First off – a bit about myself and my play space.
My name is Dominic Donegan and I was born legally blind, with vision of about 20/300 in my left eye, and 20/400 in my right. I can see color, and in my everyday life I can usually get by with a combination of some type of magnifier (or just being allowed to look really closely at things), and the zoom on my camera to see things far away. I have been a gamer my entire life, and when VR became popular, I was what one might describe as an “early adopter”. I am playing Raw Data on the HTC Vive (OG version).
The space in which I currently play is my living room, in a space that is about 3 x 2 meters. I have played this game in smaller spaces, and I would say that while the bigger the better, this is one game that does pretty well in smaller spaces if necessary (just be careful not to bump into anything)!
Raw Data is a few years old now, having finally exited Steam Early Access in October 2017. It has been around much longer than that however, and VR enthusiasts will tell you it’s the closest thing VR had to a triple A title for a very long time.
This game is gorgeous. The voice acting is fun and of decent quality. The game features a campaign mode, various multiplayer modes, and engaging tutorials and training areas. Character progression is solid and has depth. At the time of my writing this review, there are 4 playable characters available to choose from. Depending on which you choose, how playable this game will be for you if you are a visually impaired player, may vary.
But before I get into that, let’s talk menus and UI.
To decide whether a VR game is going to be playable for me as a low-vision player, one of the first questions I ask is about the menus. How’s the font size? Can it be enlarged? Can we get close to menus without them closing / auto-moving away from us / getting a “You Are Leaving the Play Space” error?
For Raw Data, the font size would be considered average for VR, which means likely too small for most VI players. That said, one tool we have at our disposal when playing VR games is the ability to approach a menu and get close enough to read it (just as we might do for a sign in real life). Thankfully, Raw Data allows this.
Okay, so we can navigate the menus. But can we actually play?
The answer to that one is more complicated and goes back to those 4 playable characters I mentioned. To Survios (the developer)’s credit, the play-styles for each character vary greatly and result in vastly different gameplay experiences. In most cases, this is something to be praised, but for visually impaired players, it can make things complicated. So to start, I will give my thoughts on each character type, from the perspective of a low-vision player.
- Bishop “Don’t yield. Dual Wield.”
Bishop is what I would describe as a “first-person shooter” type character.
This character, while likely a lot of fun to play, is the one I have most trouble with as a visually impaired player. He holds a gun in each hand, and boy do they look and feel great to shoot – but I just can’t see the enemies from far enough away to play him effectively. The idea is that you’re supposed to see the enemies and shoot them before they get close, and once they get close, it’s already too late. The problem with this is that I am not able to see the enemies or shoot them accurately until they are already swarming me. To help with this, Bishop also has a melee punch attack that allows him to charge forward through a group, but that wasn’t enough to make this character a viable option for me. Your mileage may vary.
- Boss, “Demolition Man’.
Boss is a shotgun-wielding, grenade-throwing badass of a character who looks a bit like Morpheus from The Matrix. He has a shotgun that you have to cock before you shoot it, so it’s basically the old, click-click boom, Doom-style character.
Depending on which trigger you pull, you might blast a shot from your gun or launch a grenade out of it. Bishop is more of a mid-range character that does not necessarily need to fire accurately to survive. Still, his shots do not fire projectiles that I am able to see, so this character, while fun, is not my first choice. Cocking your gun and pulling the left and right triggers, all while keeping your hands up and together can be a bit like the old “pat your belly and rub your head” exercises, which some players might find challenging if complex movements and high levels of coordination is not their thing. Speaking as a low-vision player I would say Boss is a “fun” option, but for serious players who want to do well or play competitively with other players, he may not be the best choice.
Third in line is
- Saija, “Sharp blade. Deadly mind.”
Saija is my personal favorite. She is a katana-wielding Jedi-like character not only capable of doing massive damage close-up, but she is also able to throw her katana, which is definitely the easiest ranged attack in the game (or possibly any VR game I have encountered thus far) to see and aim. While a bit tricky control-wise, once you get the hang of it, Saija can send that huge, glowing katana spinning to the other side of the room, attacking multiple enemies from a respectable distance. That means anything you can’t reach with her powerful close-range katana attacks, you can take care of with a thrown weapon attack that you can actually see the entire time. And the coolest part? It comes back to your outstretched hand automatically like some sort of lightsaber boomerang. Saija is a force to be reckoned with, and in my opinion, the easiest to play for visually impaired players.
Finally we have
- Elder, “Make them quiver.”
Elder is the latest addition to the cast of playable characters in Raw Data, and is reminiscent of the Green Arrow character from the comic books. His primary weapon is a bow and arrow combo, which requires use of both hands. His secondary weapon is the ability to place automated turrets on the battlefield. This character is one of the most fun to play, and some low-vision players may be able to play him effectively since his arrows glow bright green, which makes them easy to see. The turrets he can place may also prove helpful to VI characters, since they automatically shoot at enemies, which, aside from contributing to our damage output can also help us figure out where to point our bow and arrow when an enemy is too far away for us to see clearly (this goes double for flying drones)! That said, if you have issues with depth perception, it may prove difficult to pull off accurate shots, as it was for me. Still, the bow and arrow mechanic feels quite good and if you would like to try a ranged character, Elder is a fun and slightly more viable alternative to Bishop.
Now regardless of which character I played, there were certain unavoidable issues I did encounter during my playthrough of the game.
For example, larger maps sometimes proved challenging for me. Stage 4 was the first point at which I began feeling like being a VI player was a detriment in the game. The larger stages in the game require you to have an awareness of things happening all over the place, over a relatively large game space. I imagine it would help if you could simply look around and gauge the situation, but that is a luxury that I as a VI player, do not have.
In an attempt to learn more, I tackled this stage with a friend in cooperative multiplayer and later, in single-player mode. I do believe that with enough practice, I could probably work out an effective strategy to win with the help of a friend. However, it is worth noting that this was the first time I did feel like a bit of a burden on my team because I just wasn’t able to keep up as well as I would’ve liked.
I acknowledge that this issue may be unique to me, but I decided to list it here because it was the first time I had an issue that I felt might be related to my vision.
Despite the challenges, Raw Data is still an amazing game and I had hours of fun playing it alone, with friends, and introducing it to people new to VR.
Raw Data is one of the highest quality VR games available today, and as an old school gamer who prefers their VR games have the depth of non-VR games, this one is everything I had been wanting from a VR game for a long time.
That said, it is possible you will encounter issues when playing certain characters, or on certain larger stages later in the game. I personally feel that the game is of a high enough quality to be worth a look for visually impaired players regardless of these challenges, and would recommend it to fellow low-vision VR enthusiasts.
Dominic is a lifelong gamer who has been legally blind since birth. His interest in games eventually led him to Japan, where he lived for over a decade. During that time, Dominic further explored his interest in games and discovered his passion for game accessibility. He has since returned to his home state of California, where he continues to raise awareness of the benefits of accessibility in the game industry and beyond.