The VR Conundrum

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there's a frog in my snake oil
Ok so I just bought a game that combines Big Brother and steampunk airship piracy. In space. With the Kardashians.. Or something. For £1.50.

__________________
Virtual Reality chatter on a movie site? Got endless amounts of it here. Reviews over here



there's a frog in my snake oil
First Look: Bow to Blood



It's not bad this! Very neat little indie game, which has obviously had loads of love lavished on it. But has also used some effective sneaky short-cuts. I feel bad having got it for pennies to be honest.

I'll cut to the chase though, and say I don't know how sold I am on the core game. It is actually the best 'captain of a pirate ship' execution I've seen to date, purely in terms of replete mechanics, though. There's crew who you direct to various stations for a boost, specials whose cooldown period you can weight (or whose efficacy you can boost with your own blood...). Hand steered fore and side guns, with bonus hand weapon to repel boarders.

It's a neat mix of RTS and arena spaceship piracy.

Throw in the storified arenas, with commentator and crew throwing in hints and colour about the various threats and boss figures, and it makes for a pretty involving, if day-glo experience.



My main gripe is that there doesn't seem to be any great way to assess or track what's behind you. Amongst all the cell-shaded chaos it seems kind of impossible to know what's coming at you, so I spend a lot of time spamming the boost & shield specials, and then essaying long ungainly arcs around cover. The damage indicator gives you an idea that something is there, but not much of a clue about range, height, angle etc, so that indicator might as well be a big sign saying 'panic and run'

Which I did. And learned that disappearing into the lower clouds could hide me. But also suffocate the crew...

The sluggishness is an issue against fore-shielded opponents too - takes a long old while to sneak behind them. I mean yes you can special their shield, but if youíre out of juice, and NPCs arenít distracting them, expect to go on a long evasion, while getting pounded...




The 'Big Brother' stuff is just kind of cute so far, but they've obviously put some thought into it. Both the wagers / offers / threats before rounds start and, and the outreach between rounds.

Talking of which, I do like the little home lobby they made. The chat of the crew in the background, the text tele-calls from opponents, the trophies, the light change and re-arranged objects as you wake up for a new day. 'Simple' but effective.

You can see how the alliances and the bad blood could get intriguing in the actual arena sessions as the seasons progress though for sure.

It could do with a few more PC mod-cons, (like a 'supersampling' option for less aliased views). But overall, pretty grand for £1.50 in a sale



there's a frog in my snake oil
REVIEW: THE PRICE OF FREEDOM



A pleasant surprise this! It's just a 20-minute 'experience' more than anything, but cheap as chips, and informative with it. Noir-ish trappings and audio coat a cold war tale of the CIA's MK-ULTRA project. A lot of stuff is 'writ large', partially so you can literally read it in VR, but also to fit the short format they're going for. And they've taken some liberties with the facts I suspect. But the end result was that I wanted to know more, and that's surely a good outcome.

For all that the interactions and graphics are 'budget', and will date further, it makes effective use of small places, and the minor puzzles that allow you to progress are mainly fitting rewards for prodding the semi-interactive environment.

Feels like a step down the road for VR documentaries / 'faction' / narratives...

Well worth the 42p I bought it for

(++)



there's a frog in my snake oil
REVIEW: CARLY & THE REAPERMAN



This is a great little couch co-op game, with one player on controller and one in VR.

The 'giant co-ops with little guy' theme isn't novel, but the way they keep layering on the game mechanics, in a way that many VR games don't, kept on being pleasing. Add in a pretty lovely art style, object physics, and lots of elbow room for being silly, and this was pretty grand

Only hit one puzzle which teetered towards the dull / repetitive, the rest had plenty of flow, and let you experiment a fair bit given it's mainly a linear platformer. There are minor niggles like the camera being a bit wayward in classic view, and the jump maybe being a bit smudgy near edges, but no deal breakers.

