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Stranger Things VR | Review 57

Stranger Things VR | Review

The Upside Down Comes to Quest

Stranger Things VR | Review 61
Developer
Tender Claws
Style
Narrative Adventure
Locomotion
Standing, Sitting, Roomscale
Length
3.5 Hours
Price
$29.99
Our Score
4.5
Get it on the Meta Store

Chances are, Stranger Things VR is not what you were expecting.

If you’re anything like me, you were probably excited by the trailer and early gameplay footage. They were enthralling, showcasing innovative mechanics that see you battling through a stylised adventure set in the world created by the hit TV show. 

What the trailer doesn’t show is how much of that experience takes place around you, operating at times more as an immersive psychological thriller than an actual game. In fact, at the core of reviewing Stranger Things VR sits a ponderous, elephantine question; Is this really a game at all or is this an interactive experience?

It seems that Tender Claws have set themselves the lofty ambition of combining the two, hoping to transcend both and become greater than either. As such, it is difficult to answer the question of what Stranger Things VR is, so perhaps we should focus on a different question; is it any good?

TOO MANY HATS

Stranger Things VR is a narrative-driven adventure with a much heavier focus on the narrative than the adventure. For those familiar with the source material, you take on the role of Vecna following his exile into Dimension X (sorry nerds, it’s no longer ‘the upside-down’). Here, you join him as he grows within his new powers and attempts to subjugate the sentient hellscape to his will. Fun times.

stranger things vr meta quest review

Interspersed within this prequel-style narrative are interactive vignettes that overlap with the characters and events of the popular television series. As the experience progresses the story increasingly unfolds around the player, with the gaming mechanics added in seemingly to give you the illusion of participation as the dialogue rolls on regardless of your actions.

Some sections incorporate an element of combat, but these are neither frequent nor varied. Similarly, there are innovative movement mechanics that almost take on a platforming element, however, neither of these elements offers enough depth to carry the whole experience as a “game”. 

BYSTANDER SYNDROME

What gameplay elements do exist in Stranger Things VR have the hallmark creativity that Tender Claws have previously displayed in The Under Presents. As the first few chapters unfold, the focus leans toward the gaming elements, which initially show potential. 

stranger things vr meta quest review

Players can use one power to spread a vine-like ‘corruption’ along the ground, which can then be used to anchor the stilt-like tentacle movement mechanics. This can then be used to vault into the air, allowing you to spread more corruption that you can use to traverse upon, like some kind of demonic Tarzan. 

What action there is comes by way of telekinetic battles. There is a fairly intuitive system for bringing objects close and hurling them at the various lurking monsters, but this is the sole attack the player is capable of throughout the entire affair. While it works, the requirement to always bring items towards you before being able to launch them is cumbersome and halting, failing to create anything resembling a fluid combat system. 

Combining these powers takes a little practice but works well enough that you can see it could have been quite engaging had they been developed and expanded upon. However, Stranger Things VR is only partly a ‘game’ and, as such, the gameplay never evolves beyond this early stage. As the story unfolds these mechanics are shelved in place of increasingly limited interactions within static scenes, dashing any early hopes for an action-packed adventure in the Stranger Things universe. 

THE STRANGEST THING

Set in the Stranger Things universe, the 3.5-hour immersive experience encompasses elements of all four seasons of the show. It even throws in a few nods to the stage show prequel. Familiar scenarios from the series are revisited from a different perspective, giving the spotlight to the internal struggles occurring in these pivotal moments. It’s a strange narrative construct as it requires knowledge of the source material to resonate, but having that knowledge makes the story immediately feel overly familiar. It’s also so intrinsically linked to the show that it’s difficult to imagine Stranger Things VR being even vaguely engrossing to anyone without a strong working knowledge of the series.

stranger things vr meta quest review

The narrative devices are often deliberately obtuse, with a diegetic use of time and space labouring the psychological tension between two characters locked in conflict within a single psyche. The story suffers terribly from pacing issues, and the narrative gets lost within its own distorted framework, often feeling aimless and repetitive. This is particularly notable in elements hinging on player interactions and it’s often confusing trying to assess if you need to do something, or just wait until the dialogue has run its course. 

Compounding these issues is an overuse of repetition, with scenes looping back to a single point before branching into slight variations with frustrating regularity. 

Perhaps the worst sin in all of this is that Tender Claws seem to have completely missed the tone and character that made the source material so popular in the first place. As a TV show, Stranger Things is hardly high art, and sadly this VR adaptation feels, in places, like a ham-fisted attempt to cram Avant-garde sensibilities into what is, essentially, popcorn drama.

LESS IS MORE

There seems to be a trend at the moment that sees MR sections being shoehorned into games regardless of whether it is even vaguely relevant. Sadly, Tender Claws seem to have succumbed to this as they offer two entirely superfluous mixed reality chapters. In fact, the optimisation and execution in these sections are poor enough that their presence actually lowers the game’s overall score.

stranger things vr meta quest review

Staying in theme, the first MR section introduces interesting mechanics before getting bogged down in poorly paced dialogue sections which, again, make it unclear as to the player’s ability to impact events. 

The final chapter is essentially a telekinesis-based wave shooter that sees players using hand-tracked gestures to close portals and fend off enemies. However, the MR implementation is finicky, with objects misaligned or clipping through the real world in a way that breaks any immersion garnered from seeing the virtual world appear in the real one.

PRETTY STRANGE

One thing Tender Claws does consistently well is create a unique visual language with which to tell their tales. There are places where Stranger Things VR looks fantastic, benefitting from excellent lighting and a superb overall sense of artistic direction. The sections of the game that overlap with the main cast offer character models that are unique and stylish. 

However, many of the game’s sections occur within the ill-defined realms of the upside-down or the dark expanse of a character’s tormented psyche. These seem to cash in on the murky aesthetic and, as a result, feel less polished.

stranger things vr meta quest review

The sound is also very well delivered, with a tense, atmospheric score that captures the show’s ambience far better than the overall narrative tone. The voice acting is high quality and is the main attraction as the story plays out, standing out in contrast to the frequently protracted dialogue.

Despite my criticisms, a few scenes use these audio-visual components to excellent effect, creating an intensely brooding atmosphere. In these moments, it is obvious that Tender Claws have some real talent, demonstrating a deep potential far beyond what has been realised in Stranger Things.

FINAL CHAPTER

At its core, Stranger Things VR feels conceptually confused. Interesting mechanics are squandered as diversions, feeling like a sideshow attraction amongst the disjointed progress of the narrative. Conversely, the gamified elements confuse the storytelling, poorly defining whether the player has agency to affect the events unfolding around them or is merely a spectator.

Despite some well-wrought and original gaming elements, there is a limited amount of actual gameplay on offer, and those looking for a traditional gaming experience may be disappointed.

Stranger Things VR | Review 62
Stranger Things VR | Review
TLDR : Summary
At its core, Stranger Things VR feels conceptually confused. Interesting mechanics are squandered as diversions, feeling like a sideshow attraction amongst the disjointed progress of the narrative.
Concept
5
Gameplay
4.5
Graphics
8
Audio
8
Longevity
4
User Rating0 Votes
0
Pros
Cons
4.5
Confused
Get it on the Meta Store
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