Review: Barn Finders VR

Playing Barn Finders VR feels a bit like one of those reality TV shows you watch when there’s nothing else on, or you’re stuck at home ill, with only daytime TV to get you through. There’s a sense of being watched by cameras as you pick through old barns looking for value, or bidding on a storage unit which contains a valuable item. Half the time I was playing I wanted to look directly into a camera lens and raise my eyebrows at the audacity of those trying to outbid me.

The Barn Finders, that’s the player and their redneck relation, operate a store which seems to sell bits and pieces pulled out of random barns. At first, the store is barren; every shelf holds only dust, floor displays are broken wooden pallets. Utilising the store’s handy (and ancient) computer, customers will get in contact asking the Barn Finders to search a property for a particular item – we can keep everything else we find and sell it in-store.

I went out to the first barn looking for a taxidermy deer. I seemingly had superhuman strength as I could pick up huge wooden crates, vehicle tires and myriad large knick-knacks. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. At one point I picked up a taxidermy… I think it was an otter (it was bad taxidermy) and when I placed it down a countdown timer appeared with no other prompts. Eventually, I worked out that when the timer hit zero, I had to pick up the item again which would package it into the truck out back.

Using the controllers I pointed at cans, bottles, and random rubbish which could be recycled with the press of a button. Now I knew what the timer meant I began picking up everything to see if it could be collected. Eventually, I found the deer we’d come for, threw it into the truck and headed back to the shop.

Around the store are areas designated for cleaning items or repairing them. Of course, these took cash to unlock, so I began placing the items I found in the store. The shelves still looked bare, so I chose to bid on a storage unit next. After driving out, and watching one of the many bizarre cutscenes which feel as if pulled from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it was time to bid. Of course, I won the unit, bidding seemed a bit pointless as I assume clearing the unit is part of the campaign.

I repeated everything from the barn, this time finding more mechanical parts and an entire truck which could be sold in the yard of the store. I was quietly enjoying the concept of the game, it’s not going to win any awards, but there was something oddly relaxing and satisfying about roaming these cavernous spaces looking for potential treasures.

Also oddly pleasing is the shopping experience offered to the customers back at the store. Patrons enter and stand by the item they want, sparking a conversation, which leads to some haggling over prices. Using a slightly wonky UI, you can hold out for a better price, refuse the sale or let the item go for the offered amount. 

Frustratingly, a moving bar must be stopped in the right zone to trigger a successful haggling attempt and the motion controls just aren’t good enough. In fact, anytime I had to ‘physically’ press a button it took a few attempts. Several times I sold an item for lower than I wanted because the sensitivity is skewed.

Otherwise, I was enjoying my time in this faux TV entertainment. The attention to detail in the environments and items is quirky and the developers have committed to the redneck family stylings in a wonderfully ironic way. The idea of rooting through these spaces is always appealing, but like many similar games (House Flipper I’m looking at you) it’s enjoyable but gets repetitive quite quickly.

There are odd driving forces aside from the core concept – the store can be upgraded visually, there are comic book pages to discover and hidden items which require revisiting areas and exploring again. Your mileage will vary depending on your patience.

It’s hard to say whether VR really offers anything to the concept here. There weren’t really any moments where I marvelled at something I was manipulating in virtual reality; the whole experience could be played with mouse and keyboard and affect nothing within the game. While that’s not a major detraction, it would be nice to have some features that justify the need for VR.

Review: Wanderer

It’s been proven in many a movie and videogame that messing with time travel can lead to all sorts of convoluted narratives and weird plotlines. They can also offer some of the most novel ways to explore both history and what could have been if certain events hadn’t transpired. Wanderer most definitely drops you in the deep end of a time travel adventure that features iconic moments, people and places that aren’t quite as they should be, and it’s up to you to unravel the mess and find out how it happened in the first place. Welcome to the most gripping VR game of 2022…so far.


A combined effort between New Zealand-based studios M-Theory and OddBoy, Wanderer sets you on a journey that’s as puzzling as you’d expect – it is one giant brain taxing puzzle title after all! You step into the shoes of Asher Neumann who locates his grandfather’s apartment which contains a few odd trinkets, a remote control car, a lot of cockroaches, several power tools and as chance would have it a talking, flying watch. Samuel is his name and not only is he essential to unravelling this mess he also provides some welcome company along the way.

Neumann’s grandfather was involved in some murky shit but without spoiling too much of the storyline he’s given you mostly everything you need to right quite a few temporal wrongs. Right away Wanderer immerses you in the narrative of skewed timelines and tragic events that shouldn’t have happened. It’s truly engrossing and like a good book, keeps you enthralled throughout; even when the frustration kicks in trying to solve a particular puzzle.

The developers have done an exceptional job of immersing you in Wanderer. There’s lots and lots to interact with, whether it’s for fun or a crucial next step. The apartment has items like a knockoff Super Soaker and NERF gun, you can smash plates and bottles with a satisfying crack, and if you like hunting through drawers and cupboards there are plenty of those as well.


One disappointment that appeared right at the very start was a jump mechanic to get yourself through a window or down a ledge. It required standing in an exact spot and holding the A button-down, hardly the most involved of VR abilities. Whilst it detracts from that sense of immersion, it only appeared at the beginning of the videogame, almost like M-Theory and OddBoy decided they didn’t want it in the rest of Wanderer. All the better for it really.