Haven't finished it yet, but already it's a:
+

EDIT: Oo, and it looks like they've just added remote play

And the remote player doesnít even need to own the game



there's a frog in my snake oil
REVIEW: REC ROOM



This freebie free-form conglomeration of sports, combat, and chat room sensibilities will just keep rolling like a Katamari ball, adding new oddities. But it's time to review it...

It's not for every night, but if you can survive the deranged bird-flock of kiddie chatter that pervades this world, then there's definitely some fun to be had. Aside from anything else, the kids are also vital for surviving the Co-op rooms, as they tend to clip into impossible places to thwart the Boss battles. (I have never seen so many 30+ year olds rezzed by a heroic 10 year old ).

The real turning-point for me was when they added free motion and a Battle Royale map (because of course...). All of the prior paintball, frisbee-chucking and lazer questing had been teleport-tied, which was just a stumbling block too far for me.

Of course as they've layered on free content, they've slowly slipped in the 'P2Cosmetic' monetisation, which is no doubt snaring many a kidling. But I'm fine with it

As much as the kooky sword and bow adventures are all fine, and the homebrew maps are amusing, with their tiny doors leading to 'PvP battles' with a statue of Kermit the frog... The stuff I think shines the best is their future-clad 'Laser Tag' stuff...



It just combines all the prior licks of paint into a happy bundle (bots, free motion, gunplay, gaudiness )

And it's good to know I can go play frisbee golf, or write something obscene on a wall with darts, if I fancy that too

-



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



The Swish of the Tail:

The charming art style is one of the big winners here, with tiny mice castles ensconced amongst tree roots, and villages nestled in forest floors. Cutesy medieval interiors are scattered with miniature cups, and there's a general invitation to peek into the cob-webbed corners. It all works well alongside the ear-scritching cuteness of the protagonist.

Your mini adventure also takes you into the crenelations of wind-swept beaches, through the reeds of calm moonlit lakes, and generally creates a pleasingly mouse-eye-view of the world with its serene and looming scenery.



A Familiar Platform:

Moss does address a lot of the issues I had with Herobound, by getting your hands into the mix, and allowing you to tower over the scene if you fancy it, or to stoop in and peer into crevices.

It makes better use of the 'living diorama' potential in that sense, but I never quite felt like it hit the sweet spot on the synergy front. Fundamentally it still felt like a classic platformer, where you just happened to flip the various environmental switches 'by hand' rather than by mouse click.

That's a bit harsh perhaps, as they do introduce timing issues, whereby you have to scoop or flip or drag environmental objects while also manoeuvring your mousey accomplice through and over them. And it does all work. It's just very 'workmanlike' on the VR interaction front. Pull this. Raise that. Just a bit... hmmm.

They up the ante a little bit by allowing you to 'possess' enemies, which has its moments when it comes to figuring out the escape path for each room, but also unfortunately devolves into 'get mobbed by mobs' scenarios by the end, where you're just dragging enemies around madly as part of the melee. It didn't really escalate in subtlety on that front

There is a calm pleasure to be had in all this though, as you puzzle box your way to the exit door. Just a big simple slidey puzzle box in many ways.

Ultimately ends up with the same rating as Herobound, purely due to being half the length, and ultimately less fulsome on the overall challenge / mechanics front. If twice as lovely

+(+)



there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: Witching Tower VR




Puzzle Me This:

This is a strange one. It looks and feels like a great proof of concept for a game. As in:

Almost everything has been filled out to game-ready levels. The visuals are swish, the world building is there (if buried in the background, and involving some daft steam-magic mechanisms). The interaction tools like the wrist storage and the whip are all snappily done, if a bit 'on rails' for the latter. The talking skull who accompanies you is personable and well executed. The puzzles, although straight-forward, frequently have bespoke elements which suggest design effort, and a degree of feature layering and grandiosity over time...

But 4 stages of a tower later, and you're done. The classic VR game conundrum. All game, not enough content...




Flailing Wildly

The main area where they let themselves down though is combat. It's just dire. On the one hand they fall foul of the classic spam-flail swordplay, meaning you can just flail-prevail against any of the earlier mobs, and never really feel threatened despite the ominous environments. The only confounding element is that their bow is also bizarrely hard to master, which is a rare feat for a VR title. But it doesn't really matter due to the above.

