Something about Cyberpunk lends itself extremely well to virtual reality (VR). Perhaps because the technology is still no new, and its limits are still being explored. Perhaps it is something about that fusion of fantasy and technology, but either way, cyberpunk dystopia is what Labrodex Studio have chosen for the setting of its first VR project, futuristic shooter Scraper: First Strike.
Scraper: First Strike puts the player in the role of Casey Maxwell, a pilot of a ‘modified hover pod’ or MHP, and also a member of the Human Resistance force. In a world ravaged by war and disease robots called Humechs have taken over, and your job is to help get humans back into power again.
The action is set in a Texas of the far future, where the city of Austin has become ‘New Austin’, a mega-city which housed a vast population, food production towers, and robots that took care of everything. However, something went wrong when an AI saw a dangerous act of human aggression and decided to do something about it.
Though Scraper: First Strike is primarily a shooter, and this does involve blowing vast numbers of robots to bits, it does still raise the typical cyberpunk questions about the nature of humanity, and where the line between human and machine is drawn, or if it can be drawn at all. In this respect, it wears its inspiration on its sleeve, reflecting videogames like Deus Ex, and films like Blade Runner as well as the work of William Gibson and Phillip K. Dick.
Graphically, it looks amazing; sharp, crisp and beautifully designed with some very impressive visuals. There was some pop-in and framerate stutter on a GeForce 1060, but that might be fixed by the time it gets to full release with some optimisation.
One of the key factors for visual cyberpunk is contrast, showing a vast gulf between the elite and those who live on lower rungs of society. Scraper: first Strike has that down pat, with the chrome, bright colours and neon lights contrasting sharply with the darker corners of the city below as well as with the more muted spectrum used for the human resistance.
Some of the symbolism is a bit on-the-nose, such as naming the rogue AI in charge of the humechs ‘LCF-R’ (Lucifer, if it wasn’t obvious) but sometimes the anvil does need to be dropped.
Pleasingly, it is mostly a sitting experience, with a range of locomotion options that make it quite comfortable for a fairly long play session. There are tantalising hints of a broader world and richer history waiting to be explored, though some of that may well be confined to the planned companion novel.
Overall, Scraper: First Strike shows some definite promise, and if it can deliver on its hints of world-building and themes, it stands to be a great VR experience.