As mentioned, Wanderer takes you to various times and places, inhabiting people of that time like you’re Dr. Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap. Become an astronaut during the 1969 moon landing, meet Nikola Tesla, step into WWII and more, all of which are linked in some way. Wanderer is a puzzle adventure through and through with only a few light action elements, and the puzzles really do shine; they get that grey matter working too.

Puzzle titles can fall foul of repetition, using the same base design over and over again. Wanderer’s puzzles feel continually fresh with each encounter, even when a couple are reused here and there. What it does test is your memory. Once you’ve unlocked a few timelines and collected a bunch of items, managing it all is a mission unto itself. You’ll probably find that because the apartment operates as a makeshift base, hoarding starts to become a problem as all the ancient relics and odd objects begin to collect.    


Helping with this process is your friendly watch, Samuel. Attached to your wrist – left or right-handed, you choose – Samuel provides a basic inventory with a maximum of five slots available. You’ll need to unlock most of these by keeping an eye out for glowing blue shards hidden amongst the environment – keep opening those drawers! – before utilising a contraption in the apartment to expand each one. It’s this same machine that gives you a chance to customise your watch by locating specific objects. It’s a tiny side feature but a fun little one when you want to take a break.

And there will be moments where you’ll need to. Wanderer packs a lot in, with stunning visuals, voice acting and some complicated puzzles. Samuel can be called upon to give you hints but there were times when he just kept repeating the same thing over and over. Not sure if it was a bug, in any case, it wasn’t helpful. Other inconsistencies also played a part in making Wanderer a less than perfect experience.

Object interaction felt haphazard at points, having to readjust grip to correctly hold an item when it snaps into your hand awkwardly. Certain objects just didn’t sit well, trying to use the bow perfectly demonstrated why the weapon can be so difficult in VR. The classic problem of invisible walls also made an appearance (or not in this case). Leaning over a table or large item pushes you away, making the remote grab ability essential. Nothing really game-breaking although an issue with the Enigma machine puzzle forced a chapter restart that meant having to replay a chunk of the game as there’s no manual saving.

Wanderer is an ambitious project and for the most part, M-Theory and OddBoy have succeeded. The single-player adventure will keep you busy for 10+ hours and you’ll want to see it through to the end. Pushing the settings to max on PC will give you a glorious game to look at, and the audio is rock solid. Yes, there are one or two unwieldy issues along the way yet they didn’t hamper the overall entertainment Wanderer provides. If you’re looking for a puzzle game to really get stuck into then definitely take a look at Wanderer.

Review: Warhammer Age of Sigma: Tempestfall

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall

Games Workshop’s Warhammer franchise has rooted itself in every entertainment medium and virtual reality (VR) gaming is no different. It’s a universe that fits well in VR, where you become a god-like warrior defeating hordes of horrifying enemies. While Warhammer 40,000: Battle Sister took you to the more modern equivalent of Games Workshop’s war-filled universe, Carbon Studio’s Warhammer Age of Sigma: Tempestfall takes place in an era without all that technology, where knights fought ghastly ghouls to ensure the protection of mankind. Which all sounds awesome doesn’t it? Yet the final delivery just doesn’t quite live up to the potential.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall

Ever since Warhammer Age of Sigma: Tempestfall was revealed in October 2020, each drop of information bathed the experience in deep, rich lore that you just couldn’t wait to be part of. All of that lore is there if you wish to delve into the menu and extract it, which is why it’s such a shame that all the surface level stuff – i.e. the main storyline itself – lacks delivery and a real sense that you’re embodying this epic Stormcast Eternal warrior come to vanquish the plague of Nighthaunt forces.

So some context. As the name implies the videogame is set within Warhammer’s Age of Sigma universe, where a devastating Necroquake wakes up all these horrible forces who go on to attack the mortal realms. As Lord-Arcanum Castor Stormscryer, an all-round badass and leader of the Stormcast Eternals you have to cleanse the world using your superhuman skills, some rather brutal melee weapons and a suitable amount of magical abilities.

Starting in a city ravaged by Nighthaunt forces, Warhammer Age of Sigma: Tempestfall is mostly a linear adventure that takes around 7-8 hours if you don’t get lost or delve into all the side missions. Lost you may be wondering? Carbon Studios has created an intricate city where the narrative will simply move you forward as intended but with a bit of exploration, you’ll find plenty of hidden secrets including Sigmarite and ancient scrolls (vital for upgrades) and doors unlock that provide handy shortcuts later on. Alas, these are useful but other gameplay elements hamper that usefulness, more on that later.  

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall

Warhammer Age of Sigma: Tempestfall is in no way subtle about its gameplay style, you’re a massive warrior who smashes through everything to get the job done. In your inventory are three weapons ranging from the really close combat sword to the long staff. These can be dual-wielded so you can mix and match depending on your preferred strategy and the magical abilities of each weapon. They all have three castable spells, performed by holding the trigger and either lunging forward, swiping horizontally, or lifting the weapon skyward He-Man style. Fairly simple yet they’re all effective in different circumstances and are suitably fun to unleash.

However, even though combat is the core of Warhammer Age of Sigma: Tempestfall, it also becomes one of the titles weakest facets. To begin with, smashing Deathrattle Skeletons apart – you can just rip them apart with your hands – or unleashing magical bolts of lightning at Nighthaunts is a blast until it becomes clear that the collision detection isn’t that great. There were numerous times when slashing at an enemy produced no result, and the same goes for the magic casting. It was erratic enough that it took a lot of the joy out of battles, especially when surrounded.  

