Developer: Tender Claws
Release Date: March 9, 2017
Genre: Adventure, Narrative
Game Modes: Single
Control: Daydream controller
If you’ve been following Google Daydream game releases, you’ve probably had a hard time avoiding news about this one. The game is called Virtual Virtual Reality, and there’s a lot of good things being said about it. But are they warranted? How good is this game really? How many times can you put the word “virtual” in a game title without it sounding weird? Well curious reader, let’s find out.
Virtual Virtual Reality is, at it’s core, a narrative. In a world where machines have replaced humans in all jobs, human labor is viewed as a luxury service for AI minds. You’re brought in as a new human employee where you’ll be doing a variety of things for these eccentric clients, such as covering them in toast or watering plants. Despite how easy that may sound, the tasks are essentially impossible to do well, but that’s not the point of the game. I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but suffice it to say you end up exploring behind the scenes in the company and learning it’s secrets. The setting and premise has hints of Portal and Job Simulator, while the story itself is original and engaging, and walks the line between whimsical and dark. There are plenty of references too, not to other games directly, but rather to the current state of the VR industry as a whole, such as the use of a flying whale in well-known VR/AR demos.
The satirical story is fantastic, but it’s the mechanics of the gameplay that will really draw you in. You’re able to grab and pickup most objects in the environment, and even some of the characters. The core mechanic here is the VR headsets; you grab one and pull it towards you, and suddenly you’re in another virtual world. You can rip off the headset to go back, or put on another, and another, and another… going from reality to reality, trying to unravel the mystery. You’ll eventually start asking yourself “Am I out?” and “Is this the base reality?”, and I think this is exactly what the developers were going for. When VR is perfected, how will we be able to distinguish the real world from the virtual one?
As the story goes on you’re given a new tool to interact with the environment. It’s sort of a digital vacuum that lets you deconstruct and reconstruct environments at will. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything as discovery is a main source entertainment, so I’ll just say that the digital vacuum gets used more and more as a method for solving puzzles. It adds yet another layer of interaction to the game, letting you affect the game world beyond the standard move and grab mechanics.
The controls scheme is done very well, especially considering all the different actions the developers crammed into the simple Google Daydream controller. Movement is teleportation-style and is controlled by the app button and pointing. Pointing and clicking the touchpad on obejcts locks them to your pointer, but you’re given an extra dimension of control beyond that. Swiping forward and back on the touchpad while holding an object will bring it towards you or push it away from you, which compensates quite well for the lack of positional tracking on the Daydream platform. Putting on and taking off VR headsets is very intuitive, especially the removal; you simply point at your face, click, and pull the headset off in a very natural motion. Overall the controls really make it easy to interact and move in this world, which really adds to the immersion.
The graphics have a flat shaded low-poly style similar to Job Simulator and Untethered, and it works very well here. Each of the environments are fairly small but filled with detail. From the gardening supplies in the greenhouse to the balls and chairs on the tropical island, each of locations is full of interactivity. The lobby where you’re introduced to your job presents a very clean image of the company, but as you go deeper the world becomes darker and the not-so-nice inner workings become exposed. The style of the environments change to reflect this perfectly; squeaky clean white rooms are left behind for dark rooms full of wires, spare parts and service pathways. Not all environments are useful of course, and some exist just to provide confusing dead ends, but they all feel connected to the story, and serve to enforce the craziness hiding just below the surface.
The story is conveyed through wonderfully acted spoken dialog. Your manager Chaz gives you loads of exposition and attempts to guide you in your job, and chastises you when you inevitably are unable to perform well. Each of the eccentric AI clients is voiced and given a unique personality, as are the supporting characters you discover behind the scenes. All sounds make use of 3D spatial audio, which again really adds to the immersion.
The audio also does a lot to convince you that you’ve stepped into or out of another reality as you put on and take off the various headsets. One second you’re on a beach hearing waves and music, the next your in a dark warehouse with near silence. These stark changes in audio go hand-in-hand with the visual changes and make the change in reality extremely pronounced, without making it uncomfortably jarring.
Comfort & Immersion
The developers have clearly done their research and know what works regarding comfort. The teleport-to-move mechanic zooms you forward to your new position, as opposed to blinking you there, which helps you maintain your sense of orientation in the world. The transition between realities when taking off and putting on headsets doesn’t cause any jarring discomfort, which leads me to believe this specific aspect has been tuned quite a bit.
Like Untethered, Virtual Virtual Reality uses small yet highly interactive environments to produce a fantastic sense of presence. Being able to move freely and grab objects truly draws you into the world. The lack of positional tracking has been a major impediment to immersion for mobile VR, but Virtual Virtual Reality offers methods to compensate for this which end up really paying off.
After playing through this game it’s very easy to see why it’s getting so much positive attention. Before I get into that, I have to point out the irony: the developers created this game as a commentary on the fever-dream state of the VR industry and a warning of possible things to come, and have ended up creating one of the best VR games to date, thus adding to the hype and forward momentum of the industry that they’re commenting on. Not that I’m complaining.
This game executes two major aspects very well; first, the storytelling is highly engaging, and the methods of storytelling, both passive and active, really make you feel like you’re a part of the narrative. Second, the game is composed of a series of small-but-detailed environments and you’re given free range to move about and interact without the hassle of points, objectives, or time limits. Sure there’s a story, but easily half of the fun comes from just experimenting with the objects in the different worlds. Mobile VR doesn’t have to be only 360-degree videos or rail-shooters, it can be so much more, and this game proves it.
The total playtime is around 2 hours, depending how much time you spend messing around with the environments. Some might think that 9 bucks is a little steep for that much playtime (a matter of value and opinion), but I’d have to disagree in this case. The level of polish and the amount of content is well worth the asking price, and I doubt anybody will be disappointed with this experience. Virtual Virtual Reality is smart, witty, richly interactive, and an absolute must have for any Daydream library.
- Engaging and original story
- Richly detailed and interactive environments
- Finely-tuned controls bring you into the game world
- 2 hour play-time is a bit short
- Little to no replay value beyond just exploring the scenes
- Some dialog goes on longer than needed...