The Last Taxi Review – Leaving The Meter Running

The Last Taxi has an intriguing idea at its heart but, ultimately, you should keep the meter running. Here’s our The Last Taxi review.

Since the launch of Papers, Please in 2013 brought the concept of the darkly satirical simulation game to everyone’s consciousness, there has been a steady rise in the number of games experimenting with the concept. Developer ZenFri is the latest to attempt a VR spin on the idea, with The Last Taxi. 

The player takes the role of the only human taxi driver in a dark, dystopian mega city where widespread robot automation has left the remaining humans scrabbling to make ends meet. The player character buys a modified flying taxi from the slightly shady Buck, who also serves as a tutorial provider, informing the player of the various functions of the cab you are now responsible for. Buck also acts as our first fare, presenting the first chance to get to grips with the mechanics and learn the basics of how to make the customer happy. 

Sadly, the disappointments begin straight away. The cab drives itself down a pre-determined route for each fare. The player only needs to operate functions such as the windscreen wipers and horn, and most importantly respond correctly to your customer’s conversation, with the best responses bumping up your star rating and thus earning you more money. You can also choose to record any conversation that appears to contain evidence of illegal activity and dob them in to the police for a nice monetary reward. 

Clearly, this isn’t Crazy Taxi and, in fairness, it isn’t meant to be. But it’s strange to be put in the driver’s seat of a vehicle and not have at least some control over its direction. Even measuring subtle changes in driving patterns to affect your overall rating would have given The Last Taxi’s gameplay a bit more substance.

One underutilized mechanic is the power systems for the various cab gadgets and the mods you can acquire as you play. These are powered by your blood, using a vial which is inserted into the back of your hand. Extra vials cost money and you’d think that overuse of this unique power system would have some tangible effect on your well-being; perhaps a visual effect to show the player character getting woozy from blood loss. But nope – being forced into buying extra vials is the only downside. 

The world itself seems interesting; a highly stratified cyberpunk society with sharp divisions between the haves and the have-nots. There’s plenty of lore available, not just in the cab conversations but also in the various digital newspaper articles you can peruse when you have the time. It’s just a shame that this isn’t explored in more depth, or properly integrated into the gameplay. There are various moral dilemmas, but the only consequences seem to be with regards to your bank balance, which makes you feel oddly distanced and unaffected, even by some of the more heart-wrenching stories that pass into the backseat of your taxi.

The Last Taxi Review 2

There are no subtitles, so the only way to know what your customers are saying is to listen carefully, which presents some accessibility problems. The cab ‘console’ can be adjusted with in game, but even though it seems logical for a taxi driving simulator to be played sitting, actually sitting down makes it hard to properly see the cab monitors, no matter how you adjust the console. 

This highlights one particular concern with The Last Taxi – why did it need to be in VR? The game doesn’t seem to benefit from the additional immersion of the VR setup. Interacting with the cab gadgets is often fiddly, and the environment is only glimpsed through the narrow aperture of your taxi windows. Its difficult to determine what the VR aspect provides that a similar ‘flat’ game would not. 

The Last Taxi at least has a competently put-together world. The art style and animation is stylised and reasonably pleasing to look at, despite occasional lip-sync issues. Though the anti-aliasing on the borders needs to be tweaked, as the way everything fuzzes at the edges, which is very distracting. The general aesthetic seems to be going for 70s/80s throwback cyberpunk, as seen with tutorial character and his hideous knitted tank top or the dark mega city environments drenched in pollution only occasionally lit by flashes of neon. 

The music is oddly unfitting. The soundtrack veers towards melancholy piano tracks, which are fine for some of the sad stories expressed by your customers, but otherwise doesn’t fit the general feel of the world at all. The developers would have been better off taking a leaf from Bladerunner’s book and going for a Vangelis-inspired electronic/synth soundtrack. 

The sound design otherwise is fine, with the various cab functions providing reasonably satisfying clicks, beeps and other sounds. The voice acting is very good, which is just as well, since these conversations provide the majority of gameplay and interaction. Characters like the robot maid have an electronic modulation to make them sound appropriately artificial, while still retaining a significant degree of personality. 

One problem with The Last Taxi is in regards to its loading times and stability. It can take well over five minutes to load, and will sometimes crash on start-up. There are other stability problems within the game itself, making for a frustrating experience and speaking of a need for further optimisation.

The Last Taxi Review – Final Impressions

The central premise of The Last Taxi is an interesting and solid one, and the world created around it has some potential, but it lacks the high stakes and desperation of Papers, Please, not to mention potential for any driving mechanics. Instead, the player engages with a competently made Uber driver simulator, trying to juggle your bank balance and say the correct soothing words to your customer to make them give you a high rating. The result is uncomfortably close to real life for those who have ever worked in any customer service role. 