And you’ll get surrounded a fair bit as the enemy AI is set on grunt default of charging straight at you. You’d kind of expect it from the skeletons but you’d hope for a bit more from the Nighthaunt that float menacingly around. Fights then become a real close quarter hack ‘n’ slash affair instead of intense sword fights. Elements such as being able to block and parry are there, alas they fail to properly solidify the battles as they’re not easy to read when toe to toe with multiple enemies. And when waving both weapons around does just as good a job why bother?

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall

On the subject of opponents, there’s also a lack of variety, Deathrattle Skeletons and Nighthaunt come in several flavours but you have to wait until the latter half of the campaign that some new enemies actually appear, at which point you’ll miss the ghostly foes. Running the Steam version of Warhammer Age of Sigma: Tempestfall at full resolution the enemies are incredibly well designed and intricately detailed, they do look the part, but after continually fighting so many the repetition quickly sinks in.

That’s made all the worse by the spawning layout. Basic enemies like the skeletons appear in packs during the city level, making for nice natural fights as you turn a corner and suddenly spot a group. It’s when you come across a wide-open area that you know Nighthaunts will appear and quite often you’ll be locked in an arena battle, over and over again. You’ll feel that inevitable sigh building as you walk into another grand area to fight the same enemies. Remember that mention of opening up handy shortcuts, they’re all well and good but the spawns happen in the same spots so wandering back over an area looking for secrets will trigger them again.

It must be said Carbon Studio has done well with the level layouts, they twist and wrap around one another to simulate multiple paths and there are plenty of sneaky hidden areas to find. This is vital if you want to upgrade that equipment of yours. Weapons can have their base stats improved followed by each magical spell, so there’s plenty of reason to hunt down elusive chests. As you might have guessed by now there is a but, a big but. There’s no easy way to access your main base to incrementally add these upgrades unless you want to keep walking through the city fighting the same opponents again and again. There really needed to be more anvil placements or a quick return feature.   

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall

If that wasn’t enough Warhammer Age of Sigma: Tempestfall has some annoying mechanics that hampered the general gameplay. It was little things like picking up a Spirit Flask or using the Gravesand Hourglass. Weapons instantly appear in hand when pressing grip so you can get right into a fight, that’s perfectly fine. Pick up an empty Spirit Flask – used as a grenade when full – and it automatically equips, the Hourglass is two-handed but with the same effect. Thus, every time either of these items are used you have to reequip your weapons again. After several hours of this, you’ll understand the annoyance.  

Warhammer Age of Sigma: Tempestfall offered the prospect for the sort of adventure Games Workshop’s brutal universe is renowned for, and the history and narrative is certainly there. Yet there’s no connection to or development of the main character, the action is mostly forgettable and there are just too many little glitches and inconsistencies to create a world Warhammer fans can really immerse themselves in. Warhammer Age of Sigma: Tempestfall isn’t a bad VR game, there were enjoyable moments and with a bit of refinement it could be a decent game; at the moment being a Stormcast Eternal just isn’t a blockbuster experience.

Review: Eye of the Temple

Eye of the Temple

Roomscale gaming where you purely use your body and not the controllers isn’t something often seen anymore. There are plenty of virtual reality (VR) titles where you can move about a virtual space, crouching or walking over to pick up an object but actually employing your two feet as the only locomotion isn’t easy; especially if you’re working with a minimum 2m x 2m area. Sure, videogames like Space Pirate Trainer DX offer the chance to run around a play space if you can find an area large enough. This is why Eye of the Temple is a bit of a rarity, a true roomscale experience with an awesome Indiana Jones vibe.

Eye of the Temple

Eye of the Temple is the work of solo indie developer Rune Skovbo Johansen who’s been working on this project for several years now. The whole ethos behind the title is navigating your way through an ancient, trap-filled temple, carefully watching where you place each and every foot. One wrong step and it is instant death.

While you might be quite comfortable walking around in any normal VR experience, Eye of the Temple is very different, for one you spend a lot of time looking at the floor and around your feet. Traversal through is primarily via stone blocks that move in one particular direction, carefully gauging your timing so you don’t fall between the gaps. There are some cylindrical blocks as well, encouraging you to keep your position by walking backwards as it rolls forward.

It’s this type of movement where some players are going to struggle, Eye of the Temple even offers a warning right at the start. You might think that physically stepping through the environment would be fine, however, a disconnect can happen when a block suddenly drops down, raises up or moves in an unexpected way. As long as you’re aware of this Eye of the Temple can be a lot of fun.

Eye of the Temple

The gameplay is challenging right from the outset, it isn’t just about looking where to step next, there are gems to collect, multiple pathways to choose from and then there’s the whip. In fact, you have a whip in one hand and an unlit torch in the other, both designed to help you interact with the environment and solve puzzles. At times Eye of the Temple is like trying to rub your belly whilst tapping your head, as well as being spatially aware of obstacles; ducking under stuff plays an important part.

Even though Indiana Jones makes using a whip look easy, that isn’t the case here. With it, you can smash jars filled with gems, use it to pull levers from afar or kill enemies like little annoying flying scarabs. It certainly takes practice as the first few times trying to wrap the whip around a lever just seemed impossible.

