There’s something very ‘Bill Murray’ about coffee, isn’t there?
A dependency on a warm, pedestrian beverage, a futile attempt to lift yourself out of the early morning blear that seems to be stretching on for an entire day. It’s fitting, then, that my demo for Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son begins in front of a coffee machine.
Or, rather, inside of one.
Developer Tequila Works doesn’t see this VR-native sequel as a game or movie as such. Like some of the most intriguing VR experiences, it’s a blend of the two; a curious mashup of interactivity and storytelling. Tequila Works wants get you directly involved in the narrative. That will often mean interacting with characters and manipulating the time loop that your character, Phil Connors Jr, finds himself in. Occasionally, it also means completing minigames dotted around the town of Punxsutawney, which was the focus of my demo.
One of these includes learning to make coffee with a machine, which is envisioned as a sort of arcade shooter. You have to fire orbs at coffee beans, each of which has to be destroyed quickly before they regenerate. Doing battle with the various cogs and mechanical parts was a surreal, somewhat meta sensation, though the game itself was quite intuitive and enjoyable.
After that, I had to fix the machine itself by rearranging its innards. Again, it was a fairly straightforward bit of gameplay; realign some pipes to redirect steam and then match up a rotating network of more pipes. Following that I played a graffiti game where I had to carefully trace outlines on one of the walls in the town.
These puzzles were simple and fun, if unremarkable. I’m most interested in the way they fit into the wider game; Tequila Works says one ‘day’ in Like Father Like Son takes a little over half an hour. That said, you can skip over puzzles you’ve already completed (a handy way of communicating Connors’ increasingly familiarity with the world).
But I didn’t feel like I was seeing the core of what Like Father Like Son is all about. The experience’s other elements, like using the game’s repetitive cycles to your advantage and learning how to manipulate the characters around you, seems far more fitting. The original Groundhog Day is a film about self-discovery and improvement. Updating that for 2019, an age where smartphones make small towns like Punxsutawney smaller than ever, is going to be fascinating to see.
Tequila Works also says it plays with VR’s inherent silliness. Take a game like Blood & Truth or London Heist, where you’re always tempted to ‘break’ the game and mess with characters, throwing things at them or making, uh, certain gestures. That’s tonally in stride with the world of Groundhog Day; Connors Jr can be a troll and not have to live with the consequences. I can’t wait to test the limits of that thinking.
Granted, it’s tough to communicate those mechanics and plot points in a limited demo slot on a bustling show floor. For now, at least I’m assured in the fact there’s an entertaining puzzle game laying the foundation. As for the rest? Tequila Works seems confident it’s got a compelling take on the time loop genre on its hands. Given the team’s work with the excellent The Invisible Hours, I’m quite optimistic that they’re on the right path.
Fortunately we won’t have to wait too much longer to dive into that more intriguing side; Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son is due out on PC VR and PSVR on September 17. We’ll have more on the experience leading up to launch.