The Last Taxi had such potential to create an interesting, interactive universe, but ultimately fails to properly capitalize on its premise. The game lacks depth, and its half-hearted attempts at political satire fall flat in an experience that lacks significant impact.

UploadVR recently changed its review guidelines, and this is one of our new unlabelled review categories. You can read more about our review guidelines here

What did you make of our The Last Taxi review? Let us know in the comments below!

The Atlas Mystery Review: A Trip To The Pictures

VR escape rooms are a dime a dozen; can The Atlas Mystery separate itself from the pack? Read on for our The Atlas Mystery review.

The concept of the real-life escape room has exploded in popularity in recent years, with numerous places in many cities across the world offering various experiences ranging in theme from spy drama to high fantasy. VR developers were quick to pick up on the idea, realizing that an interactive mystery works extremely well in the new medium. Developer Top Right Corner has opted for some 1940s flavor in a spooky theatre in The Atlas Mystery in a way that skirts the edges of the horror genre by combining it with a murder mystery and ghost story. 

As the game opens, the player takes the role of a cinema manager who has been tasked with preparing the legendary Atlas Theatre for re-opening. The game is ostensibly set in 1951, but since the cinema has been closed and abandoned since the 1940s, and it uses the classic Art Deco aesthetic of that decade to good effect. 

The Atlas Mystery doesn’t veer far from the typical escape room structure; the player moves from room to room in order to solve various puzzles and gather the story threads, which are usually presented in the form of letters and newspaper clippings which tell the story of former Atlas Theatre owner, a Hollywood legend named Oliver Westin. His death led to the initial closing of the theatre. The story is interesting, but poorly integrated with the rest of the game, and sadly proves to be ultimately somewhat unsatisfactory at the ending, even if the player has managed to put together all the scattered story fragments.

The Atlas Mystery Review The Facts

Platforms: PC VR, Quest 2
Release Date: Out Now
Developer: Top Right Corner
Price: $14.99

The puzzles themselves require careful examination of the environment in order to decipher what to do, but the puzzles themselves vary wildly in challenge, and sometimes need some unlikely leaps of logic to solve. There is no consistent difficulty curve; puzzle types range from turning keys or dials to memorizing and inputting a proper sequence of words or numbers. The most effective puzzles are those which draw strongly on the setting, or delve into the early history of cinema. One of the most pleasing examples involves having to cut together a short length of film and project it on a wall, which is very satisfying and suits the game perfectly. 

Only objects that are useful for puzzles or advancing the story are available for interaction, which spoils the immersion somewhat. The interaction itself is somewhat unpolished; sometimes interactive objects will fail to respond properly, and objects often don’t have the proper weight or physics reactions attached to them, which is another immersion-breaking factor. Even something as simple as picking up a letter to read can involve you holding your hand at an awkward angle in order to read it.

Several puzzles involve carrying items between rooms, for which a convenient backpack is provided, though it’s easy to get into the adventure game mindset and carry things with you that you never need to use again. Movement comes in smooth locomotion or teleport, but the smooth locomotion speed is extremely slow, and can prove frustrating for those who don’t deal well with simulation sickness. 

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Where the game really excels is in its atmosphere. The design of the cinema itself combined with the lighting choices lends itself to a feeling of isolation, and you might find yourself feeling that something is lurking in those deep shadows. The music also strongly contributes, using a 40s/50s sound palette, mostly using a melancholy piano that only adds to the spooky feeling throughout the game. 

Despite leaning on the horror atmosphere, there are no jump-scares or scenes of bloody carnage, just a feeling of something watching, which is arguably even more unsettling. That said, even the horror-averse should be fine playing this game, as it never gets more intense than a ‘slightly spooky feeling’ 

The Atlas Mystery is somewhat short, and can be completed within only 3-4 hours of play, even if you are taking things at a leisurely pace. There is little reason to replay the adventure, unless you have missed some of the story clues. The lack of replayability is somewhat disappointing, as the aesthetic and atmosphere of the cinema could offer a greater scope for exploration and backtracking. 

The Atlas Mystery Review – Final Impressions

Ultimately, The Atlas Mystery is a good escape room mystery game but could be greatly improved by adding more interactivity and placing greater emphasis on the story. The setting and particularly the excellent soundtrack is worthy of a greater scope, perhaps with added voice acting and more room to explore. The game is a decent way to spend a couple of hours, but only real escape room buffs will get a higher level of appreciation out of it. 

UploadVR recently changed its review guidelines, and this is one of our new unlabelled review categories. You can read more about our review guidelines here

This review was conducted on PC VR. What did you make of our The Atlas Mystery review? Let us know in the comments below!

