Review: Penn & Teller VR: F U, U, U, & U (PSVR)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • PlayStation VR Required
  • DualShock 4 No
  • Move Required (2)
  • PS VR Aim Controller None
Title: Penn & Teller VR: F U, U, U, & U
Format: PSN (4.33 GB)
Release Date: July 9, 2019
Publisher: Gearbox Publishing
Developer: Gearbox Software
Original MSRP: $19.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: T
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:

The patented comedy of magicians Penn and Teller is evident in their new game just by the title alone – Penn & Teller VR: Frankly Unfair, Unkind, Unnecessary, & Underhanded, a.k.a. Penn & Teller VR: F U, U, U, & U. If you are a fan of their work or prankster affectations then this might be the game for you. Otherwise, the game’s impractical structure and lack of fun gameplay may make this one magic show that is not worth the price of admission.

Penn & Teller VR’s own announcement trailer may sum the game up best when it is described as, “A bunch of pointless tricks and heartless pranks to pull on your guests.” The game is billed as more of a performative tool than a traditional video game, one which can be used to learn tricks and invite unsuspecting guests over as the marks. The game clearly does not take itself too seriously and that helps to add some levity throughout.

Within the game, you can learn bits and build a playlist that your guests will experience when they choose to become part of the show. Bits are explained by a combination of FMV clips of Penn and Teller as well as their in-game rendering counterparts. You can choose to watch a clip of how the bit will work or see it from the perspective of your future target. This is the part of the game in which Penn and Teller have the best opportunity to fit in some jokes and they make the most of it.

Many bits are variations of traditional magic tricks, like catching a bullet in your teeth or becoming Houdini to escape from chains inside a box filling with water, but others are just confusing VR demos that feel out of place. At their best, the bits are fun little representations of tricks you may have seen on TV. At their worst, they are uncomfortably boring and it is downright puzzling as to why they were included in the game.

As a concept, there is some merit to the idea that VR would be a good vehicle for becoming part of a magic show. However, the lack of true interaction between you as a host magician and your guest as the volunteer makes the experience unworkable. One bit’s explanation even asks you to grab your guest, while they are wearing a VR headset, in conjunction with the prestige. Surprising someone with physical contact while they have an expensive piece of technology strapped to their head is a bad idea any way you look at it.

The main problem with Penn & Teller VR is not the disjointed collection of bits or the unrealistic nature of the game’s premise, it is that the gameplay is utterly lacking of an enjoyable hook. Performing the tricks requires very little skill or video game finesse. There are no high scores or leveling mechanics. VR titles have come too far and have evolved into too complete of packages for the premise of something like Penn & Teller VR to hold water.

Visuals:

The visuals of Penn & Teller VR are unexciting. You are almost always in a fixed position if not on rails, so there is no freedom to explore your environment. It feels like the game’s set pieces were designed with this in mind, so there is little depth to the world around you. When you are on stage, you look out into an empty auditorium. During many of the tricks, you are confined to a small room or corner of the stage in a dark theater.

The game’s menus have a nice look to them, and using a Motion Controller as a laser pointer works well to navigate through the different bits and instructional videos. Unfortunately, the game is sparse and you will quickly see all there is to see. There is a nice feature that allows you to set a playlist as active so that when your guest arrives to try the game out they will only need to make one selection on the main menu and they will not know which tricks are coming.

Audio:

Much of the audio of Penn & Teller VR is that of Penn Jillette speaking, whether he is walking you through the game’s constructs or explaining how an individual trick works. There are some small touches that add a bit of immersion to the experience of being a part of some of the tricks, such as the muted sounds of being underwater during the Houdini escape trick. Mostly, though, the game’s premise requires very little from an audio standpoint and that is unfortunately exactly what is presented.

Online/Multiplayer:

This game is one player only with no online component.

Conclusion:

Playing Penn & Teller VR: F U, U, U, & U makes the game’s title feel like more than a not-so-subtle joke. While it is encouraging to see VR games take chances and try something new or unconventional, this is not the ideal result of that type of innovation. Penn & Teller VR delivers an unfortunate one-two punch of unappealing gameplay and a flawed premise.

Score:

4.0

Written by Brock Arnett

Gamer since the NES days, Boilermaker, Colts and Pacers fan. I can’t wait until my two boys are old enough to play games with me.

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