Budget Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency delivers a robust and highly-polished sequel to one of VR’s original standout experiences. Read on to find out why we enjoyed it so much!
At its core, Budget Cuts 2 is a game about patience in more ways than one. It’s about waiting for the right moment to stealthily take down enemies, having the consideration to comb through levels to solve puzzles, and not getting too annoyed when a bug forces you to reset from a save point and lose some progress. See what I mean? Patience.
When we reviewed the first Budget Cuts in mid-2018 we were met with a game that struggled to meet its lofty and long-winded expectations. The original title from Neat Corporation was a key marketing inclusion of the HTC Vive itself in early 2016 with its free demo but didn’t fully release util over two years later and was still plagued by poor design choices in some key areas and a slew of troublesome bugs. Despite all of that though, it still had a lot of promise under the layers of setbacks.
Now with Budgets Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency they’ve built upon the fully-patched post-release version of Budget Cuts, iterated on the core ideas that worked best, and expanded things into a much larger world that feels more alive and realized. Partnering with a talented studio like Fast Travel Games (the team behind both Apex Construct and The Curious Tale of The Stolen Pets) certainly helps too.
Budget Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency is a textbook example of how to do a safe sequel extremely well. It doesn’t dramatically rewrite the formula laid out in the previous game by any means, as it instead refines and expands what made the concepts so intriguing to begin with. And as expected, that all starts with the innovative movement system. Rather than just pointing and clicking to teleport, you have a teleporting gun. It works by firing a small orb that expands into a ring on the floor showing where you’ll appear. At the tip of your gun is a portal that you can look into to preview the location and even check out the surroundings to scope out your next move or make sure the coast is clear. You’ve gotta be careful though because enemies can see through the portal as well.
Combined with the physicality of sneaking behind objects, ducking around corners, and striking robots with projectile weapons and arrows, Budget Cuts 2 is one of the most gleefully active VR games I’ve played in quite some time. Even recent titles like Boneworks, which are founded on an intricate system of physics simulation, are fully playable standing still or seated. Budget Cuts 2 begs me to move around, dodge bullets, and hide behind boxes more than most VR games, save for maybe Espire 1: VR Operative and Unknightly. It’s a true stealth game that embraces its VR heritage.
Much of that could be said of the previous game too though, so the key question still remains: What exactly is different this time around, other than the setting and addition of a bow and arrow? The honest answer is not a whole lot, but it’s all a bit better. Environments feel larger and more open with lots of outdoor areas to explore, the world feels more realized instead of being confined to a repetitive office maze, and enemies seem smarter and less prone to suicidal tripping. The AI still isn’t perfect — I can close a door for a few seconds to apparently erase myself from their memory, for example — but it’s certainly a step up from before.
Since not a whole lot of the foundation has really changed here (it’s a full sequel crafted by two studios joining forces over the course of one year, what do you expect?) a lot feels the same — including some of the core issues. For example, one of the most common actions you take in Budget Cuts 2, just like its predecessor, is throwing an object such as a knife, dart, or other adoptive lethal device to take out robots. The problem though is that despite the small size and presumably light weight of these objects, they require significant throwing force on your part to actually toss them more than a couple of feet. Like, an unusual amount of force to the point that it’s not only immersion breaking, but it’s outright frustrating. The game seems to think I’m trying to toss a bowling bowl rather than a fork or coffee mug.
Flicking my wrist with a bit of forward momentum is all it should take, instead I’m risking shattering something in my room every time I try to take out an enemy with a thrown object. This was an issue we noted in the previous game as well and it seems odd that it’s persisted so directly here. Luckily after the first level you mostly switch to the bow as your main weapon for much of the game.
Another thing that’s persisted here is just how obtuse some of the “puzzles” seem to be. Rather than creatively applying unique puzzle scenarios that require out of the box solutions, you’ll instead be faced with obscure objectives like “Find the key code for the locked door, it’s on the train somewhere” from time to time and then forced to backtrack through the entire level trying to find what you must have missed the first time through. Carefully paying attention to the environment (and sounds!) is crucial.
Even though this is a marked improvement over the original Budget Cuts, it still has its share of bugs too. At one point I was supposed to toss a bomb off a train before it explodes, but I wasn’t able to so I died and reloaded in the room again. The timer was broke after that. Another time all of the enemy projectiles froze in the air issuing a steady stream of particle effects that completely tanked the game’s performance, slowing to a chug, forcing me to restart even though I was midway through the level. Nothing game-breaking, but still annoying. It made me a bit woozy too.
All that being said, it doesn’t take away from just how much fun Budget Cuts 2 is to play. Once you come to grips with the unique teleportation system and learn to use your real world body movements to pyhsically navigate levels, it’s a joyous experience. Robot AI is just good enough that if you’re in their line of sight (even above or below) at a surprising distance, they’ll probably start to recognize you requiring you to literally duck down behind a waist-high object or behind an air vent.
During one purely unique VR moment I was reminded of why I love playing VR games in the first place. I was faced with a robot packing a rocket launcher and riot shield so i didn’t stand a chance facing him head on with just a bow, a few arrows, and some knives. So I went above the ceiling tiles, dropped down, went down into an air vent, had to get down on my knees in real life, physically barrel roll across my floor on the ground when he almost spotted me through the air vent, slot my arrow while laying on my back, and then roll back into view just in time to shoot the robot in the calf. Then I just patiently waited for it to slowly bleed out (note: oil, not actual blood) until it died.
It doesn’t get much more satisfying than that in a VR game. Too bad my Rift S cord got tangled and I had to take off the headset to fix it before pressing on.
Visually, it looks nearly indistinguishable from its predecessor save for the large outdoor areas. You can’t see the street usually, it’s just a foggy haze down below, but it still lends a grandiose atmosphere that was missing from the first game. The whole game is built as layers on top of layers so you’ll explore a skyscraper, then head out on the balcony to bounce across patios and roof tops, then go back inside to begin a new ascent. It provides just enough change of pace to keep things from getting stale.
Narratively it’s more implied than explicit, but the subtle environmental bits often earned a chuckle and smile in key areas. Taking the time to listen to the robot banter is enjoyable as well, as-is reading all of the signs and billboards. Just like everything else here, it feels more fully realized this time around.
Budget Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency Review Final Verdict:
For all intents and purposes Budget Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency is a bigger and better version of its predecessor in virtually every way. The scope is larger, the bow and arrow adds significantly more depth and strategy to combat, levels are designed more thoughtfully, there are fewer bugs and AI issues, and it all around feels like a more complete game. Budget Cuts 2 feels like the game that the original Budget Cuts wanted to be, but never quite lived up to. It’s not without its bugs and minor gameplay annoyances, but what we’ve got here is a clear example that there’s life in this IP as a franchise and we hope to see Neat Corporation and Fast Travel Games work together again soon.
Final Score: 4/5 Stars | Really Good
You can read more about our five-star scoring policy here.
Budget Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency releases December 12th, 2019 for $29.99 on both Oculus Home for the Rift platform and Steam for Rift, Vive, and Index headsets. There is also a bundle on Steam for Budget Cuts 1 and 2 together for $54, which is a 10% discount versus buying them each separately.
This review of Budget Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency from Fast Travel Games and Neat Corporation was conducted on an Oculus Rift S using two Touch controllers via the Steam version.