They try and resolve this by adding a faux-blocking mechanic to their bigger opponents, meaning you can only hurt them during their attack cool-down. Which suddenly throws the whole 'sword control' thing away completely. Because as much as you can dart around shields and take cheeky swipes at exposed skeletal legs, it won't do anything. Even during their vulnerable window it seems you can only hit a few pre-prescribed targets, even if you've aimed for something else. It's hugely meh...

You honestly might as well be pressing a button rather than swinging the sword yourself. It dumps everything that's cool and good about VR hand control :/

I will give them a hat tip for the sheer menace of the more looming enemies though, who are striking as they lumber towards you, completely invincibly... And for the fact that you can kite them into beating each other up with their lumbering power moves


Summary

Worth a sale buy. I think I got it for £5, and ultimately it felt like it was worth it. For the art and transportational aspects, and the occasional action/puzzle highlight

+(+)



there's a frog in my snake oil
Early Access: Zombie Patrol

Cool, Townsmen VR seems to still be alive. The VR-scape is like a giant graveyard as far as EA goes. Corpses everywhere. But this one still claims to be alive...



Hope they make it. It's my favourite interactive cat simulator to date



The Adventure Starts Here!
Review: Moss



The Swish of the Tail:

The charming art style is one of the big winners here, with tiny mice castles ensconced amongst tree roots, and villages nestled in forest floors. Cutesy medieval interiors are scattered with miniature cups, and there's a general invitation to peek into the cob-webbed corners. It all works well alongside the ear-scritching cuteness of the protagonist.

Your mini adventure also takes you into the crenelations of wind-swept beaches, through the reeds of calm moonlit lakes, and generally creates a pleasingly mouse-eye-view of the world with its serene and looming scenery.



A Familiar Platform:

Moss does address a lot of the issues I had with Herobound, by getting your hands into the mix, and allowing you to tower over the scene if you fancy it, or to stoop in and peer into crevices.

It makes better use of the 'living diorama' potential in that sense, but I never quite felt like it hit the sweet spot on the synergy front. Fundamentally it still felt like a classic platformer, where you just happened to flip the various environmental switches 'by hand' rather than by mouse click.

That's a bit harsh perhaps, as they do introduce timing issues, whereby you have to scoop or flip or drag environmental objects while also manoeuvring your mousey accomplice through and over them. And it does all work. It's just very 'workmanlike' on the VR interaction front. Pull this. Raise that. Just a bit... hmmm.

They up the ante a little bit by allowing you to 'possess' enemies, which has its moments when it comes to figuring out the escape path for each room, but also unfortunately devolves into 'get mobbed by mobs' scenarios by the end, where you're just dragging enemies around madly as part of the melee. It didn't really escalate in subtlety on that front

There is a calm pleasure to be had in all this though, as you puzzle box your way to the exit door. Just a big simple slidey puzzle box in many ways.

Ultimately ends up with the same rating as Herobound, purely due to being half the length, and ultimately less fulsome on the overall challenge / mechanics front. If twice as lovely

+(+)
Ah, but from my perspective (one with semi-serious issues with heights and vertigo/motion sickness), this has been one of the few VR games that charmed me instead of scared me. I have to get back to it (I'm not that far in, actually -- time constraints and needing to rethink my office space to find room), but I found it a great game for a VR person like me who might not like things TOO realistic if that means scary or dangling over great heights.

Plus, the mouse is SOOOO cute!



there's a frog in my snake oil
Ah, but from my perspective (one with semi-serious issues with heights and vertigo/motion sickness), this has been one of the few VR games that charmed me instead of scared me. I have to get back to it (I'm not that far in, actually -- time constraints and needing to rethink my office space to find room), but I found it a great game for a VR person like me who might not like things TOO realistic if that means scary or dangling over great heights.