As you can probably tell, Eye of the Temple is a physical experience all the way through, and it’ll have your heart thumping in no time. Not in the same way a rhythm action title would as the pace is steadier but you soon notice it after an hour or so. It becomes that engrossing you really do need to make sure your gameplay area is clear of any objects, it’s used to the maximum. If your boundary stops at a wall at times you’re going to be right up against it.

Eye of the Temple

Eye of the Temple isn’t hectic in any way, encouraging you to take your time and explore. All those extra pathways offer secrets to discover which is exactly what you’d expect when exploring a lava-filled temple of death. No difficulty option is available, surprisingly though some accessibility options are, like being able to change the duck height or the whip hand if you’re left-handed. Best of all though is the auto-saving which seems to happen at every block. So there’s no trudging through swathes of a level if the worse happens.  

This October features some really big VR releases and sandwiched in between them all is this nugget of indie inventiveness. Eye of the Temple feels like it goes back to VR’s roots in a way, the gameplay is simple but very effective, always keeping you thinking and on your toes. The whole experience achieves that one sort after quality in VR, immersion, where you become so focused on what you’re doing it’s easy to forget that the temple is actually your living room. Just be careful not to topple over, that can happen!   

Review: Lone Echo II

Lone Echo 2

2017’s Lone Echo was a good videogame. Actually, it was an excellent videogame because it came at a time when virtual reality (VR) needed big, impressive experiences that really showcased the potential of this technology. 2021 is a very different era. Titles like Half-Life: Alyx, Song in the Smoke, Stormland, and more provide players with epic adventures with engrossing storylines and inventive gameplay. After several delays to ensure Lone Echo II can be as good as it can, has Ready At Dawn achieved the sequel fans have been hoping for? Let’s just say, it’s nice to be back Jack.

Lone Echo II

Normally when it comes to a sequel if you’ve not played the previous title in the series then no bother, there’s a handy catch up at the beginning and you’re away. It’s the same here with Lone Echo II’s loading sequence providing snippets of the original to fill in those blanks. However, on this occasion, it’s advisable not to, purely due to the narrative at play here. The story directly continues over and because of the interactions at play between the two main characters and the grandiose setting, it’s worth experiencing the saga in its entirety.   

Awakening as Jack, the android assigned to protect Captain Olivia “Liv” Rhodes, you’re once again making sure she survives the perils of deep space and a deadly organism simply known as the “Bio Mass”. The entire adventure takes place (mostly) on a deserted space station made out of various asteroids joined together. This entire installation orbits Saturn which makes for a particularly impressive backdrop once you get outside. Lone Echo was known for its gorgeous visuals with Lone Echo II somehow managing to outdo its sibling. Whether you’re casually floating through the void of space or on a pressing mission, there are visually striking moments everywhere so try not to let all that eye candy distract you too much.

So Lone Echo II still looks pretty but how does it handle? Not much has changed here actually. The entire experience is still in zero-g – no artificial gravity in this sci-fi universe – so getting about is a mixture of grabbing the environment or using little wrist-mounted jets to propel yourself. Whilst there is a larger boost to navigate some of the larger expanses, most of the time you’ll be using a mixture of the first two. In conjunction with the storyline, this tends to make Lone Echo II a slow and methodical type of videogame. Certain sequences do add a sprinkling of action but for the most part, Lone Echo II isn’t about rushing, a general playthrough should last around ten hours without doing all the extra side missions.

Lone Echo 2

With no change in the core movement options, fans will instantly be at home here, flinging themselves from pillar to post in no time. If you are jumping right in it’s worth noting zero gravity can be a bit much for some, even with the accessibility options available. One nice mechanic Lone Echo II does employ is keeping you on the same visual plane, you can’t suddenly spin yourself upside down for example – one of the best ways to induce nausea. The only braking of that rule comes with a little device called the “Extreme Drifter”. Find it and you’ll blast across the space station. A word of warning, you can twist and if you don’t let go, it’s the only way to reorient yourself.

So you might now be wondering what is exactly new. Well, most of this involves dealing with the Bio Mass threat and its various evolutions like the really annoying, power-hungry ticks that’ll latch onto any sort of power source – not great when you’re an android. Lone Echo II’s puzzles begin by trying to avoid or manoeuvre these creatures, with plenty of physical interaction cutting access panels, pulling power levers, and more, nothing too taxing. As you get deeper you’ll unlock offensive capabilities (not just tools) offering light combat segments.

All of these are located on Jack’s wrist, activated with a blue button. You get five gadgets in total, some that’ll get far more use than others. Unlike actual shooters where weapons or tools are usually quickly accessible, that’s not really the case here. You have to grab a blue orb representing each tool, not the greatest mechanic if you’re being attacked. This again highlights the composed approach you have to take in Lone Echo II, carefully planning how you handle every danger. Death is no worry for an android as you’ll be rebuilt at the nearest Fabricator but that doesn’t mean you should rely on it. Some aren’t always close by.

Lone Echo 2

Lone Echo II’s gameplay might be finely tuned, however, it would be nothing without the relationship it fosters between Jack and Liv. The epic storyline is enthralling – as good as any binged TV show – nonetheless the bond you build with Liv is what gives both Jack and Lone Echo II their humanity. Dialogue options allow you to play a more logical android character or add a little bit of jokey banter into the mix, eliciting different responses from Liv. Without spoiling too much there’s a particular scene where you have to hold her hand, it’s a very touching moment between two friends.

