The VR Conundrum

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there's a frog in my snake oil
Ok I’m mainly just playing the Talos DLC (which is pleasingly tricksy )

But this is good news:

Ubisoft hiring for a AAA VR game based on one of their ‘greatest IPs’

We are building a brand-new team to work on an unannounced AAA VR project. You will work on cutting-edge VR technology, on one of Ubisoft’s greatest IP’s which will be developed across multiple studios. Join us today to shape the future of VR!
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Virtual Reality chatter on a movie site? Got endless amounts of it here. Reviews over here



there's a frog in my snake oil
The Talos Principle: Road to Gehenna



Great that this came free with the VR release (where penny pinching and content curtailing is by far the norm)

Really rounded it out nicely. Kept the difficulty up at a challenging level but never really became super frustrating. Each sub-world normally contains around 4 puzzles, so if one has you totally stumped you can always go and try another on for size for a bit. (It meant I had that overnight 'Aha!' moment for one or two of them that made them more pleasure than pain )

Definitely more hand-on-hips ‘this is impossible’ moments with these ones, but generally you poke some physics or step back and reassess and something usually clicked. Some great locations in the mix too, with more use of open spaces and puzzles being built into the environments themselves. (Lots more fan-based flying through the air too. Woo )



The narrative this time is based around an online forum of trapped AIs, which works surprisingly well. You tap into their online world of creative malcontents as you in turn attempt to free them from their individual prisons. It has the trick of ‘humanising’ the robotic NPC forms that you'll finally set loose as you get to know them. It's all good, so long as you don't mind reading terrible AI fanfic

---

Definitely bumps the original review up at least about (+). (I'm still only being hesitant on the scoring because the opening 1-2hrs really are that dry, and the core puzzle tools are just... well they're just not quite Portal . Robust and tricksy as they end up being )




there's a frog in my snake oil
Second Look: Robinson: The Journey



Another great-looking Cryengine game. This looks even more fabulous at points now I can whack up the graphics.

This giant dino was a bit of a showstopper. But the general menagerie of hanging pangolins, swooping pterosaurs and rabid velociraptors is all pretty great.

The downsides are that the core game somehow feels pitched at 12-year-olds, with a kid protagonist, a clunky robot companion, lots of 'scan all the beasties' mini-game busy-work, and fairly simple physics for fairly simple 'complete the task' puzzles early on.

It also grinds my gears that you can't turn the head-locomotion off, so wherever you look, you go. Which in a gorgeously-built world like this (with a very slow walking pace) is a bit of travesty, when all you want to do is look around and soak it in as you go.

Still, the climbing is fun, the environmental puzzles not always straight-forward, and I got distracted quite easily trying to scan the diplodocus's giant scan signature just now




there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: Synthesis Universe - Chapter 00



What to say about this. A VR-head's long-held dream, it's essentially an interactive short featuring retro controls (gaze interaction), an indie Tron-like sensibility, and synth music in spades.

It's also absurdly short. And for all the extra little world-building details tucked around the audio-led environments in the latter scenes, it's more of an opening to a thing than a thing itself.

It is kind of cool, don't get me wrong. I was distracted by moving around to the music (not that it was required really), playing with the odd interaction involving position, watching tiny and large creations assemble. And at one point I did feel like I was inside a 3D rendering of Another World



Jusssst, without the actual game bit. And it also all felt strangely dated already.

More fool me for spending £6 on a curtain raising chapter that's been years in the works I guess

-



there's a frog in my snake oil
Aus, these all look worth a snag:



3 rated indie puzzle titles and one history lesson

(The Abode ones are slightly cheaper still in their own bundle. All their games use teleport I believe / are super comfortable etc)



there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: Robinson: The Journey



Slow at first, and mollycoddled by robot-butler tutorials, this takes its time to to get you off the homestead and out into the wilds. But it does eventually evolve into 'Jurassic Park in Space' . It also happens to look fricking grand while doing it, with jumbles of shattered tech, lush-leaved overgrowth, and Cretaceous creations lurking around every corner.

It's a genuine marvel at points, a AAA adventure in VR. And it's also a minor marvel that they manage to lose a lot of this goodwill along the way, with unfortunate misteps accompanying every solid stride they take...