Plus, the mouse is SOOOO cute!
Yeah itís definitely a pretty stepping stone into VR

I guess I enjoyed something like Carly more because it made more use of VRís uniqueness on the mechanics front. The live co-op allowed for more freeform use of bricks for bridges and such - it hooked into the Ďquick hands and global viewí aspects. It is more time-pressured though as a result. And there be vertigo



there's a frog in my snake oil
Shorts: Age of Sail



Strangely affecting this, this tale of an old man and young girl at end of the age of sail. I'm sure there are classic cinematic tricks at play here which helped sneak some tears out of me, not least the lovely use of music, and the swells and reposes of this story's particular storm. But there's something about being alongside these characters while seated on the old wood of the ageing boat, almost imagining the sun warming you. Something about peeking around the shadows of its snug interior when you're permitted in. It adds.

It's all the odder because the rough-edged look of the painterly depiction gets uglified somewhat by the headset's limitations. It should lessen the feeling of place, just as the India-ink eyes of a Ian McShane's 'line drawn' face should detract from the performance. But strangely the 'being alongside them' aspect, the sharing of that place amongst the waves, overrides all that.

The makers have kept it neat on the 'direction' side. You can meander around the boat if you want, take in the sights, but I sat for the show in the end. Quick fades to black, at appropriate places, precede the shifts in scene. They push the boat out a little with a dynamic scene right at the end where you can take in a range of events. But ultimately, no great showy tricks, no nausea. Just a ringside seat.

As with their other short story, Pearl, there's a slight hokeyness to the strands being plucked. But damn if they don't vibrate in tune by the end.

(-)



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




Amateur Pros:

Physically dodge between giant swinging hammers, nip through doorways at the last second, teleport through tiny gaps to save yourself from descending ceilings, in this horrible looking indie oddity

It's a physical, physics puzzler, is what this is. Where it excels is in its indie experimentation. You get a load of ideas and tweaks thrown at you throughout its otherwise rustic but humorous 'escape the alien lab' scenario.

Its main hook is the way it imports your playspace into the game and lets you orientate it for specific physical puzzles. (Will you need to dodge left and right to avoid some sentry bullets before teleporting behind it? Swivel your playspace so you're sure you can).

It sounds cumbersome, and in many ways it is. (As is the proto free-motion, which you can use on the fly too. It splits the movement on one controller, and the orientation on another, which is like patting your head and rubbing your stomach ). But when it comes together, executing or chaining a physical puzzle can be genuinely exhilarating



Add in a controllable robot friend, who you can grab, position, and fire at objects to interact, and you've got a playful grab-bag of tools. In the above screenshot he's been miniaturised to play a tiny game of miniature golf. For reasons I now forget, as this stuff happens all the time.

On the Downside:

The horrible graphics often resemble a 6-year-old's imagining of a sci-fi romp, made in blocky polygons. Although this has obviously freed the creator up to have full physics interactions between the objects, which is very cool, being in these locations can be somewhat tortuous.

Thankfully there is a 'skip puzzle' option, which I did take advantage of when utterly baffled by an oblique challenge, and surrounded by electrified walls which buzzed interminably with some 16bit sound-effect, and which made Minecraft look fancy.

I also deployed it for a few physics puzzles where the execution window was frustratingly tight. There's a fair bit of miss amongst the hits all told.

There's also some minor nausea in there if you deploy all of the many motion options at once, or if you die a lot

It is a lot like being inside an expansive proof of concept at points. Made from stickle bricks. Which you're not always convinced are stuck together correctly.

SUMMARY: A physical, physics puzzler. By turns maddening then actually kind of exhilarating. If you can tolerate the horrible indie trappings and missteps, this holds some unique fun.

+++




there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: Trials on Tatooine



It's five minutes of being a Jedi on the surface of Tatooine. And it's free. What else can I say

Ok basically you get the Millenium Falcon swooping down and landing in a thunder of sand above your head, some great voicework, all the classic sound-effects as R2 gets himself into bother, and some basic engineering tinkering, before Stormtroopers arrive and demand that you light saber their blaster bolts back at them.

