When I first gave my verdict on Virtual Virtual Reality I said this:
“Budget Cuts might have the tone, The Lab might have the authenticity, but for my money Virtual-Virtual Reality is the closest we’ve gotten to VR’s Portal 2 yet. I can’t wait to see what Tender Claws does next.”
That was just under a year ago, at a time the piece itself was already a year old. It’s worth noting even now, though, that this hilarious adventure hasn’t lost any of its luster.
You might, at first, think that Virtual Virtual Reality is a glowing endorsement of, well, virtual reality. As the latest employee of a virtual treatment company, you’re swept away to idyllic locales to fulfill client’s wildest dreams. Tending to a lush green garden set to a sky blue backdrop sounds soothing, right? What if I told you your ‘client’ was a croaky-voiced pinwheel that becomes consumed with rage at a slight mishap?
No, I’m not making that up.
Down The Virtual Rabbit Hole
Virtual Virtual Reality delights in VR’s inescapable surrealness. It’s a deep rabbit hole, part silly slideshow of the future, part warning about what that future holds. And, although its narrative occasionally lets your mind wander over its two-hour length, its pitch-perfect mix of tone, humor and cautionary tale makes it one of the most essential VR experiences to date.
Having recently joined an AI-driven metaverse named Activitude, it’s your job to keep clients happy. But the situations you find yourself in become increasingly bizarre. You might already be familiar with the short-tempered slab of sentient butter that demands being covered in perfectly-toasted bread, but what about a rambling sailboat that demands your undivided attention? Or an electrical supply for a monochrome urban metropolis that wants to relive the chaos of a balloon parade?
Suffice to say V-VR has no shortage of surprises. It’s often laugh-out-loud funny and highly-interactive environments invite playful experimentation. Why not water that pinwheel instead other plants? Or stick a carrot to the butter instead of bread? It’s your decision whether to play along or forge a path of your own and, although the end result is always the same, your involvement in getting there keeps things personal. It’s a kind of agency that’s missing from a lot of other experiences.
But, crucially, developer Tender Claws isn’t just in search of laughs. As you begin to peel back the layers of Activitude (sometimes quite literally), a more intriguing experience presents itself. Taking a page out of the book of Portal, looking beyond the overly-optimistic outer layer reveals a dark past. The piece does a wonderful job of rewarding your curiosity and making discoveries surprising and unintended. Moreover, V-VR starts to ask interesting questions about the nature of VR’s current status, and the implications of handing the keys to the metaverse over to the billion dollar executives that currently shepherd it.
It can, at times, be too obscure in its solutions. V-VR isn’t necessarily a puzzle game, but it’s sometimes frustrating figuring out which specific action is needed to push the story forward. You can get stuck in loops by missing small details in certain scenes, which adds an unwelcome touch of tedium. In fact, if anything, it could stand to shed just a few of its scenes in the name of pacing and repetition. Tender Claws isn’t in any rush to get you through its plot points, but you can’t help wishing it would speed things up a little in the exposition-heavy moments.
It helps, at least, that its ‘characters’ are some of the most personable you’ll find it VR. Chaz, your robotic warden of sorts, is peppy and ironic.
Final Say: Essential
Virtual Virtual Reality remains an early VR gem. Whether its message of the possible pitfalls of the VR generation ahead is to be heeded seriously is part of its appeal. Is this simply a whacky exaggeration of where we’re headed, or is there something deeper hidden in the depths of Activitude? It’s up to you to decide, but you’ll have a lot of fun doing so.
Virtual Virtual Reality is available now on Oculus Rift, Go, HTC Vive, and Google Daydream for $14.99. It will launch alongside the Oculus Quest on May 21st. For more on why we scored this app as an experience and how it rated, read our review guidelines.