Ready At Dawn may have originally planned to release Lone Echo II in 2020 before having to push it back several times and that’s completely understandable considering the quality of videogame that’s been produced. There’s a lot to love and get engrossed in as it’s so immersive, the real criticism comes from the fact that Lone Echo II plays everything a little too safe. The experience doesn’t break any new ground and it really could’ve done with some greater challenges thrown in. On the other hand, it was engrossing until the very end, easily the standout AAA VR experience of 2021.      

Review: Song in the Smoke

Song in the Smoke

Cold, wet and with a suspicious-looking mushroom you’ve only just picked off a fallen tree your only source of nourishment, your survival isn’t looking good unless you can make it back to your campfire and get it lit before the sunlight fades. Even then, your safety isn’t guaranteed because if that flame goes out whilst you sleep or you’ve chosen a really poor location for your campfire, making it through the night becomes a nightmarish journey that’s as scary as any horror videogame. Welcome to Song in the Smoke, one of the toughest VR adventure’s out there.

Song in the Smoke

The very first virtual reality (VR) title from Japanese developer 17-BIT wastes no time in offering you some hard truths, this is a videogame about patience and determination. In this beautiful primordial world, everything is trying to survive and you become both hunter and hunted as the landscape unfolds, with evermore expansive and twisting environments just begging to be explored.

Song in the Smoke gives a short sharp introduction to the continual process of trying not to die, showing you how to make a knife, use a pestle and mortar to crush certain plants and most importantly of all, making fire. It can’t be overstated enough how vital the campfire is to make it through each and every day. This is where you can find warmth, sleep, cook food and make other useful kit like a drying rack to put animal skins on. Oh, and one other thing, this isn’t an experience for those that don’t like hurting animals, there’s a lot of killing as their skins are vital for survival.

So Song in the Smoke is all about that hunter-gather lifestyle, surviving from day to day. But, interwoven with this is a far more mysterious narrative that helps drive the gameplay forward and out of the safety of your cave. There’s a really weird bird creature you encounter along the way, it’s weird because it has three crow heads and a human face on its chest. Nevers says anything, just occasionally squawks. Each biome has glowing purple rocks to locate. Find them all and you’ll then be instructed to hunt a special spirit animal. Kill it and a portal to the next area unlocks, giving you access to new resources and new creatures.

Song in the Smoke

There’s no rush to anything in Song in the Smoke, you can spend as many in-game days as you like foraging, hunting and collecting those stones. In the latter stages, it’s almost too easy to spend hours exploring all the nooks and crannies of the environment as there are hidden secrets like health bar increases or skull pots with random goodies inside. But doing leads to a lot of repetition, especially where the campfire is concerned, constantly looking for wood and making sure you’ve got enough to last the night.

Most of the experience is based around fairly realistic physics and interactive gameplay. You have to bash small rocks to make arrowheads or use your knife to slice up some kindling. It’s all very physical, hence why you have a stamina bar and have to sleep eventually. This means you need that fire to burn all night so you’re safe, building it up with kindling, then small sticks, medium sticks and large sticks. These all burn differently, with a big indicator circling the fire so you know what burns when and how long you’ve got – like the train scene from Back to the Future: Part 3. If the fire burns out too early and you’re out of wood then welcome to darkness…and the dangers that lurk within it.

Only three campfires can be made per level so a great deal of thought needs to go into where you hunker down. On the top of some cliffs is good, stops the animals getting to you but then if it rains that’s your fire destroyed. This simple idea is even tougher when you first enter an area as the map on your chest is blank until you uncover some of the environment. This seemed to be where you become most vulnerable, with numerous deaths occurring from wild animals (panthers, wild boars, lions) whilst trying to get a feel for the landscape. What makes it more frustrating is the complete lack of checkpoints.

Song in the Smoke

Going through to a new area or locating all three stones you might think that an autosave might be dropped in. Oh no, all saving is manual at the campfire so you have to remember to save, save and save some more. Suddenly realising you’re close to death and you haven’t saved for an hour isn’t great. And there are numerous ways to meet your end, not just being lunch for a stealthy predator. Cold, bleeding out, hunger, fatigue, they’ll all have an effect on depleting your health. Keeping an eye on your inventory is critical so you’ve got food and other resources, adding another layer to Song in the Smoke long list of things to keep you busy.         

Whilst there is plenty to do, see and interact with, providing an amazingly rich VR experience that you can get lost in, there are a couple of mechanics that don’t make sense; breaking the finally crafted immersion. These are made instantly apparent in the tutorial and are two of the key features in Song in the Smoke, eating and climbing. With so much work on the intricate crafting mechanics, why is it that when anything is eaten a big scroll wheel appears to show you’re chewing? Instantly breaking that sense of immersion, made worse by the fact that you have to regularly eat, constantly popping up in your face. Definitely not a fan of that.

And when it comes to climbing the only option you have is teleporting, with a little green indicator having to momentarily charge up before you can jump/climb up or down a ledge. Song in the Smoke has plenty of physicality to it but no climbing? Plenty of VR titles utilise physically grabbing ledges as a means of grounding you in their worlds, to bypass a mechanic like that just seems odd. It means even if your settings are on full immersion (smooth locomotion and turning) you still have to teleport. Likewise, all the usual comfort settings are there so most players should find a happy medium.