That's it. As five minutes of immersion, it was great

- [FREE]



there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home Virtual Reality



Another freebie proof of concept, this feels perilously close to actually being a game. They give you a single 'story' mission, featuring the above giant robo, which has slammed asphalt onto himself as armour. Swinging around the cityscape after him, flinging yourself around and off him, encasing his armour in web, splattering his accomplices, all felt properly dramatic

You're then given free reign of the open city, with time trials and combat zones to track down. Plus hidden collectibles and apparently two more spidey suits somewhere. There's not much to do, and I wasn't much cop at the time trials, but I could certainly see myself wanting to get better at it if there were some tougher missions to pursue...

The web-slinging is everything you'd expect, with mightier tugs giving you more oomph and positioning on buildings important for keeping your height and velocity. Good as it is, you immediately start wishing for more in the open world setting though. Like the ability to be pulled along by moving cars that you've snagged

-- [FREE] [POSSIBLE NAUSEA]



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



A freebie half-hour experience that's well worth a dip. It's like a budget mixture of Moon, 2001, and, um, trippy VR ****

As a prospective Mars traveller, you listen to footage, read a bit of text, and puzzle-lite your way through a few space-age apartments, corporate entities, and craft. It's very short, but strangely well-done.

(+) [FREE]



there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: Virtual Virtual Reality



All viewed through a cheeky lense, this benefits from a playful physics interface, stacked russian doll ideas and polygon scenes, and some cheeky post-singularity unease.

Alright, it's all just an Escape the Lab puzzler again in a fun skin. But the lab is in your mind, which is in a jar, in a lab, which is in the past, in the alchemy cabinet. In your mind.

The only real downsides are a couple of unintuitive junctures, which can see you repeat a couple of stages tiresomely to get back to where you were. They handle this with style for the most part, with the snazzy dialogue bridging a lot of the scenes. But those blockers were a bit annoying. And the scenarios were a bit uneven perhaps, but that's only because of few of them really hit it out of the park, either on the humour or the reflection front

It loses a half point for the odd glitch, deadspots where a bit more guidance might have helped, and minor annoyances like a really loud haptic buzz if you're trying to run away from a flock of headsets to retrace your steps

But honestly it's pretty great

+++




The Adventure Starts Here!
So, last night and today I FINALLY revamped my office space to make room for using my VR headset again. You can tell by the marks on the carpet where the desk USED to be. I gave a good 4-5 feet behind my chair in which to move around now! No more smashing my arms into the desk or into the wall behind me! I'm excited.



And wow, that is the blurriest picture ever! Sorry!
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there's a frog in my snake oil
So, last night and today I FINALLY revamped my office space to make room for using my VR headset again. You can tell by the marks on the carpet where the desk USED to be. I gave a good 4-5 feet behind my chair in which to move around now! No more smashing my arms into the desk or into the wall behind me! I'm excited.
Nice thatís a VR space

Mineís pretty similar...



(I donít mind the tiny kitchen unit, itís low and allows hand swinging . The rainbow drawers got snuck in recently to aid living room tidiness though, and keep catching me out :/)



there's a frog in my snake oil
First Look: The Talos Principle VR



I'm enjoying this so far, even if the 'bypass the lines of defence' gameplay feels more-ish rather than super-challenging to date. It's a really consummate port though, with a great spread of options, locations that look near photo-realistic from certain angles, and a pleasingly kinetic implementation of the puzzle tools. Some of the levels almost feel 'run and gun' when timing or jumping are part of the execution. I've gone zero-nausea protection and blitzing through it like that is keeping me engaged. (Although teleporting and a sedate take would totally work too).

Enjoying the storified timeline in the main too, with its scrambled archives of ancient philosophy and geeky AI ponderings. The personality test to gain admin rights was a particularly nice touch...

