Let’s talk about VR, baby

I spent last Sunday afternoon playing with an HTC Vive again, and much to my chagrin, I am now sold on VR.

Well, not literally sold, as VR is still way too expensive for me. But I’m willing to accept it as a legitimate thing that is cool, rather than just another silly flash in the pan.

I played a whole bunch of different games, so let’s take a brief look at each of them. Or at least the more notable ones. I should note that I think nearly everything I played was just a demo, and that I didn’t spend more than about 15 minutes with any one piece of software.

Ghost Town Mine Ride & Shootin’ Gallery is exactly what it sounds like: an amusement park-style mine cart ride wherein you can shoot a number of spooky things. Imagine Disney’s Haunted Mansion but with a gun and a fairy tales theme. I think there may be more to it, because $8 is a bit much for a five-minute ride, but what I played was a hoot. Also, reasonably scary. Those friggin’ dwarfs just kept appearing out of nowhere and I could not take it. The bear attack may have made me poop my pants if it hadn’t been so thoughtfully telegraphed. Score: 6/10 Neon skulls.

The Bellows is another spook-em-up, but this time it’s a walking simulator instead of a sit-down ride. You wander about through a spooky mansion and things happen spookily around you. Like, lights turn off and books fly around and whatnot. It’s all very creepy and fun until this butcher guy starts showing up and I think that’s where I draw the line. The scenery doing things is all well and good, but when there’s another character running around trying to scare you or whatever, that’s just too much to take, when you feel like you’re actually in that world. Also, this is the first VR game I’ve played where you move around with the trackpad, which made me feel like I was gonna vom for a while. Also, so many times I almost fell over because my character was moving sideways or backwards and my body wasn’t. It’s super weird and takes a long time to get used to, but it’s a heckuva lot better than warp-moving.

Next up was… I forget what it’s called, but I think it’s Dreadhalls. I played the random mode, which is essentially a first-person dungeon-crawling roguelike. Only you have no weapons, and the only way to get past monsters is to avoid them. This game is more terrifying than the rest simply because of its randomized nature, so even experienced players won’t know what to expect. I hear the goal is to find an eyeball in the maze and then return to the starting point, but I was killed fairly quickly (about 12 minutes in) and opted to move onto something new instead of trying again.

Moving onto things less horror-themed, we have Superhot VR. You can play Superhot in not-VR, but there’s no damn point. This is what really made me fall in love with VR. In Superhot, you’re a dude who has to kill a number of incoming enemies before being killed yourself. The gimmick is that time only moves when you do. So as long as you aren’t doing anything, you can assess the situation to your heart’s content and come up with a plan of action. The stages are fairly short, putting you in one to five scenarios, with maybe four guys at most attacking you at any given time. You’re often started with a few weapons at your disposal, but sometimes you’ll need to steal a gun from an enemy’s hand or straight-up punch him out. Regardless, once you learn the game and get good, you feel like the world’s biggest badass, and it is freaking amazing. If it were the price of a regular game system, a Vive might be worth buying just for this.

Oh, and also Robo Recall, which is kind of the opposite of Superhot. You’re still tasked with shooting down enemies, but this one is fast-paced, high-octane action. Your job is to defeat waves of robots in any which way possible. This may include but is not limited to: shooting them, throwing your guns at them, catching bullets and throwing them back, grabbing a robot and tearing it apart, grabbing a robot and using it as a shield, grabbing two robots and smashing them against each other, and so on and so forth. You have unlimited guns in your holsters, and reloading is a matter of chucking away the empty gun and pulling out a new one. This game uses warp movement, but aside from that teeny tiny wart, it also makes you feel like an unstoppable robot-smashing god. And I love that feeling. Robo Recall might very well be the most concentrated fun I have ever had in my life.

While I normally don’t like to bring work home with me, Accounting is not at all like what I do at my job. It’s the first game from Squanchtendo, Justin Roiland’s VR game company. And Accounting is very much Rick and Morty without actually having anything to do with Rick and Morty. It’s a short, story-driven game that’s a lot like Job Simulator, but with a lot more swearing and creatures that will give you the jibblies. Basically, you just pick stuff up until you pick up the right object and sometimes you might have to mash it into another thing. It’s not very hard, but you do want to sit around and listen to what each character has to say before moving on, because it’s pretty darn funny.

I played a short segment of Doom 3 in VR, which was really fun. But the whole time, I couldn’t help but think “I’d be much happier if this were Doom or Doom 2 instead.”

Lastly, and the one I wanted to play the most, is Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul. Having seen all the movies, I had some sort of idea what I was going to experience, but it’s a lot different when you’re actually in it. And you don’t get a pleasant little family to be frightened with. Oh no, you’re all alone. It’s a little more adventurey than the standard walking simulator, though interaction with the world seemed to be mostly limited to picking up keys and items that maybe you’ll use on something later. Like a mysterious candle that I found and accidentally dropped, which then clipped through the floor and disappeared forever. Lots of drawers were unopenable, which bothered me much more than it should have. Or maybe it’s better to say that it bothered me that the openable drawers were indistinguishable from those which were bolted shut. This is a full game, and a real playthrough requires really thoroughly poking around the house and reading files and whatnot, and I just wasn’t going to have that much time with it. I played long enough to be scared enough that I didn’t really want to continue, so the game mercifully crashed on me just before something terrifying was about to happen. In the end, I wouldn’t buy a VR system for it, but I’ll probably pick up the non-VR version when it comes to PS4.

And that concludes my latest trip into the world of virtual reality gaming. It’s still more about short, story-focused games and arcade-like experiences, but some of those have proven to be outstanding. It’s not like the kinds of games that I prefer would work all that well in VR, anyhow. Mario would be garbage in first-person, I hate racing in first-person, and it would be silly to buy a $600-$1200 headset to play some 2D platformer or JRPG. So I don’t really see a VR system of any description in my near future. Maybe one day, but let’s be honest here, probably not until there’s a headset with the Nintendo logo on it. Metroid Prime in VR would actually be a real game-changer…

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