The VR Conundrum

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there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: Downward Spiral: Horus Station



This budget space-station odyssey manages to punch above its weight throughout.

The graphics are on the scrubbier end in the larger locales, but the scale itself is still very rewarding, with great layered verticality. A decent playground to zero-G about in, especially when it's some perilous robot production line you're scudding around.

Playing hide and seek amongst struts versus the various bots and drones is a lot of fun. (Even if they can be a bit daft and mass in weird places). Their sheer numbers encourage finding a protected route through the general expanses, and this only escalates as they and their armaments get bigger.

Having these explosive encounters lurking beyond the eerier stretches of decommissioned gear and echoing corridors elevated both of those core elements.

Puzzles were simple enough 'tab A for slot B' fare in the main, but I still managed to dumbass a few of them. This was purely because I was so happily flicking tactile switches, or pondering what that outgassing vent was about, and just generally getting lost in the Nostromo-esque vibe

Weapons & locomotion tools scale up as you progress nicely. (It's cool to see things like a reload shake for the space-shotgun and such like, and novel little takes on a sniper view). By the time it had turned into simple zero-G death ballets with giant floating mechs I was very much sold



Whoever made this game definitely loves VR. Just the little touches like being able to knock debris out of your way with your gun (physics interactions really add to the world) are a testament to that.

The 80s style mood and action music is very welcome (although occasionally it stays in high octane mode even after you've killed off all the threats in an area).

It does re-use a lot of assets and core 'puzzles' all told. But that helps them create this giant coherent station ultimately, and many of the huge future-industrial zones were still unique.

It's a slight shame that they re-furbished the free demo stage to become their end stage, so a certain surprise element was removed there if you've played it. But I still found their game mechanics and motifs of death and rebirth satisfying as they tied the whole telling-by-showing arc in a bow.

The biggest shame though is surely the name! It carries a Finnish dowdiness that isn't really represented by the the big Finnish, indie-cinematic, space adventure they take actually you on

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Here's some muggy footage of early drone combat and basic bobbing about. The later sections featuring sneaking past a droid [10m] and traversing a giant space expanse [14m] probably speak more to the highlights that stack up over time.

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there's a frog in my snake oil
Awww yeah, 'virtual joysticks' added, and some kind of wave mode with big ships coming in November...



This 'educational mod' is totally gonna get spanked one day for copyright, but until then, I'm gonna enjoy the goosebumps

(And honestly, even flying in a shonky formation, amongst the crumpled graphics, when the 'Red Leader standing by' dialogue plays, and you beep-boop your ailerons into place, it's just vibe central )



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



Took a punt on this Early Access parkour number.

It's currently purely a set of movement mechanics in a semi-generated time-trial map (of increasing fiendishness), with some basic gun action, AI enemies, and slow-time thrown in. That's it. But the move-set is actually pretty sweet

I think my favourite aspects is the 'double jump' where you vault off a second item to keep your momentum going. Can be very cool when you're plummeting towards an isolated island and need to keep that speed to reach the next ledge. Or when deployed as a bonus little bunny-hop to set yourself up for the next big leap.

Add in chaining aspects like wall runs, the odd Tarzan swing with a grappling hook, and grabbing a desperate corner to swing yourself up free-form style, and keeping ahead of the deadly time-trial line has been surprisingly diverting

Here's some YTer playing through the tutorial:



Supposedly they're going to add some more mini-game variants, before finally adding a story mode more along these lines...



I hope they do. The core of what they've got is promising



there's a frog in my snake oil
First Look: War Dust




This is the best kind of awful. Vehicles that steer like greased boars with their balls in a steel trap. Graphics like nasally-injected sandpaper. Absolutely no ability to jump over small walls.

But dammit. It's 32 vs 32 Battlefield in VR. And it kinda just about works



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



This is possibly the best 'spiderman' game I've played yet. Even though giant puzzle rooms aren't exactly where you'd expect this style to excel. (And at times, dragging yourself through the smaller interconnecting spaces, it is a bit daft ).

The system is basic at heart, with only blue panels accepting your elastic suction cups. As you scramble through the industrial heart of a crumbling space station those handy zones become increasingly rare. But what really sells this version are the moments where you're snagging bits of moving machinery, and inheriting momentum from their motion. The extra boost that often imparts can set you whizzing through the innards of some giant device, chaining swings to maintain that exhilarating speed

This is almost matched by the robust underwater system, whereby your weak hand-jets suddenly become capable of steering you with force. The environmental puzzles were on the simpler end here (think giant sets of whizzing blades), but successfully salmon-ing between them was pretty cool when it worked.



The clunkiest moments were the rote 'nip past the giant piston before getting squished' sections, but they were rare enough. Thankfully the respawn points were fair and frequent, if sometimes poorly positioned, making it hard to get your momentum up quickly. This could get a bit wearing in sections where you die a lot.

It loses points somewhat just for being so short (2hrs+), but they've done a lot with their indie trappings here. The cell-shaded art style really works overall, the space-Soviet storyline stays suitably silly, and they manage to shift you through a decent, simple, space-station disaster arc by the end.

(+)[nausea possible]





there's a frog in my snake oil
Dammmmmnnnn. Big hit to the PCVR / AAA VR world right here...

Facebook to Discontinue Rift Product Line in 2021, Will No Longer Build PC-only VR Headsets

Of course their higher end stand-alones can be tethered to PCs, but the implications for the software / market focus is a bit grim on that front I’d think.



there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: War Dust



I spent soooo damn long lost in Battlefield 2, and this is basically it in VR . (Hell it essentially looks the same too )

You can forgive every bit of sensory sandpaper here, every emergent bug, because it's got all of those classic gameplay loops writ through it...

Hover a support helicopter delicately so your squad mate can dive in under sniper fire. Charge a zippy vehicle behind enemy lines, bellowing the Ride of the Valkyries. Parachute precisely through a window, just because you feel like it. Get surprised by the jet you shot down suddenly landing on your head. It's got it all.

Once I realised the air vehicles were actually steered by my hand using a 'virtual joystick' (and not by someone else's mind, as I was beginning to think...), I became a bit more useful on the field. And realising I could clamber over most obstacles using my sticky virtual hands opened the world up further.

It's just grand expansive chaos. But the big vehicular fields and tight vertical locations still beg for strategy at the heart of it. It has that wonderful transition of you being a dominating war machine one second, a figure darting for cover the next. One minute tied up in a supremacy tussle in parallel to the battle, the next being the lever that tips your team over to victory. I just love the format, and can forgive so much because of that.

So I don't mind that everyone swoops around perpetually on parachutes to reach higher ground, somehow. Or that the population is so low that sometimes you're mainly facing deranged bots (who act like Michael Jackson moonwalking forwards, and mainly drive tanks in circles if they meet a rock). I don't mind any of the jank.

But because of all that, I can't really give it the 4 stars that I'd really like to

(+++/---) [nausea possible]