Townsmen VR Review: Little People In Little Houses

There has always been a certain appeal to the idea of building your own civilization and watching it grow, from creating little houses from Lego, to painstakingly constructing a vast metropolis in games like Sim City, the draw seems to be nigh universal. HandyGames aims to bring this appeal into VR by combining strategic city-building with elements of classic ‘God-sim’ games like Black and White in Townsmen VR.

Platforms: PC VR
Release Date: Out Now
Price: $39.99

Starting the game sees the player introduced to Sir Clunks-a-lot, your advisor and dispenser of tutorial tips. He appears as an armored head floating in mid-air, which is somewhat immersion-breaking for something so early in the game, but it’s easy to move on from as you turn your focus to the game mechanics. Movement is fairly straightforward, as you simply pull yourself along by ‘grabbing’ empty space, though the dearth of comfort options might make this uncomfortable for some players.

The player’s first task is to assist some villagers who are stuck on a wrecked boat. Picking up logs and dropping them into the boat allows the villagers to begin repairs, and subsequently sail to an island where a new town can be set up. New gameplay elements are gradually introduced, and the player learns to keep track of resources, tasks and their overall population.

Stone and wood are needed to make new buildings, and you can send your villagers out to start mining stone and chopping wood etc. The rate at which new mechanics are introduced, such as farming or combat, is well-balanced, never overwhelming the player with information but still keeping a good level of challenge and interaction. There are thirteen different islands to build on, and twenty building types to use, which when combined with the range of tasks and the challenge of combat, as well as the alternative ‘Sandbox Mode’ option gives the player plenty to be absorbed in.

One of the nicest things about Townsmen VR is the level of detail. The player can change perspective and get right down amongst the villagers to see the buildings, characters and landscape from a ground-level perspective. Though the graphics are fairly cartoonish and stylized, they still have a good level of craft and detail that shows care and attention has gone into the look and feel of the game. There are a number of delightful small touches, such as if you pick up a cat, it will start purring, with the sound getting louder if you hold the cat close to your ear. Or if you stand still for long enough, the tiny birds flitting around might land on your hand. Townsmen VR is full of such pleasing easter eggs which makes the game environment a genuinely pleasant place to spend time.

The sound design is excellent, the aural cues give the player an indication of what is happening and where, correctly changing the sound to account for distance and direction. As such, the player can identify if a building project has just been completed, or if a villager has fallen into the water and needs to be saved from drowning. The music is gentle and not overbearing, with an appropriately medieval feel, though some of the loops feel a little short.

Not all players will appreciate the level of micromanagement needed to build at maximum efficiency. Though villagers will cheerfully continue at an assigned task, such as gathering wood or farming the land, it’s far more efficient to pick up a villager and drop them on whatever area needs to be currently worked on. Though the well-designed menus and audio cues help the player keep track of things, your attention can still be stretched thin, especially when you are being attacked.

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There are some minor niggles, too. It’s a little too easy to accidentally brush a villager off the island into the water, prompting you to drop what you are doing to save them from a watery grave. The physics engine also seems to sometimes have issues, especially with items such as the catapult, and some event triggers can fail to activate properly. On the whole, though, Townsmen VR runs well.

Townsmen VR is not perfect. There are no multiplayer elements, which is a shame as the combat, in particular, would benefit greatly from being able to play and compete with friends. The combat itself feels a little unbalanced at first, as the player can find themselves quickly overwhelmed until they have amassed a considerable armory of soldiers, catapults and crossbows.

That said, Townsmen VR is the sort of game where you intend to spend only an hour or so chilling out and finishing a few tasks, only to remove your headset and find that half a day has passed you by. It’s a very pleasing place to spend a lot of time, and provides a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.

Townsmen VR Review – Final Impressions

Fans of God-sims and city builders will find a lot to enjoy in Townsmen VR, and even newcomers to those genres will appreciate how well the extensive tutorial guides players through the process of creation and combat. The ability to change perspectives and enjoy the world from different levels provides a new level of immersion for this genre that is very welcome.

Zenith Dev Talks Solarpunk And Anime Influences, Future Updates

Developer Ramen VR has attracted a great deal of attention from virtual reality (VR) enthusiasts since the release of Zenith: The Last City, with the game even briefly hitting the top of the Steam player charts.

Though still in Early Access, fans are hopeful that Zenith represents a step towards the fully immersive VR MMORPG popular in fiction. To explore the ideas, influences and future plans for Zenith: The Last City, Upload VR spoke to Andy Tsen, CEO and co-founder of Ramen VR.

Ramen VR itself is a small business for an ambitious project like Zenith: The Last City, employing only 15 people. Tsen was frank about the challenges the developer faces and meeting people’s expectations: “When we launched Zenith, there were a lot of people who expected Sword Art Online or World of Warcraft. We’re more like Ultima Online, a few guys trying to create something we’re passionate about.” 

