Familiar faces in familiar places
reviewing a VR game
James secretly takes a selfie with me at this year’s GDC.
This is PC Gamer’s first review of a VR-exclusive game, but it’s not a review of the Oculus Rift itself—that will come later this week—so it assumes some familiarity and comfort with the hardware.
As we explore this new frontier, it’s tempting to ask if Lucky’s Tale could just as well have been a non-VR game. Maybe, but exactly how much it would lose in translation is up to speculation. Our experience of a game is inextricable from the platform we experience it on, so rather than pining for home, where 3D platformers never needed headtracking and that’s how we liked it dangnabbit, we’re describing and assessing VR games from the perspective that VR itself is an exciting new way to experience virtual worlds. That’s how we feel about it, despite any quibbles we may have with this first generation of hardware.
If you’re new to VR, check out our set-up guide to prepare your space for the most comfort, and be sure not to push yourself too hard. (Take lots of breaks!) If you haven’t taken the headset ownership plunge, keep checking our hardware section for more on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive hardware itself—we’ll continue to assess the two major headsets all year and beyond.
But the pressure of VR can be felt all throughout the game’s design, as the perspective in Lucky’s Tale rarely rotates or moves side-to-side. The level layouts don’t vary substantially. Only one level has any sort of unique mechanics to it—an underwater stage which has low-gravity jumping—meaning you could pretty much swap the theme of any two levels without much impact. Bouncy mushrooms turn into bouncy clams, breakable wood boxes become stone, and metal lanterns are replaced by skull torches, but I’m still jumping forward through a similarly laid-out path whether it’s in a ruined temple or a swamp. While the last couple of levels feel slightly more distinct, with more complex moving platforms and shifting walls, they only arrive at the very end of the game.
I kept expecting new settings to come with new mechanics, but most of the obstacles I saw were introduced within the first few levels. One of the more interesting interactions is a bomb pad that indefinitely spawns bombs for Lucky to pick up and throw. Aiming is as simple as physically looking at my target with the headset, but these segments are generally short and tangential—with the exception of one level later in the game where you have to shoot targets in order to progress, which is a highlight. Similarly, my favorite enemy to fight was a bird that threw those bombs down at me, and I’d have to quickly pick them up and toss them back to kill it. That level and those birds made me wish Playful had come up with more interesting ideas, but that was it.
And those birds weren’t very common, even though they were one of the only enemies that couldn’t be killed by simply jumping on their heads. Caterpillars, rock golems, killer flowers; all dealt with the exact same way. And get used to dealing with them, because the same cast of enemies is reused throughout the entire game. Why am I fighting caterpillars underwater? Why are there birds and bees in temple ruins? There are spikey fish in the underwater level, and a rarely used fire enemy in the lava areas, but these are the exceptions rather than the norm. The enemy reuse is shameless, and became genuinely disappointing when I eagerly approached the game’s midway boss only to discover it was just a gladiatorial arena full of the same enemies I’d already been fighting for two hours.
Lucky’s Tale only takes around four hours to complete, which is to its benefit. It’s clear Playful didn’t have many mechanics or enemies to work with, and the short campaign meant my experience with them didn’t entirely sour. I genuinely did have fun playing through the similarly styled levels and fighting only subtly changing enemies, but I don’t think I would have for much longer. Had Lucky’s Tale used the complexity of its later levels to set the bar for the entire game, I’d gladly be looking to play more. But the vast majority of the playable stages aren’t very challenging—a conscious decision, I imagine, to make sure anyone who purchased the Rift could enjoy the game—and I finished with nearly 30 extra lives.