I can see why the devs were slightly grumpy that it didn't sell like hot cakes initially. They've obviously taken their time to get it right. (Even if I could pick up a whitewash brush but not paint the abandoned sculptures of Rome. What the hell devs? )

EDIT: Have had some 'hands in the air' moments now after figuring out some of the trickier puzzle combos. They've got a nice line in misdirection at points, so the puzzle solutions can be a mixture of stepping back, reassessing your assumptions (conceptual flip), and then executing. Works well

(Although on a few I found I could also just brute force the puzzle, due to a bit of flex in the toolkit physics and designs. This feels like it's down to the sheer number of puzzle rooms they've crammed in. At least 28 in the first quarter alone it seems. They do all feel like they've been thought-through and tested well, but a few gaps and glitch-potentials are always going to present themselves with that much ground to cover).


Deal of the Day?:




This is only £3.50 on the Oc Store at the mo, which seemed worth the punt even though it's only an hour long. I wanted Subnautica with hands, so guess this is the only way I'm going to experience that


Indie Offerings:

This just launched, and I am intrigued... will prob wait for sale though even at £10...




Also this demo looks like it has potential...



Not even sure what game this is proposed for, but it's possibly the slickest looking parkour take I've seen to date. Makes me a touch sad that Ubisoft took Assassin's Creed to the shop floor rather than the online store for VR :/


VR Not Dead News:

More Than 100 VR Games Have Exceeded $1 Million in Revenue



there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: The Talos Principle VR




After some slightly uninspired opening hours, this turned out to be pretty ace


To VR Or Not To VR?:

VR elevates a bunch of the existing qualities here. The hand-held devices, physics interactions, and 'jungle gym' puzzle solving put you right in the centre of the action. It makes for a fun mix of cerebral tinkering followed by active enacting. (And occasionally combines the two. There's something to be said for soaring 20ft up on a column of air to get a bird's eye view of the puzzle )

The Cryengine locations form a lovely expansive backdrop (even if the 'photo realistic' style can't always survive you nosing right up to its more budget bump-maps). And the whole 'ghost in the machine' / 'simulated world' story gains some extra vibe when you're actually injected into those digital spaces




It's A Laser Trap:

The five core tools that you unlock aren't the only way they keep things fresh, with further twists arriving downstream. There are a few moments were they over-rely on the core techniques though. (Oh, more laser-round-an-impossible-corner conundrums?). But just as frequently they'll surprise you by making a novel physical interaction the crux of the next map, or add a new use for an environmental hazard instead.

As a puzzle game, the key thing for me was: I frequently stood in the middle of these breezy virtual spaces, hands on hips, and said: 'That's impossible'. And then worked it out anyway. Sometimes multiple times in one map . They've got the 'make you feel smart' thing pretty nailed down, with only perhaps one or two maps that bordered on feeling unfair / frustrating.




If A Story Is Trapped In A Box, Is It Really There?

The primarily text-based story is almost entirely optional, but I found myself welcoming the dips into the computer terminals in every realm. It does help if you like ancient philosophy, arguing theology, AI ethics, and pondering the nature of 'self' though

Not that their archive of mythical excerpts and a 'chose from these answers' interface can really encompass this spread of dialectic disagreements and contemporary mysteries. But they have a damn good go



---

Too Long Didn't Read Your Metaphysical Treatise:

Positives:
  • Tons of content, scaling over time, with various flavours of twists to the trickiness.
  • A playful nested story that taps into themes of consciousness, free will, ethics and theology. And then occasionally sticks its tongue out at you
  • Lovely settings and audio work.

Negatives:
  • Slow, slightly insipid, start.
  • A couple of unintuitive story twists can leave you locked out of further progression, having to restart from a few saves back. It's clunky. (Hint: If you 'exit' from a story terminal you often can't turn it back on...)

Motion Comfort:
  • Despite the consummate control options, you may need your VR legs to deal with some of the shunts and jumps involved when boxes misplace or airstreams propel you sideways through the air...

Postscript

And I'm still going with the free DLC content, which has kept the difficulty fiendishly ramped up, and given the story some new fun twists

*DLC Review Here*

+(+) [nausea possible]