Comparisons to media about VR MMOs such as Sword Art Online or .Hack is inevitable, and Tsen said that anime and Japanese culture did indeed have a significant influence. “The inspiration for the game comes from every game that I’ve played,” he says. “Anime was a large part of my formative years, so we took ideas from Final Fantasy XIV, World of Warcraft and even Nier. We wanted to create a world inspired by anime and JRPGS. You can see it in the open world, such as the Plains area, we reference a lot of Miyazaki and a lot of Nier.”

Speaking about the tone and genre of the game, Tsen had this to say: “If you look at the city we have a solarpunk going on, while the starting area was inspired by Midgar of Final Fantasy VII and a lot of other cyberpunk media. There are sci-fi elements to it, but it’s very fantasy inspired, but it’s going to be more solarpunk themed and styled than cyberpunk.” He also indicated that in storyline terms, it won’t be so black and white as ‘the bright happy place is good, the dark spooky place is evil’. There will be nuance and subtleties for players to discover as the game world is expanded and refined. There is also a tendency for Solarpunk media to be more optimistic in tone than the more grungy and bleak Cyberpunk media.

A common criticism of many modern MMOs is that intuitive, fun gameplay can be lost amidst a sea of complex systems, rewards and currencies such that it becomes more akin to a job than a game played for fun. “I think a lot of the immersion has been lost in modern MMOs,” Tsen commented on that topic. “Our goal was to create an immersive world where people could reach their full potential, without worrying about what’s going on in the real world. It’s a gaming-focused new reality. We want to focus on making fun experiences for people.” 

Asked about how that feeds into accessibility for players, Tsen said that the team ensured it was possible to play Zenith from a seated position, then added: “A lot of times accessibility is just good game design. You don’t lose anything by making a game more accessible.” He indicated that this is just a starting point for Ramen VR, and that they are keen to integrate accessibility into the game during the Early Access phase, saying for just one example: “We had to work with some of our team who get very simulation-sick, so we came up with things like our out-of-body locomotion to mitigate that.”

Tsen also said this focus on accessibility extends into online safety and comfort within the game, emphasizing the tools given to players. “You can block people, or you can deafen. For us safety is incredibly important. We have GMs who can invisibly wander the world and make sure everything’s okay,” he said, adding that bots have limited effectiveness when protecting a community. “There’s only so much you can do with automation, so you always need human judgment involved.” 

Tsen also stated Final Fantasy XIV as a worthy example to follow, because Square Enix implemented positive reinforcement systems that allow players to issue a commendation to fellow players who impressed them during a Duty, Dungeon or Raid. This works as a counterpoint to blocking and reporting systems to help foster community, something that Ramen VR also hopes to develop for Zenith.

Ramen VR has already promised to add hundreds of hours of new content in its next major update patch, and Tsen spoke enthusiastically about what Zenith players can expect in the future, “There’s a lack of end-game content at the moment. We need to do a lot more. In our next major content update our goal is to address that, and expand it so there’s things for casual players to do, things for hardcore players or those who want to just grind for cosmetics.” 

Zenith VR MMO Beta

Indeed, Andy also indicated during GDC that there were plans to add more exploration and environmental puzzles, but that’s not the only thing the development team has planned: “We’re excited about player housing, crafting, even PvP – that’s a little down the line though. What’s currently available for Zenith is only about 10% of what we want to provide for our players.”

Considering that Zenith has already met with a solid response from the Upload VR review in its current Early Access state, what the 90% of additional content could provide is worth considering. Creating an MMO is not an easy task, and plenty of developers have failed to clear the hurdles involved with growing a small company in a sustainable way. 

Tsen hopes they can continue to grow and meet the challenges implicit in creating and maintaining an expansive MMORPG. “We have great investors, we’re cash-flow positive, but the next big question is how to scale it while keeping the culture that’s got us this far.”

Zenith: The Last City is available on Quest, Steam and PlayStation Store. 

Clash of Chefs VR Review: Virtual Burger Time

Clash of Chefs serves up a decent VR cooking game, though there’s room for improvement on the menu. Read on in our Clash of Chefs VR review.

Video games involving cooking have a long history, dating right back to the 8-bit microcomputers and continuing to this day. This time, developer Flat Hill Games presents players with the chance to see what life is like behind the kitchen counter of a busy restaurant with Clash of Chefs VR.

Clash of Chefs VR opens to present four different food options to choose from, American, Italian, Japanese and Mexican. The aim of the game is to prepare the requested food items and present them to your waiter, who delivers them to the waiting customers, who provide feedback on your performance in the form of little emojis. As you might expect, the orders gradually ramp up in complexity, making activity ever more frantic.