Whether it's the kid-friendly pitch simplifying the suspense, or nascent VR best-guesses missing their AAA target, it's a bumpy ride. But worth getting on the roller coaster for...



The Bad With The Good:

There are many pluses here, and it is worth emphasising that. But the minuses that accompany each one do inhibit the overall ascent to VR glory....
  • The climbing is deployed effectively, leaving you dangling from entangled ropes while a pterosaur harries you, or taking you into the absurd heights of a rainforest's upper reaches. (See above). But then it also flips you 90 degrees for certain grasps, and clips your head into things in inexplicable ways (plunging you into darkness, and occasionally to your death). This does add a certain frisson to climbing jungle vines, but not always for the right reasons. (Especially when you fail to raise yourself onto the safety of a final plateau, but clip adroitly through it instead...)
  • Physics interactions are always welcome in a VR game. Although they're limited to specific items here, flinging large shards of metal around with the help of a strength-boosting field is all good fun. Unfortunately the actual fine-controls are hilariously terrible. And carrying larger items causes a VERY ANNOYING HAPTIC BUZZ to vibrate your controller like a faulty Malaysian sex toy.
  • The world is lush but you navigate it by 'head orientation' alone. So wherever you look, you go. Which is flat out annoying when, thanks to the slow walking speed, you want to gander at your surroundings as you amble. And when walking along a tree branch a 1000 ft in the air, and instinctively peeking over the edge, it's flat out dangerous... (This aspect highlights a lot of the early-days VR missteps they've made. They did really well with the amount they tackled, and how close they got to the mark. But each solution lacks some major licks of Quality of Life, given how quickly the dev solutions have progressed.)
  • The child's-eye wonder of dinosaurs is great here, and the strongest strand. From their giant shifting silhouettes in misty tar pits, to upfront views of stoical chewing in the treetops, as you try not to get shoved off a branch by an exploratory nuzzle. And on the danger end, Raptors eyeball you and sniff into the stalk with horror-triggering sinuousness. But the young-teen narrative intervenes here too, blunting some claws, as they announce their capture of you with a triumphant roar akin to a cut-scene, rather than a scene of gore. (Which in some ways I'm kind of glad of, but it does undercut the moment too, and remind you that this whole game has a strange 12+ sheen throughout).


  • The mini game to connect electrical supplies makes lovely use of the 'tilt shift' effect, allowing you to see each beautifully constructed zone in cutesy miniaturised form. But the puzzles themselves feel somewhat stapled on.
  • The pet dino is cute, if slightly ludicrously so, and works well if simply enough as an occasional narrative hook and in the puzzle-solving too. But the command structure used is cumbersome, forgettable, and written down nowhere in particular. (Which doesn't help when the 'fetch' command isn't used for hours and then you're expected to recollect that it exists, and what the button combo is...)

So it's something of an up-down affair to play. Loving it one minute, hitting a wall of nope the next.

But as I said elsewhere, when it all pulls together, this is some Lost in Space meets The Goonies VR goodness...

(And alright yes, it's like Robinson Crusoe as well )

++/--




there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: Abode



An early escape-the-room puzzle box, with a cartoony cyber-PI vibe. Simple but pleasingly done for the most part. Indie with the edges rounded off. You can interact with almost everything in the room, which invites lots of further poking and prying. The simple system of 'discover hints to discover more hints' as you unlock the various locked boxes around the room works well, even if none of the puzzles are particularly gruelling.

Telelport with the odd novel interaction mechanic thrown in.

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Review: Conductor



Even though this was a larger affair, with an actual over-arching narrative, and a neatly realised Steampunk world, I actually enjoyed this slightly less. I think perhaps it was because larger areas led to more teleporting about looking for the puzzle. Things felt more satisfying when they returned to enclosed room puzzles, armed now with a bonus physics gun. (Even if a slightly glitchy one, which was liable to spam items away unrecoverably in the more open spaces...). When they tried to go even bigger, using large external objects as the puzzle, it sometimes felt like a chore to move everything into place, rather than a playful experiment.

