step into a world full of gunslingers and ghosts in Dead & Buried. Grab your Touch controllers and become the best shooter in the wild west. Live by the gun and die by the gun, so practice up if you wish to see another day,” reads the official description of Dead and Buried, a new Touch title from Oculus which made its debut at Connect 2015 this past week.
The game somehow manages to mash together the old west with some ghoulish lore. At the outset, the ghost of a cliché crotchety old miner holds out two revolvers which look to be imbued with some sort of demonic essence. He motioned for me to grab them and I stepped forward and used the Touch controller’s ‘hand trigger’ (on the side of the device) to grip one pistol in each hand.
From here the ghost guide walked me through the basics of firing at a few simple targets which popped up in front of me. Aiming with Oculus Touch couldn’t be easier—just point and shoot. The pistols have a sort of laser sight which projects a blue beam outward in the direction of your aim, though it quickly fades away to leave some room for longer skill shots that actually benefit from looking properly down the gun’s iron sights.
Modern non-VR shooters introduce artificial weapon shake to make firing weapons harder and more realistic. In Dead and Buried, there’s no need for this as Touch tracks your hands so accurately that your hand’s natural micro-instability translates into the game, making it quite difficult to squeeze off long range shots without taking time to look down the iron sights and steady yourself.
Scattered about the level are plenty of cans and bottles that you can cap in between rounds of target-shooting for extra points. The target rounds slowly increase in difficulty as you go along by appearing in more distant parts of the level or moving such that you have to time your shots carefully.
The reloading mechanic strips away the pain of putting individual bullets into the revolver’s chamber and leaves only the fun: any time you need to reload, just whip the gun to the side to automatically discard spent casings while new bullets pop in, all accompanied by the satisfying clacking sound of the spinning chamber. After a second or so you’ll have a fully loaded chamber, then you just have to whip it back into the place by flicking your wrist in the opposite direction.
This simple and satisfying reloading mechanic becomes a minigame in and of itself, allowing you to build up a rhythm of firing one pistol while reloading the other just in time for your next shot, enabling a skillful player to maintain a continuous stream of bullets. Managing this while accurately knocking down targets around you is a blast, and, since you are in such direct control of the action, feels like you’re actually becoming more skilled at the task.
At one point your guns glow with a hot, demon red, giving you a brief period of unlimited firing without the need to reload. This comes in handy for the segment where a line of minecarts come speeding by the track in front of you and you have to lead your shots to hit the moving targets.
But if you really want to be a gun slingin’ badass, you’ll need some flare. And that’s where the gun spinning comes in: If you let go of the hand-trigger your gun will fall from your grip, now supported by your index trigger inside the trigger guard. If you move your hand appropriately, you’ll start spinning the pistol around our finger like a cocky cowboy.
This pistol spinning serves no function that I could divine other than giving you a way to show off. Interworking some spinning with accurate speed-shooting and well-timed reloading is something like a freestyle dance that really lets the player bring their own style and skill into the game. (Now just give me some fanning, and I’ll be in heaven).
And that’s what VR is all about: being inside the game. The actions in the game are dependent on your actual movements and not simply ‘Press X to reload’, ‘Press Y to spin gun’; you get to directly experience the game’s mechanics, and can build skill around those mechanics beyond simply pressing the right button at the right time. The player even has tools to express their own style in the game thanks to the directness of their input.
Combined together, this all just means that a well designed VR game can make you feel like the character in the world of the game in a far more significant way that we’ve ever been able to achieve with traditional gaming technologies. Dead and Buried made me feel like a gun slingin’ badass, and I can’t wait to see the many ways that other VR games can and will make me feel as developers further explore this amazing new medium.