Things start out fairly simple in the American kitchen. Your first job involves making burgers; throw a patty on the grill, set out the buns, add cheese if needed and present the plate to your waiter. As you progress, more elements are added, such as salad, fries and drinks. The challenge is how best to manage your time to make sure orders are completed accurately and efficiently. The Italian kitchen likewise begins with the fairly simple task of making pizzas before ramping up the difficulty, but the Japanese and Mexican kitchens require a bit more finesse and provide a further challenge to players who have become master chefs of American and Italian cuisine.

Helpfully, there are tutorial videos that give the player beginner advice on how to start preparing each food item. These initially show at the start of each level, but this is actually the worst time to watch them, as the pace of the game dictates that you get cooking right away. The tutorials are also available to view via the options menu.

Clash of Chefs VR Review – The Facts

What is it?: A VR cooking game where you try to prepare the best meals as fast as you can with single-player and multiplayer.
Platforms: Quest, Steam
Release Date:  Out Now
Price: $19.99

The visuals have a chunky, cartoonish appearance, which does mean there isn’t much visual clutter to spoil your frantic search for the right knife or ingredient, and the graphical cues to inform the player if a food item is ready or if it has spoiled are solid and easily understood. Each restaurant has its own theming to match the style of cuisine on offer, with the American kitchen having a retro diner-style, while the Italian restaurant has a marble countertop and checked tablecloths on the tables. The graphical simplicity and use of bold colors can make things look a bit flat, but since you will be focusing largely on the task at hand, graphical realism and fidelity is hardly a high priority.

Similarly the music is subdued, with appropriate ambient music being played for each restaurant style. The sound effects are nice and crisp and give a good indicator of performing the task correctly; such as the chopping sound of slicing through cucumber or sushi roll, or the sizzle of beef patties on the grill. The music and background chatter of restaurant patrons fades from your mind with the frenetic pace of gameplay, particularly in the higher levels, but the lack of a solid, immersive soundscape to drive the action is a shame.

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The kitchen layouts are logical, and everything you need is accessible without moving too far in any direction. There are some issues with the game recognizing when you want to grab an item, as sometimes you will just fail to pick something up, or it will inexplicably fall out of your hand to fall to the floor, or into the nebulous void and become unreachable. Important items like your knife or cheese grater will respawn after a few seconds, but these small problems can add up over a long play session. In addition, it is difficult to use both hands at once, as the game will only seem to recognize one action at a time, adding to the frustration, particularly at higher levels.

With four different food styles to master across twenty levels each, there’s a fair amount of content to get through in Clash of Chefs VR. There’s also a good chance you will spend a while trying to get the perfect score or maximizing your workflow before feeling secure in moving on to the next level. Each restaurant can take over an hour to complete, easily providing four or more hours of content depending on how you play. There is also a competitive multiplayer mode, where chefs are pitted against each other in a race to see who can complete their orders first, with the option to throw knives or plates at your opponents to disrupt their preparation and give yourself an advantage.

Clash of Chefs VR Review – Comfort

Since Clash of Chefs VR is mostly a game about standing still and grabbing things, there are few comfort options included. Players can raise or lower the work counter to a suitable height. There is an option to turn the haptic feedback in the controllers on or of, but that’s about it.

Core gameplay for Clash of Chefs VR basically boils down to time management. The ability to be methodical and being able to plan and anticipate is a crucial skill as your advance through the levels for each style of food. Once your get into the flow, it becomes an oddly Zen experience, the movements needed burning themselves into muscle memory. This is particularly true in the endless mode, where you can just keep dishing up food to all comers and attempting to get your name on the leaderboards. The pace of gameplay is so fast there is no room to simply play around with the environment, and there’s no time to try and juggle knives, mess around with the physics or even have a proper look around.

Clash of Chefs VR Review – Final Impressions

Overall, Clash of Chefs VR is a solid game and one that can provide plenty of entertainment, particularly in multiplayer, but it fails to do anything groundbreaking or extraordinary with the genre and it does have some niggling issues that need to be resolved. If you’re after Overcooked VR, we still say go with Cook-Out: A Sandwich Tale, but this is a decent addition to the genre all the same.


Clash of Chefs Review Points (1)

For more on how we arrived at this rating, read our review guidelines. What did you make of our Clash of Chefs review? Let us know in the comments below!

Vengeful Rites Review: The Legend of Virtual Reality

Vengeful Rites has its issues, but its Zelda-like structure will please VR adventurers. Here’s our Vengeful Rites review!

The majority of modern RPGs have a tendency to act like a helicopter parent, constantly reminding you of your next objective, pointing out save points and marking out routes on your map. Vengeful Rites eschews this approach, and after the tutorial section shoves you out of the door to go and explore the world at your own pace.

