I’m on a train speeding through the darkness of a subway tunnel. Is it the Bullet Train? It’s gotta be the bullet train. I’m riding the bullet train to the bullet station, and some bad dudes are about to get shot. My hands are cradling two Oculus Touch controllers, which feel just as good as they did when I tried them back at E3 (opens in new tab). My disconnected virtual hands float in space in front of me, following my every gesture.
Holding down one of the thumb buttons on top of the Touch kicks in slow motion and lets me see swirling, wormhole-esque teleport points, which I can point to with the Touch to instantly move through space. This is a solution for movement that we’re going to see a lot more of in VR: it avoids the motion sickness often induced by movement acceleration, and keeps me from wandering outside the tracking radius of the Oculus Rift’s IR sensor. The tutorial has me teleport down the train car, then pick up a pair of shiny pistols by clenching my middle finger onto the Touch’s “grab” button. it feels like making a fist. I aim at the targets and pull the trigger with my index finger to fire.
I fire. The targets sit there. I fire again. The targets sit there. I fire again. One of the targets pops out of existence. I am, apparently, a very bad shot. As the train pulls into the station, I spin my pistol up into the air so I can catch it like the cool guy in the Bullet Train trailer. I miss. The gun falls to the floor. I am not that cool.
Bullet Train isn’t really cool, either—it’s more silly than edgy. There’s no real challenge, no sense of danger; the enemies are generic sci-fi soldiers with garbly Stormtrooper voices and not much in the way of artificial intelligence. More than once I found myself actually clipping through an enemy that had run up to me. But Bullet Train is just a tech demo that Epic made in 10 weeks, and silliness works in its favor. As I’m wildly firing dual pistols into bad guys running across the train station, catching bullets and throwing them back, I’m reminded of that weird Clive Owen movie Shoot ‘Em Up. If I had a carrot in Bullet Train, I’m pretty sure I could kill someone with it.
As a tech demo, Bullet Train complements Oculus’s Toy Box, which showcases many ways you can use the Touch controllers. Bullet Train showcases two ways: shootin’ dudes and thrown’ bullets at dudes. Both are fun, and being wholly enveloped in a 3D space is a blast. It recaptures the magic of the first time I played Virtua Cop and was amazed by the 3D graphics and the gun I could point at the screen.
In Bullet Train, I most enjoyed plucking bullets as they came within reach and automatically slowed into bullet time. Hitting the bad guys with them took some aiming, but watching them ragdoll backwards or into the air, depending on the trajectory of the bullet, was just as fun as bolting enemies to the wall in F.E.A.R.
Picking up weapons, aiming and firing feels instantly intuitive, but teleportation doesn’t. It’s an effective way to crisscross the map, but it feels like an obvious band-aid for what you really want to do: walk around the virtual environment. Slower-paced adventure games that ape Myst will be able to use teleporting between areas to great effect. But in Bullet Train, teleporting was an unconvincing step beyond the confines of an on-rails shooter.
Then again, it’s a tech demo—maybe with more environmental interaction and a real need to dodge enemy attacks, developers can take what Epic’s built and use it to great effect.
You can read the rest of our coverage from Oculus Connect 2 here. I also chatted with one of Epic’s engineers about designing Bullet Train and optimizing UE4 for VR. Look for that interview in the next few days.