Upon first glance, it’s tough to tell Budget Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency — just revealed at our E3 VR Showcase — apart from its predecessor. In its pre-alpha state, it looks visually identical to the original, save for a few small tweaks. Its idle-brained robotic workers still spout adorably innocent lines and imposing enemy guards continue to flail their arms in desperation when you toss a knife into their back. A few minutes into my demo I’m starting to wonder what’s actually new here. Then it hits me; it’s what I’m not seeing that’s most important.
Namely, I don’t see a bunch of robots awkwardly colliding with each other, or tripping up on objects and accidentally killing themselves. I don’t notice objects accidentally flying out of my hands when I teleport, or collision issues that exile important items to unreachable realms. Anyone that played Neat Corporation’s original VR hit around release would have likely encountered these often game-breaking issues numerous times. By taking those learnings, the updates it made to the original and strengthening the team via a partnership with Fast Travel Games, though, Budget Cuts 2 could well make good on the promise first teased in that 2016 demo.
So what am I playing? Put simply, the game I felt like I should have been enjoying a year ago. In the hour I’ve played, I’ve found a game free of the frustrations of the first, one that finally let me embrace the joys of the mechanics Neat has been working on for so very long. I sheepishly hopped along an urban skyline, methodically picking teleport spots and combusting in frantic panic at the slightest threat of being discovered. At one point I traded projectiles with one enemy guard as I squirmed around on my knees behind a ventilation shaft for cover. In another I cruelly dangled a knife above one robot’s patrol route, letting it slip through my fingers as they passed underneath.
Budget Cuts 2 promises freedom with none of the fuss. Cautious players will be able to sneak their way up to vantage points where they can pick off targets with well-placed attacks. But, crucially, you pay for your mistakes; misplaced shots might alert guards to your location, and one wrong teleport can take you out of the frying pan and straight into the fire. These are the strategies and stumbles that held so much promise in the first game, brought crumbling down when you could simply trick guards into falling onto a lone pair of scissors.
With those hurdles out of the way, Budget Cuts 2 feels more like the self-reliant stealth game I’d been hoping for. It’s a game where skill and failure are part of the package. There’s no cheap path to victory; if you find yourself in a tight spot you can’t just shoot your way out of it. You’ll need quick reactions and sturdy aim to survive, but there’s such hilarious panic to the bullet-ridden tango of combat you can’t help but scream and laugh in tandem.
That’s not to say this surprise sequel is without its new tricks, though. The original Budget Cut’s abrupt ending hinted at a sequel that might be more aggressive and this seems to follow through on that theme. Perhaps unsurprisingly given Fast Travel’s inclusion, you can now swap risky knife throwing for much more dependable archery combat. It’s a sensible inclusion given just how erratic throwing could work in the first game, but it’s not a bail-out, either. You try knocking an arrow (or any other item, for them matter) whilst also dodging a swarm of bullets. Let me know how it goes.
Environmental variety is another big focus this time around. Though my demo does have its fair share of office cubicles, the rooftop sneaking also gives everything a touch of vertically and greater player freedom. How you get from A to B if often up to you; after dying in one section I got back to where I fell using an entirely different path. It can be dizzying and intimidating, though, and it could use a few directional pointers from time-to-time. You’ve probably also seen the train-set level featured in our E3 VR Showcase, which promises to introduce bring some new dynamics to the game.
A lot to look forward to, then. With the foundation laid, I can’t wait to see what sticky situations Budget Cuts 2 puts me in. Most of all, though, I feel relieved. There was a great game buried under the original Budget Cuts’ wealth of technical issues, good enough that it still found an audience. In Budget Cuts 2, though, Neat has a shot at redemption. With Fast Travel’s bow in-hand, I’m confident it won’t miss this time.
Budget Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency is due for release later this year.