Deep Dive Interactive has reached back into the past for inspiration for its action-adventure RPG, building an experience that calls to mind titles such as the early Legend of Zelda games. This nostalgic feeling extends to the graphical style, which uses a bright and colorful palette and simplified, cartoon-style art and animation.

As expected, Vengeful Rites takes the time to explain the core mechanics before setting you off on your adventure. The player takes the role of an apprentice in some sort of magical order, with a disembodied voice putting you through your paces as you adapt to the controls and systems.

Swordplay is the primary way of attacking, and feels very satisfying. The game uses a system of attacks, parries and blocks, with enemies telegraphing their attacks to allow the player to respond with the correct block or parry. Some basic knowledge of fencing or swordplay comes in very handy, as the standard parry positions are very useful. Quick, strong swings are encouraged, but weak flailing will result in nothing more than a glancing blow that does little damage. Unfortunately, the game only recognizes sword swings, so any instinct to use a thrust will not be rewarded.

Pleasingly, there is even a left-handed mode for southpaws. There is also a bow, which similar to the sword, requires something akin to real archery skills in order to accurately hit a target. Stocks of arrows are limited, however so it’s a good idea to take time when aiming and pick your targets carefully. This is especially true since many enemies are surprisingly smart, so having a moment to devise a suitable strategy is wise.

The magic system is impressively in-depth. A medallion is visible on the back of the player’s hand, which is used as a magical focus. In deference to left-handed sword users, whichever hand is not holding the sword can be used for this purpose. There are four schools of magic; Defensive, Destruction, Restoration and Kinetic. You start out with a few basic spells, which can be upgraded and new spells are added as you travel and make new discoveries. The spells are activated using gesture controls, which involves selecting the school of magic you want, then making the correct gesture to cast it such as a turning a key gesture to use a magic shield.

This can take a few goes to get right, and annoyingly, sometimes the gestures fail to activate the spell, particularly when playing in left-handed mode. Most types of magic consume mana, which either restores slowly over time, or can be replenished using mana crystals. One exception to this is kinetic magic, which consumes no mana and can be used to move objects, which comes in extremely useful for solving puzzles and removing obstacles.

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When you finally get out into the wider overworld, it is generally well-realized. Despite the simplistic graphical style, it all meshes well and feels like part of a coherent world. Movement is done through smooth locomotion by default, but the framerate generally stays steady, unless there is a lot of action on-screen at once, in which case it begins to stutter a little. One place where it misses the mark is how empty the world feels.

Apart from the monsters and other enemies, there is little that gives the world a sense of life. Villages and other settlements feel bare, with only shopkeepers there to greet you. A few more NPCs dotted around—or some birds, or sheep and chickens—would make it feel a lot more like a real place.

The empty feeling extends to the sound. The music is minimal and somewhat generic, and the sound levels are inconsistent, with some sounds—such as the river rushing near the starting area that are unnaturally loud while others feel far too quiet. The voice acting is likewise somewhat hit-or miss. The voice of the narrator who guides you through the tutorial is competent, but some other characters sound like they are trying too hard, and the sound quality is variable.

Villain Dragore, for example, has a very muffled sound quality that sounds like he is using a poor quality microphone. Not unexpected for a small company who probably had to have their voice cast record remotely, but it is one aspect that could be improved by some way in a professional recording studio.

Vengeful Rites Review – Comfort

Vengeful Rites uses a smooth locomotion system by default, which is best for immersion, but also overs teleportation or head-orientation movement options. Turning is also configurable, offering a 45°, or 90° snap turn, with the option of a fade-out or smooth turning with a speed slider. Vengeful Rites is a fairly smooth game, but those prone to simulation sickness will need to experiment to find the best combination.

Vengeful Rites has a light touch with the story, using a standard ‘avenge your Master’ plot hook as a starting point, but otherwise the player is left to choose their own path and make their own story and adventure. That’s where the real meat of the game lies, in exploration. There are a lot of secrets hidden across the world, and finding them is one of the great joys of the game. The overworld is not quite as expansive as, say, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but it still has enough content through its four chapters for roughly 15 hours of play, particularly if you enjoy searching every nook and cranny for hidden secrets.

Vengeful Rites Review – Final Impressions

Vengeful Rites is not a perfect game, but is a solid and engaging Action-Adventure RPG that is ideally suited for those who enjoy combat, exploration and puzzle-solving. Despite the lack of a deep narrative, there’s plenty of room for players to create their own story as they journey through the landscape.

Vengeful Rites Review Points

For more on how we arrived at this rating, read our review guidelines. What did you make of our Vengeful Rites review? Let us know in the comments below!