Even with all that said, Song in the Smoke is thoroughly engrossing to play. The level design is magnificent and becomes a real challenge the deeper in you get. Every day feels fresh and new, a mixture of joy when a new area is discovered and dread when a menacing growl suddenly appears from behind you. It’s a huge experience that you can get lost in, spending hour upon hour taking it all in. Song in the Smoke looked like it was something special and it is, one of the best VR games of 2021.   

Review: Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia

Rhythm of the Universe: IONIA

Episodic videogames are a tricky proposition. They give developers plenty of scope to provide a more TV series-like structure to their narratives, one that can be tweaked and refined with each release. The downside is that gamers only get a small slice of the content, which can mean a short, unsatisfying experience. And as streaming services like Netflix have proven, the general public just loves their binging sessions. And so onto ROTU Entertainment’s launch of Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia, a gorgeous nugget of VR gaming that’s just too bittersweet.

Rhythm of the Universe: IONIA

Stepping into Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia for the first time the narrative and visuals offer a grand vision of a beautiful forest world, inhabited by strange and wonderful plants and animals all under threat. While the Oculus Quest version has noticeably taken a graphical hit, the PC VR version really does show attention to detail. Some of the epic visual set pieces look like you’re on Avatar’s world of Pandora, offering a rich tapestry of colour and glowing mushrooms that you can play.

And it’s that musical prelude that Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia is built around, from the playable shrooms to the puzzles that all have their own melodies. They’re all based on real instruments so in one puzzle you have to play a metal drum whilst a couple of others you get to jam on a xylophone that appears to have grown out of a tree.

ROTU Entertainment has really gone for the environmental element throughout the title, whether that’s habitats under threat of destruction to walking through old temples taken over by plant life. There’s a natural synergy to the whole experience. That’s also been reflected in the real world with a small percentage of sales going supporting the Wildlife Warriors Worldwide organisation.

Rhythm of the Universe: IONIA

Unfortunately, that’s where most of the goods points end because Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia doesn’t live up to the grandiose vision it has for itself. As mentioned, the problem starts with the episodic design, with the studio having previously said seven instalments are planned. Whether that’s still the case isn’t clear, what is clear is the 45-minute run time over five chapters. A good chunk of that time is taken up with backstory sequences to build up this fantastical realm, yet you’re given so little time to interact with it there’s no real connection. Especially when it comes to the briefly mentioned Tritone army that’s destroying the world, a part of the narrative you never get to see.

You play a mute lad called Allegro, who alongside his very talkative sister Allegra tries to save the Harpa, a mystical creature dying from all the deforestation. What this actually turns into is you listening to Allegra talk at the start of each chapter, follow, solve a puzzle then move onto the next level. There’s no exploration in Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia, just a very short point A to point B wander. It would be amazing to investigate the depths of the world, but you can’t.

The most you can do is climb. In fact, Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia has a significant amount of climbing for such a short adventure, with vines or jutting out bricks glowing yellow so you can see where you’re going. These sections are the closest you’ll get to feeling even slightly connected to the world of Ionia. The rest of the time you’ll be teleporting around.

Rhythm of the Universe: IONIA

It’s very easy to tell Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia was initially built around teleportation, making it nicely accessible to all players. Direct locomotion is there it’s just quicker to teleport – some sections even mandate it. If you are well acquainted with VR head to the options section and up the walking speed to the max as the default is slow; fully running feels like the proper walk speed. Crucially, do this before starting the videogame as none of the settings can be accessed mid-game. Worse, going back to the main menu means you have to start the chapter you’re on from the beginning!

There were other various bugs and glitches that hampered the overall experience like getting stuck on invisible walls when walking or Allegra’s twitchy animation – she also rarely looks directly at you, either off to the side or like she’s staring right through you which is both annoying and slightly unnerving. Yet the one glaring issue with Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia is the emptiness. Sure, there’s plenty of foliage giving the impression of a lush environment except you do want something to do. Those musical moments are too short and far between and are way too underused, symphony of the universe this is not.

What this all leads to is Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia giving the impression of a VR experience from a couple of years ago rather than a properly immersive 2021 videogame. There are plenty of issues that still need refining like opening the menu, lack of saving and lack of a properly seated option. Even with all of that, there’s still hope. The world-building and narrative ideas show great promise and it would be tremendous to see further editions expand the premise. Only then would Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia be worth exploring.

Review: Clash of Chefs VR

Clash of Chefs VR

If there’s one positive thing that has cropped up from this damn pandemic is that a lot of people seemed to have improved their cooking skills. Whether that’s learning to bake for the first time or figuring out how to make an awesome lasagne, being stuck at home has forced us all to appreciate the kitchen a bit more. Or you can always order a pizza in grab your Oculus Quest and play Clash of Chefs VR, the mess-free way to test those culinary skills.

Clash of Chefs VR

Frantic cooking titles are nothing new in the world of virtual reality (VR). Trying to see how fast you can put a burger together whilst defying the laws of physics with a tower of ten patties and way too much cheese. However, a lot of these types of videogames tend to be one-trick wonders, usually involving one cuisine and hectic gameplay so you don’t notice straight away.