The central motif of a train, which you fuel by hand to get between the locations, was cute. But it didn't really feel like added a huge amount beyond vibe. (It would have been nice if the engine had powered a puzzle at some points perhaps). Still a fine little indie puzzler hour or so for a couple of quid

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there's a frog in my snake oil
First Look: Touring Karts

I stayed up too late for a proper Alyx session. Got sucked into this instead :/. It’s pretty fun! First person Mario Kart with tons of silly weapons and upgrades. All motion controller. Pretty neat, and beckons for one-more-go. Liking the various track perils and how they change them up for the last lap. Strangely hasn’t felt too unfair so far.

The drifting is arcadey (along with everything ) but it works. Liking the hand-held weapons, and the way you can combine power-ups.




there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: Touring Karts



This is actually a pretty great Mario Kart clone

I’ve been playing it in first person with motion controller steering. One-handing around corners while you grab a weapon box and fling the resulting chicken at a competitor is pretty great.

Everything from the steering to the ‘boost when you nail the drift’ mechanic is pretty arcadey, but that’s all good. It all gels with the giant hazards that tumble around the track, the ludicrous weapon combos that stack up, and the chained boosts that can see you scudding past rivals in an arial attack

There’s a load of simple motivators stuffed in too, from the car upgrade lootboxes, to the track unlocks via race challenges (‘squash five cars with a giant chicken’), to speed buffs from every weapon hit.

What elevates it all is the sheer cumulative carnage. The tracks aren’t always the most inspired in shape, but somehow the various ignoble deaths by giant robot legs haven’t felt grievously unfair, and the times you carve a path through the valley of cartoon death have felt great. Both happen frequently in a race.

Chaining boosts up ramps, steering through the air, fly-drifting between giant clashing hammers. Combining power-ups to create a chicken bazooka on the fly. Watching a shadow spread as a giant monkey flies overhead in a giant UFO, and you wonder if he's going to chuck a keg of dynamite on your head, like the one in a zeppelin above the finishing line. Scooting over the tip of a tentacle to gain a boost before it rears out of its hole and slams you... The general melee of suddenly gigantified cars, cars sliding by encased in iceblocks, and sudden spicy chickens to the face. It’s all good cartoon fun

If the tracks themselves just had that final extra twist of Mario Kart pizzazz, it'd be arcade grandeur from start to finish.

EDIT: Having encountered some bugs in later tracks which are a touch more shovelware than shiny, I've knocked some points off the rating. But on the plus side the driving model for the top tier cars is slightly less arcade-shonk. Slightly

--- [possible nausea]



there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: Rick & Morty: Virtual Rick-ality



This is well worth a pick up in a sale. Lots of condensed, silly, quality. Just a very short play time. (£5 for nearly 2hrs felt fine in the end though).

I only know the show in passing, but it was a lot of fun to delve into what's essentially an interactive episode. On the gameplay front it's somewhere between a puzzle game and a comedy 'job simulator'. Lots of pleasing presentation in the mix, and at least one tricksy little interaction mechanic, elevated what was at core a 'Play with things / get pointed to the peculiar solution / do it' simulator though.

Although a larger play space is required in theory, they get around this pretty neatly by letting you play as an extra large player. I still found the odd gameplay item perilously close to being out of reach in some of the dimensions you visit, but with the help of a novel pair of extended hands in the main garage room most everything was do-able.

They extended the sandboxiness of the few tiny realms with some fun easter-eggs (cassettes of the creator waxing lyrical mainly, but some were funny enough to be worth tracking down. I liked the radio show interview with 'The Scream of Death'). And the generally absurd commitment to absurdity....

There's a puzzle tool that allows you to blend any item in the room with any other item. I created this living eyeball by gigantifying a bouncy eyeball I found in a jar, then combining it with... well with some poo. Which I'd made by eating a laxative from another dimension...

It bounced very well. Played basket ball with it for a while...

I think that probably sums it up

+(+)



there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: Abode 2



The best de-puzzle-the-room offering from these guys yet. Slicker graphics and a voluble robot helper transport you into the Blade-Runner-esque environment, with its two-story window dappled by rain.

It's mainly an overlapping affair of pushing one puzzle on a step, realising it's unlocked a key part for another one, and circling around between them, narrowing down on the solutions.

The robo-butler helps by gathering up items of importance and tagging around after you, so they're always to hand. He'll also give you handy hint if you're feeling particularly stuck, but I only felt the need to use it once.