BNY Mellon Launches AR Exhibition at Asia Society Hong Kong Centre

BNY Mellon has announced the opening of Liminal Encounters – An Augmented Reality Exhibition at Asia Society Hong Kong Center (ASHK), which runs from 7th November 2018 until 6th January 2019. Liminal Encounters is described as one of the first outdoor augmented reality (AR) art exhibitions in Hong Kong.

The exhibition marks the 60th anniversary of BNY Mellon in Hong Kong and eschews the traditional gallery setting in favour of a journey through the museum using immersive technology. Each artwork is viewed at different locations through the museum, and features a unique AR component.

The AR components attached to each artwork can be experienced by using the Liminal Encounters BNY Mellon mobile app. The exhibition features five artworks with have been selected from the BNY Mellon collection, alongside three on-site installations commissioned from local artists.

David Cruikshank, Chairman of Asia Pacific, BNY Mellon said, “With more than a hundred years of serving clients in Asia Pacific, BNY Mellon chose Hong Kong as its first stronghold sixty years ago. We are proud to have played an important role in Hong Kong’s growth as a global financial centre and cultural hub. Liminal Encounters speaks directly to the importance of combining technology and innovation with creative thinking, especially in today’s fast-changing world. We remain committed to serving our clients and further investing in the city’s future.”

S. Alice Mong, Executive Director of Asia Society Hong Kong Center, said, “We are very proud to support BNY Mellon in presenting Liminal Encounters in Hong Kong. We are showcasing three local artists’ artworks and five artworks from the BNY Mellon collection with specific locations in our heritage site as a background. This exhibition is about art, technology and the environment, and provides a unique experience for the visitor. Technology can reshape art, art can provide the creative content for technology, and the environment ties them together. The effect is a wonderful collaboration of art and technology and its emotional transformation.”

Further information can be found on the BNY Mellon website. For future coverage of AR in art, keep checking back with VRFocus.

Review: Resident Evil VII biohazard

Its been a while since I picked up a Resident Evil game. Back in ye olden days of the original grey PlayStation, I, like many, played the original two Resident Evil games and enjoyed them, despite the stiff control scheme, and hilariously ropey dialogue. As the series moved away from survival horror and towards action-adventure, threaded through with an increasingly absurd plotline, there was little to convince me to head back to the series… until now.

In Resident Evil VII biohazard you take the role of Ethan Winters, an ordinary bloke who finds himself caught up in the weirdness after receiving a note from his missing wife, Mia. A set-up that will sound suspiciously familiar to fans of Silent Hill. You arrive at a dilapidated Louisiana plantation, which despite its abandoned appearance is indeed inhabited by a twisted and malevolent clan called the Bakers.

Resident Evil 7 - Family

The plantation manor is a masterpiece of design – a clear throwback to earlier entries in the Resident Evil series, but it successfully takes the best elements of those old games and brings in enough detail, story and innovation, as well as ideas taken from other games, to make it feel like a real – and terrifying place.

In true survival horror tradition, at first you have only a short knife to defend yourself with, meaning that running like hell is your best defence through the early part of the game. You can scrounge around and pick up other weaponry, and though weapons and ammo are not quite a thin on the ground as in some other survival horror titles, its scarce enough to give you cause for concern.

The pacing is all but flawless. The tension ramps up steadily, as you learn more about the plantation, the family that have trapped you and the history of both, it slowly becoming clear that this is not just a bunch of mad inbreds you are dealing with… there is something more sinister at work.

Gameplay involves just as much puzzle-solving as it does fighting. There are some great callbacks, such as finding themed keys to open specific doors. Some of them are simple and straightforward, some are multi-layered escape room puzzles that take logic and persistence to solve – all the while looking over your shoulder, frightened of what is coming up the corridor after you.

Resident Evil The Experience

The use of VR takes it to a different level. Though Resident Evil has traditionally been third-person, the use of first-person in this setting feels natural. You start to feel a real connection with Ethan as you both pant with terror, hiding from whichever member of the demented Baker family you are currently hiding from. You can also use VR to hunt down hidden secrets by peeking around walls, or in shadowed corners. In immediacy of VR also means that the horrors that leap out at you are entirely enough to make you jump out of your skin.

Unlike many more modern VR titles, Resident Evil VII biohazard handles entirely using the dual shock 4 controller. Full locomotion is the only way to move – no teleporting here. Though Capcom have been kind enough to include a range of comfort options, such as rotation speed, FOV dimming and a few others. For those who suffer from motion sickness, it might be a bit much, especially in some of the faster-paced sections. For those like me who are lucky enough to not suffer from motion sickness, it is great and adds to the immersion.

Its the atmosphere that is the truly impressive part. Though the colour palette is heavily weighted towards green and brown, emphasising its gloomy, diseased and rotting nature, the manor nonetheless feels like a real place. There are places where mild graphical glitches can spoil the effect somewhat, but it isn’t enough to ruin it.