Flat Hill Games’ Clash of Chefs VR on the other hand is a welcome addition to the genre because it is packed with content, and most importantly four world cuisines for you to try your hand at. American, Italian, Japanese and Mexican flavours are all available for budding VR chefs to try their hands at, some slightly more complicated than others. Everyone’s flipped a burger at some point in their lives but have you tried rolling sushi or spun your own pizza base above your head?

Ok, so first and foremost Clash of Chefs VR isn’t some cooking simulator, it isn’t going for high accuracy on the culinary front. Workstations are designed for speed and some artistic cobbling together of ingredients. As you might expect, over in the American diner you’re going to be grilling patties, cooking up some fries, slicing onions and pouring beverages. In fact, all the cuisines have some variance on this setup. Rather than frying, the Japanese kitchen has you boiling noodles and serving tea whilst the Mexican restaurant is all about frying up nachos and carefully rolling a tasty burrito.  

Clash of Chefs VR

Initially, each kitchen doesn’t look like it has a massive variety of components but rest assured once those orders start flying in the cooking process soon becomes taxing; especially if you want to keep those customers happy. Orders come in via a nice easy to read screen just under the counter, with a colour coding system indicating when customers are about to go from happy to really pissed of that they’re waiting so long (none of them is very patient). Provide a speedy correct service and you’ll get more points that all tally towards a global leaderboard.

As mentioned, Clash of Chefs VR has plenty to keep you busy because not only are there multiple cuisines to master but also modes aplenty. Each kitchen has its own Campaign mode with 20 levels to try and bust a sweat through, and it does get intense! So heading to the Casual mode certainly helps as there’s no time or customer pressure, orders come in and make them as fast as you like. It’s also a great way to learn some of the nuances if you’re one of these people who ignores all the tutorial info.   

Flat Hill Games has stuffed Clash of Chefs VR with tutorial videos so there’s no introduction whatsoever, dive right in and learn on the job. Although, the videos were handy when it came to learning how to make a damn burrito, who knew it could be so technical! And that’s one of the main points to understand in Clash of Chefs VR, sure it’s a frantic arcade-style videogame but it has those kinds of Job Simulator elements everyone loves. Plus, because you’re nestled in one cosy kitchen location there’s no locomotion, most players should find the whole experience super comfortable.

Clash of Chefs VR

On top of the Campaign and Casual modes, there’s the customary Endless mode where you try if you can really hack a kitchen job. Clash of Chefs VR also has a feather in its cap in the form of a duelling multiplayer mode. Now, this where the fun really ramps up once you’re well acquainted with the kitchens. The online mode automatically fires up, pitting you against another player in a PvP competition to serve as many meals as possible within the time limit. What’s great is that you’re opposite one another, so you can see your opponent and throw food at them if you get cocky. While it wasn’t always easy to find another player early on – which will hopefully improve in time – there’s an asynchronous mode. This allows you to compete against another’s score, just not live in real-time; still counts towards the leaderboards though.

Clash of Chefs VR has everything you could want from a VR cooking game, plenty of food, loads of modes and a nice wedge of lemon. The gameplay is fluid and once you get into a rhythm very satisfying to pump out order after order. Whilst it lacks the insane multiplayer madness of Cook-Out: A Sandwich Tale, there’s enough succulent gameplay to keep you entertained for hours. An entertaining VR cooking experience through and through.

Review: I Expect You To Die 2: The Spy and the Liar

I Expect You To Die 2

The original I Expect You To Die was one of those must play virtual reality (VR) titles, showcasing in 2016 a delightful combination of wit and diabolical puzzles that any VR-newbie would feel comfortable playing. Fast forward five years and the immersive gaming landscape has certainly changed but Schell Games’ concept of an approachable escape room experience has remained true. And so it’s time to save the world again from the evil Dr. Zor in I Expect You To Die 2: The Spy and the Liar.

I Expect You To Die 2

As VR videogames have inevitably expanded in scope and freedom the adjustment curve for new players has increased in turn, whether that’s building up those “VR legs” to run around environments or adding a great selection of controls. Whilst there are new features, at its heart Schell Games’ latest doesn’t really care about any of that, keeping the general gameplay simplicity the series is known for, whilst providing some ingenious puzzles that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond or Bourne movie.

Because that’s essentially what you’re in. There’s an unseen villain, his seemingly unstoppable evil organisation intent on world domination, a collection of stooges and, of course, you. The suave, sophisticated agent tasked with bringing the operation to its knees. This all means I Expect You To Die 2: The Spy and the Liar has just the right level of pageantry, humour and theatrics to pull off this cheeky caper without descending into Austin Powers territory.

You don’t need to have played the original even though this is a direct sequel – although it can’t hurt – as a little catch up is there to fill in the blanks. Even so, I Expect You To Die 2: The Spy and the Liar can still be appreciated in its own right as there’s plenty of sleuthing to be had.

I Expect You To Die 2

There are only six levels which don’t sound like a great deal but each is its own little microcosm of hidden items and interconnecting challenges, each more intricate than the last. And just like before there’s absolutely no locomotion, you remain seated in the same location throughout, the only twist to this being the last level inside an elevator. So with no movement to worry about I Expect You To Die 2 has a telekinesis mechanic to pick up distant objects that can either save the day or kill you.