The moment when they provide you with a VR mask, while a well-worn trope, exemplified the decent production values, inventiveness, and humorous expectation-flips in the game.

Indie glitches and inconsistencies still accompanied the journey though. Place a future-pipe in your mouth and puff away happily, one minute, and all is good. Try and eat a loaf of bread the next and get physics-flung across the room by the contact . Typos abound everywhere, and the sound levels are amazingly uneven. And the robo-butler will fastidiously snatch items back out of your hand, leading to frequent wrestling matches...

Still, when it all slinks along in time to the detective music, it's a fine evening's entertainment all told

(+)



there's a frog in my snake oil
EDUCATIONAL EXPERIMENTS


Hololab Champions



A valiant but bizarre attempt to turn chemistry education into a lurid game show. Like a serious ‘job simulator’, which also cracks jokes like your unfunny uncle. Slick presentation by the I Expect You to Die guys, and an interesting peek into edu potential. But yeahhhh, making measuring mililitres by the miniscus engaging is a tough sell...

(+)

Historium VR



There was a moment, as the loaded boat left the misty beach, and then approached the dawn-flushed walls of 15thC Bruges, that this was some intriguing living history. The giant human ‘gerbil wheels’ of the docking crane were some good aspects to bring to life. You could forgive the identical monks talking on the balcony, and the other ‘not quite brought to life’ aspects. A glimmer of what historical recreation could do, but I’m not really convinced budgets will ever match aspirations here. (Was worth the £1 entry fee though )

--



there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: The Dawn of Art

This is a great, glossy use of photogrammetry to reconstruct a site, and bring it to life.

They present the cave in two forms, and both are good. The first is a slightly fantastical narrative, starting with a recreation of the gorgeous inhabited gorge as well, and then neatly inviting you into the cave through the symbolic lighting of a torch. Sparks rush and flow, cave art animates, and it's all very slickly done.

The real treat, and the harder history, comes when you enter the cave though. The use of a flaming hand-held torch is a neat touch, but it's the simple ability to appreicate the curved shape of the paintings on the rock walls (thanks to the binocular vision), and crouch and nose around to catch them from different angles, that makes you feel like you've really been there.



The second approach is a more austere 'cave tour', with torchlight pointing wherever you face, some beacons you can teleport to for points of interest, and some more academic chat regarding the core scenes, and some additional ones that add welcome context. Here you can again appreciate to really excellent quality of the image capture, and the striking sweeps of some of the original artwork. (Although there were a few areas where I seemed to get dumped in some lesser rendered spots, and couldn't find the art at all ). The two 'guardians' of the entrance portal were a highlight.

---

I'm knocking some points off because the narrative voice-over was full of broad and sometimes fatuous artistic license (which was thankfully undercut slightly by the precision of the tour guide). And because there was no deeper info inside the app to delve into (although it did inspire me to read up on more, which is ultimately good. Who knew caves are often found by watching condensation in the slanted light of winter dawns ). Also, it's pretty darn short. But hey, it's also totally free

+++ [FREE]



The Adventure Starts Here!
Aus, these all look worth a snag:



3 rated indie puzzle titles and one history lesson

(The Abode ones are slightly cheaper still in their own bundle. All their games use teleport I believe / are super comfortable etc)
Just seeing this now. Arrrgh! Those look like Steam sales (from the graphic). I've had an occasional glitch with Steam VR games (versus getting games directly from Oculus). I'm gonna go open up Steam and put these on my Wishlist, at least (since I likely missed the sale).



there's a frog in my snake oil
Just seeing this now. Arrrgh! Those look like Steam sales (from the graphic). I've had an occasional glitch with Steam VR games (versus getting games directly from Oculus). I'm gonna go open up Steam and put these on my Wishlist, at least (since I likely missed the sale).
Cool yep, there can be the odd issue using SteamVR, but there's only one game I've ever had just flat out never worked (Portal Stories - a freebie). The biggest issue is normally just minor performance loss if SteamVR is running alongside the Oc software. (Worth checking that the game def supports Rift though etc. Even though loads that say Vive only will actually work).

And yeah all those puzzle room ones are worth a jump on a sale. They seem to dip down quite frequently.