ResidentEvil7 screenshot mia_5

Resident Evil VII biohazard is a definite return to form for the Resident Evil series, and still holds up extremely well despite being one of the earlier titles on the PSVR. Those who get motion sick might face some trouble, but for fans of survival horror, it is an absolute must.

The VR Waifu Problem

There is a commonly cited ‘fact’ that the VHS format won the home videotape format wars because it allowed pornography to use the format, while Betamax would not. This is actually an apocryphal story, but nonetheless feeds into the idea that any new form of video storage and distribution will, inevitably, be used for porn. Inevitably, pornography has begun to appear in virtual reality (VR) and even augmented reality (AR). Along with that has come another trend, something I have dubbed ‘Waifu Simulators’.

The most famous of these is Summer Lesson, the PlayStation VR title which had the premise of the player giving lessons to a young woman over the Summer break. As the VRFocus preview noted, this often led to the player being put in awkward psuedo-romantic situations, with the sense of immersion giving the feeling that you are invading the personal space of someone you barely know – this is especially cringe-worthy if the player is much older that the depicted age of the character in Summer Lesson.

Summer Lesson Screenshot
Don’t stand so close to me… please.

There was, predictably, a lot of people commenting that the reviewer, our own Kevin Joyce, didn’t ‘Get’ the videogame and the culture that created it. While they might have a point regarding different cultural viewpoints, there are a number of ways this type of videogame can be described as awkward at best and downright creepy at worst.

There are quite a number of these ‘waifu simulators’ around. Many of which take popular characters from videogames like Shining Resonance, or vocaloid character Hatsune Miku and let players view them in various poses, in different outfits or go on stilted ‘virtual dates’.

Firstly, its notable that the characters featured in these types of videogames are almost always very young, often teenagers. Considering the average age of a PlayStation 4 users is 35, this does raise some red flags.

Secondly, these type of videogames always seem to make an uncomfortable number of assumptions about the player – namely, assuming that they are A) Male B) Straight.

Megadimension Neptunia VIIR new VR-Scenes-9

This was particularly odd in Megadimension Neptunia VIIR. Like a lot of RPGs, the Neptunia series draws a lot of female fans, and there are also a lot of LGBT fans of the series. Why then, does its first VR title revert to this straight male default, when its audience is considerably more diverse?

The assumption seems to be that players view these female characters as surrogate girlfriends at best, and objects at worst. There doesn’t seem to be an option to just make friends with these characters, such as the systems in titles such as Persona. Instead you sit through excruciating ‘flirty’ dialogue or accusations you are perving on the characters.

Dating simulators have their place, and when used cleverly the systems in them can even be fun, or even frightening (see Doki Doki Literature Club for an example… or don’t if you are of delicate constitution) but the use of female characters as ‘bait’ to draw in a specific audience feels deeply uncomfortable and regressive.

VR videogames can do so much better than this when it comes to creating relationships with fictional characters. We don’t need them to pose in skimpy outfits to feel close to them.

Social VR Platform Agority Acquired by Spinview

The social aspects of connected virtual reality (VR) are something that is being explored by a number of companies, most notably Facebook with Facebook Spaces. Now Spinview, a company that concentrates on VR for business use has purchased immersive social platform Agority as part of its continued expansion.

The aim of the purchase is to offer businesses a new way to communicate and collaborate, letting teams inhabit a virtual area together, even if they are miles apart.

Agority was created to offer an effective environment for learning, remote working and team engagement than 2D video conferencing. Spinview says that the purchase of Agority will allow Spinview to offer a deeper experience to its customers.

The software will allow 360-degree video to be combined with social VR functionality, allowing entire teams to meet in a shared virtual space, even though they are far seperated geographically. Spinview have taken note of feedback from Agority users that has shown that being in a VR space and using an avatar, complete with the ability to communicate with voice and gesture and creates a far greater sense of presence and connection.

Co-founder of Agority and now current CTO of Spinview, Greg Roach said: “Agority was designed as a tool to remove friction points within businesses by creating as close to real life connections as possible within a virtual environment. We believe that by showcasing the value of Agority within Spinview, the goal is for it to be used as easily and as regularly as the mouse or mobile phone on your desk. This will complement, not dominate everyday working operations, and offer the right tool for the right job at the right time.”

Spinview CEO Linda Wade comments: “Fundamentally we are all social animals, therefore the science behind the work that Agority have done to create something as close to our natural social interactions as possible is incredibly powerful. As businesses become more environmentally conscious but do not want to compromise on the quality of their work, Spinview can now provide a cost-effective but highly valuable solution across a whole host of industries. We’re incredibly excited to see where this will take us as a business, and feel very fortunate to have Greg alongside us for the journey.”

For future coverage on new developments in VR business, keep checking back with VRFocus.