And die you will, most likely fairly often in fact. I Expect You To Die 2 isn’t all trial and error but there is an element of that, where pulling a drawer will unleash death or that tasty looking sandwich on the food cart seems to house a very dangerous resident; you’ll not get out alive, to begin with. The levels aren’t timed per se, so you can carefully mooch around to avoid a messy end. Yet, it’s not at all bothersome. It is actually quite fun finding all the various traps and machinations hiding just under the surface. What will likely frustrate is the complete lack of hints, there really is no hand-holding here and therefore getting stuck can crop up. Clues do surface if you can find them, just don’t expect them to drop on your lap.

Much like games such as Vacation Simulator, I Expect You To Die 2 weaves far more into the experience than you’d have initially thought. Sure you can solely focus on the challenge at hand and blast through the whole game in a couple of hours or less. But you’d miss chunks of well-placed humour and other little activities. Both of these play important roles within I Expect You To Die 2, the former adding charm and life to the experience whilst the latter much-needed depth.

I Expect You To Die 2

Completing a level is only the start of the challenge as you then be presented with a list of smaller – sometimes much more difficult – tasks to complete, like trying to speed run the level, finding particular objects or solving a puzzle in a particular way. Sure, it’s regurgitating the same levels over and over again but a least the whole thing isn’t over in a couple of hours.

And let’s not forget about the whole theatrics of I Expect You To Die 2. As expected from Schell Games production quality is top-notch, with Wil Wheaton superbly stepping into the role of world-famous actor and celebrity John Juniper. The same must be said about the epic introduction sung by Puddles Pity Party, it really does set the whole experience up, putting most other VR videogame intros to shame.

I Expect You To Die 2: The Spy and the Liar hasn’t come to reinvent the wheel and it didn’t need to, what was required was achieved; an entertaining puzzler that you can’t put down. An extra couple of levels would’ve been nice with the possibility of a handy nudge in the right direction yet they’re only minor quibbles. If you’re looking for a VR puzzler that really pushes the technology then this isn’t it, I Expect You To Die 2 is all about playing to the masses and that’s no bad thing either.

Review: Ragnarock


It’s fair to say that virtual reality (VR) gamers have no shortage of choice when it comes to rhythm action titles. Long gone are bulky peripherals like plastic guitars in favour of far more physical (and entertaining) gameplay mechanics where you can wave your arms erratically to a thumping beat. New releases were starting to get a little predictable until Ragnarock came along. Developed by French team WanadevStudio, Ragnarock perfectly encapsulates the addictive rhythm these videogames should possess.


Ragnarock initially arrived as a Steam Early Access title at the beginning of 2021, instantly standing out thanks to the song selection and gameplay styling. Combining epic Celtic rock and metal tracks from the likes of Alestorm, Gloryhammer, and Saltatio Mortis with simple four-drum interaction, it instantly felt like a breath of fresh air. Especially as you’re on the back of a boat commanding a bunch of blokes to row faster rather than some neon-drenched cyberpunk level you’ve seen a thousand times before.

At its core Ragnarock is a drumming videogame all about scoring as many points as possible, you do this by hitting the notes bang on time to the music, you know, like every other rhythm action title. The quirk here is that Viking inspiration being at the helm of a longboat because you only gain points by travelling a certain distance, not hitting perfect strikes. Instead, perfect drumming allows you to build up combo energy – first blue then yellow – which can be unleashed by hitting one of two side shields. Doing so your crew lets out a triumphant roar and row even faster (a speed boost essentially).

Do this well and you’ll be awarded either a bronze, silver or gold medal depending on the distance, with each song having three difficulty levels to work through on solo mode. WanadevStudio has been very careful to ensure Ragnarock can be tailored to all preferences with a ridiculous array of customisation options so you can tweak the height of the drums, vertical angle of the hammers, inward pitch of them and much, much more. Ragnarock easily has the most options seen in this type of experience.


Playing with those options can get a bit fiddly at points but once you’ve settled on the settings the gameplay does shine. It isn’t as complicated as some of the genre leaders – Beat Saber or Synth Riders for example – so there’s no trying to give you a full-body workout or spin you around 360-degrees but that’s alright, Ragnarock doesn’t need it. There’s an instantly addictive quality to banging those drums and the music is a perfect fit, from heavy metal riffs to more euphoric melodies, each track is satisfying to play through.

And highly energetic, you are drumming after all. A few songs in on medium difficulty and you’ll soon feel it in your arms and shoulders. It’s also quite nice not having to dodge barriers and just concentrate on drumming away with a big smile on your face.

When it comes to adding depth and a competitive vein Ragnarock provides a couple of choices. Solo, you can activate a ghost of your previous best effort to race against, or there’s the PvP mode. Here you can create your own session or join another open one, competing against a maximum of five other players for the top spot. This does add plenty of replay value, especially when a few mates are involved.


On a side note, whilst this review is for the PC VR version WanadevStudio has released Ragnarock for Oculus Quest as an App Lab title. This tends to mean the videogame isn’t ready for an official launch on the Oculus Store but from initial testing and playthroughs works every bit as well as its PC-based cousin.

Ragnarock impressed before and now that the official PC VR launch has taken place Ragnarock has got even better, finessing what was already an enjoyable experience. The same essence is still there but now there are more tracks, a few extras like new hammers to unlock, and some cool new levels to look at. Ragnarock is a joy to play, reigniting that passion for rhythm action videogames. Currently, Ragnarock is the best rhythm game to launch in 2021.