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Analysis: Digital Digital Actuality 2

Right away Tender Claws’ debut virtual reality (VR) title Virtual Virtual Reality (VVR) was a special beast, both in its gameplay and tongue-in-cheek dissection of VR. Which always meant {that a} sequel would have some very big shoes to fill. Enter, Virtual Virtual Reality 2 (VVR2), which goes even more left-field than before whilst taking a crack at the buzzword every tech CEO loves to use at the moment, “metaverse”.

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If you have no clue as to what the hell everyone’s jabbering on about when talking about the metaverse then – you really need to read more Metaversepls articles – VVR2 offers one of the best explanations. That is, of course, if you prefer your sci-fi a little dark, twisted and dystopian, where even the best intentions come crumbling down in a digital avalanche of neon glitches and erratic visuals that puts the 60s to shame.

You’ve decided to retire and live out your life digitally by dispensing with that fleshy, wrinkly meat sack you call a body, uploading to the utopian world of Scottsdale. Here you can interact with other (previous) humans and AI alike, enjoying a spot of speed dating or the official sport of Scottsdale, croquet. However, there’s one tiny problem not long after your arrival, the company running Scottsdale runs out of funding and so begins shutting down the servers. That means deletion for everyone unless you can find a way out; back to “meatspace.”

And so begins what is essentially a race through various worlds as they begin to break apart, their code slowly disappearing into the aether. VVR2 is like a full-frontal assault on the idea of the metaverse, poking fun at the evangelists who make it whilst pitying those who imagine that the woes of real life won’t follow them into this digital wonderland.

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It’s this narrative and the way all the characters deliver their parts that makes VVR2 a joy to experience. The dialogue is second to none, which isn’t too surprising considering Tender Claws says the videogame features over 600 pages of script. Whether that’s NPCs who are old AI lamenting their place to one character that looks like an artichoke who turns out to be an ex-human behind Scottsdale’s creation, they all have a story to tell and a part to play. Although, it must be said some of the monologues do stretch on a bit when all you really want to do is get going.

And to do that you get your own mech. Yup, that’s right, no boring walking for you, just stomping about the place looking all badass. Well, you would if you weren’t pulling handles and twisting levers like you’re trying to drive an old steam locomotive. The mechanics are wonderfully tailored to VR, with enough physical exertion allowing you to get way too engrossed in the whole process. A central lever controls the mechs speed, two ceiling-mounted levers control left and right turning whilst two-floor levers can be pulled up and released for the jump mechanism. It’s like trying to rub your belly, whilst patting your head and scratching your nose at the same time.

No mech would be complete without arms or some other attachments. So two further handles come in from either side for those, starting with a grappling hook to snag distant objects and a vacuum to suck them up. These can then be used as offensive projectiles. As you get deeper into VVR2 new characters will add suitably weird upgrades like electrified boxing gloves. There really is so much going on that it keeps you immersed in the moment as you deal with all of these controls. Yet there are moments where it can exasperating, fumbling a jump to reset or getting caught on a random object that you can’t reverse back from.

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It’s almost like VVR2 has taken some of its playbook from Doctor Who’s dreaded enemies, the Dalek’s. Suddenly when coming across a set of stairs you become undone. Whether walking around outside of the mech or manoeuvring it, getting caught on stairs just seemed to be an annoying fact of life. Only by teleporting or jumping can you traverse these feared obstacles. So yes, you do have teleport and smooth locomotion options when not controlling the mech.

VVR2 also has other glitches – or what seem to be glitches it’s sometimes hard to tell – that can make gameplay somewhat frustrating. Collision detection can be highly erratic, at one point when returning to Chaz because I arrived at a high angle I suddenly clipped outside with no way to get back in. Or simple things like opening the fridge the door had no graduation to it, either open or closed, seemingly stuck until the very last moment.

Whilst I do have gripes about the videogame there are plenty of positives too. Tender Claws has packed VVR2 with nods to VR, sequences like the rhythm action section that gets more and more mental provide a perfect example of the humour running throughout. And every section is split down into chapters (20 in total) so you can go back to revisit any. Well worth doing as farming Goo found in certain sections helps to unlock some secret headsets.

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Be aware though, VVR2 can be a bit of a visual assault at points. Tender Claws has used every colour of the rainbow whilst keeping to the same visual design seen throughout its VR projects. Fun to look at, there are moments where the landscape is so random that it can be difficult to know where to go and you will fall through the odd gap in the floor.

VVR 2 is a very busy game and one that’ll keep you entertained for around 10 hours. But it doesn’t quite have that spark the original has, almost trying to be too bold and brash. The writing is definitely on point and well-acted yet there are moments where if you’re playing standing they can drag on a bit too long. Once again Tender Claws has done its own unique thing and that’s what we love about them, Virtual Virtual Reality 2 by far embodies the idea of an experience you can only get in VR, it just needs a bit more refinement.

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