The Adventure Starts Here!
Hey, @Golgot ... I've got my VR set up with two sensors. A friend mentioned that three are better, but it dawned on me that I don't know if you have two or three sensors -- or a headset that doesn't require them. Thoughts? I haven't tried mine since rearranging my office (just too busy), but now the sensors are up a little higher and are at a better distance from where I'll be playing/sitting/standing.

I circled the sensors in red here:




there's a frog in my snake oil
Hey, @Golgot ... I've got my VR set up with two sensors. A friend mentioned that three are better, but it dawned on me that I don't know if you have two or three sensors -- or a headset that doesn't require them. Thoughts? I haven't tried mine since rearranging my office (just too busy), but now the sensors are up a little higher and are at a better distance from where I'll be playing/sitting/standing.

I circled the sensors in red here:

I use 2 on the same CV1 headset. You can use the ‘experimental 360’ set up to get full coverage. (IE one in front, one behind). Works really well for modest spaces like ours.

Was a bit of a faff to mount the cameras up high / tidy the cables. Has been worth it in the long run though



Registered User
Hey I am the worst driving, over hyper car enthusiast on the planet. I've played every GT, have the original "bible" instruction manual and still can't set up a car.
It would be great!



there's a frog in my snake oil
Hey I am the worst driving, over hyper car enthusiast on the planet. I've played every GT, have the original "bible" instruction manual and still can't set up a car.
It would be great!
As in VR for racing sims?

Yeah it’s definitely big with the racing crowd . I only dip into that world but loved Dirt Rally in VR, and Project Cars 2 too. Something about being able to glance around the corners as you start to slide round them

Even though every car I tried to adjust I also made worse



there's a frog in my snake oil
Trip Report: Fallout 4 VR

Ok so I've hit the late-game load-time issue. (Like 3 mins+ when fast travelling :/)

So whenever I can trek to a destination, or chain missions, I've been doing that. Ended up having a grand free-form adventure the other night. The big notes were:



  • Headed out to a dropbox for the Railroad. Decided not to engage some Raiders on a high vantage point who had at least one rocket launcher and two sets of Power Armour.
  • Deacon immediately engaged the Raiders...
  • Thankfully as we fell back down a hill under rocket fire, to the sound of advancing gyros, some ghouls attacked us from behind and a small 3-way fight ensued with the advanced Raider scouts in a cluttered gulley.
  • By the time we emerged the remaining Raiders had got bored and inexplicably stepped out of their Power Armour. So we picked them off, and got dressed to impress in their gear. (I don't know how Deacon managed to lose all the actual armour on his, but he did). We were tooled up for an adventure
  • The next location we walk past is another Raider camp, full of screams, with a green glowing Deathclaw in the middle lit up by the local flames...
  • While kiting the Deathclaw around a car, dropping grenades as I go, I can't help but notice that Deacon is fighting some Raiders. Some of whom are on fire.
  • As I'm back-peddling across a street a sudden gust of wind precedes two Brotherhood guys dropping with heavy clanks either side of me. They immediately ignore the radioactive Deathclaw, turn their guns on me, and shoot either side of my shoulders. At the second Deathclaw that has just appeared from behind a gas station. I managed not to reflexively shoot them in the face. (Ok I did fire one shot, but I missed )
  • The area was pacified. We skirted the lake towards the toxic fog of the South West. Saw another Deathclaw high on the hill against moon. Picked a fight with that too. Somehow got into a fist fight with it. Got most of my armour knocked off . (I'm not sure if there's an actual animation for armour hitting zero health and getting stowed in your inventory, but it felt like it at the time. There seemed to be a lot of scrap metal on the floor afterwards too )
  • This was the first ten minutes

Events continued in various odd and beguiling ways. But to be brief
  • Fought scavengers in the toxic mists amongst a run-down shanty town
  • Skirted a small submerged town, full of gunfire, and saw something large and dog-like scamper across a rope bridge into the welcoming warmth of a shattered building.
  • Found someone locked in a fridge
  • Ran away from a military encampment defended by a cloaked samurai droid
  • Saw a multitude of ghouls called things like 'Mrs Robinson' surrounding some Raiders on a hillside. Left them to it.

And generally just shifted between weather patterns and day-light cycles, transitioning from ravaged wild lands to the twisted skeleton of Boston.

Was grand