Review: Vacation Simulator (PSVR)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Steam VR
  • Oculus

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • PlayStation VR Required
  • PS VR Aim Controller None
  • Move Required (2)
Title: Vacation Simulator
Format: PSN (4.83 GB)
Release Date: June 18, 2019
Publisher: Owlchemy Labs
Developer: Owlchemy Labs
Original MSRP: $29.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: E10+
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Vacation Simulator is a robot’s best approximation of human R&R. The PSVR simulator begins in the lodging at Vacation Island, your new home away from home. The amenities are all immediately interactive, from the decked out snack bar to the Human Appearance Customizer 3000 in the bathroom where you can…customize your appearance. It takes no time at all to see the humor in a world tailored to you by well-intentioned, but often bumbling, artificial intelligence.

Playing with the required two Move motion controllers, your gloved hands floating in front of you serve as your way of interacting with the environment. Movement is not free, but rather locked into set locations by looking at your destination and holding a button to teleport. Once you move to a point, there is no way to turn around other than turning your head or body, making it necessary to stand to play the game. This means of locomotion can help the experience function more smoothly and reduce the chances of motion sickness, but ultimately it feels limiting and in this case as the game continually funnels you from point to point.

Once you step out of the hotel you meet your guides, Vacation Bot and Efficiency Bot. Their shtick is immediately apparent: Vacation Bot wants you to relax and have a good time while Efficiency Bot wants to ensure that their resort is operating in an orderly and productive way. Their robotic banter is well-delivered and evokes a light-heartedness that helps set the game’s tone.

After receiving some advice for your guides, you can choose to set off to one of three locations: Vacation Beach, Vacation Forest, or Vacation Mountain. While Efficiency Bot does recommend starting at the beach, it is nice to be given the freedom to start wherever you like. At Vacation Island, your goal is to make lasting memories. These memories are made by interacting with each vacation location, and are physically represented by collectibles that are counted on your watch. When you collect enough memories, you can gain access to each location’s main attraction.

Each location has several activities to take part in that will lead to a new memory. Activities range from puzzle minigames, like building sandcastles at Vacation Beach, to collectible searches, like finding and taking pictures of every color of bird in Vacation Forest. Some activities are definitely more fun and interactive than others, but ultimately they all feel like small tech demos. The level of challenge in the puzzles seems to be aimed at a younger demographic than the 12-year-old minimum recommendation for PSVR.

The locations are all uniquely themed but nearly identical in their layouts. For example, a reskinned robot appears in each of the three locations asking you to collect three butterflies for her. There is a sort of puzzle table in each location, varying slightly to be better suited to its theme. For example, there is an ice-chiseling table in Vacation Mountain that features a minigame where you must chisel out ice blocks to match the instructions on a board in front of you. Doing so will lead to more collectible memories. The difficulty does increase, but not enough to make the repetitive task entertaining. By the time you make it through two of the three locations, you have a very good idea of what is waiting for you at the third, and that knowledge feels more disheartening than anything.


The unlockable main attractions at each location do move away from the repetitiveness of the rest of the game in a nice way. The experiences are all unique, and even feature some new gameplay mechanics. There is also some welcome comedic relief from Vacation Bot and Efficiency Bot.

As you traverse throughout Vacation Island, you will need to store items that you find. To do this you can bring out your backpack with the press of a button. In one of the more immersive features, you can drop items into slots in your physical inventory. There is a zipper at the bottom of the backpack that you can manipulate to switch between settings and inventory and if you want to save you grab and eat a sandwich instead of pressing a traditional menu button. This is a nice touch in a game otherwise lacking creative and immersive features.


Visuals:
The art direction of Vacation Simulator serves its graphical performance well. Items and the environment are cartoonish and boldly colored. The PSVR is becoming dated in comparison to newer VR headsets, but it is fully capable of handling more low-fidelity games like this. The aesthetic is bright and cheery, right at home with the tone of the game.

On the other hand, the graphical shortcuts taken for the sake of performance make the game feel like it lacks depth. The scale of each location feels very small, especially when you can only traverse to a few scattered points of interest. Since the only characters you interact with are robots, the expressiveness of their animations can be minimized to serve the narrative. There are a couple times when the game played with lighting or scale in ways that seemed impressive given the low bar set by the rest of the visuals.


Audio:
The audio design of Vacation Simulator is very minimal. Most of the music you hear sounds like it belongs inside an elevator. There are some fun sound effects that enhance puzzles or minigames, and the ascending harp-like notes as you pick up a memory always makes it feel more rewarding. Voice lines sound appropriately robotic and it never gets old when they falter momentarily and deliver a word or phrase in a flat monotone, as though there is a glitch in their programming.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only and features no online component.

Conclusion:
Ultimately, Vacation Simulator feels like it is from a bygone era in which the gimmick of VR was enough for a game to stand on by itself. VR games have advanced to a point where the immersiveness of the technology serves as an aid to the overall vision of a game, not as the game’s predominant feature. The predefined movements and simple puzzles feel shallow and uninteresting. There are certainly moments of fun to be had, and the robots’ narratives are funny throughout. However, the few shining moments are not enough to overcome an overall lackluster experience.

Score:
5.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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