Propagation: Paradise Hotel - title

Wow, this game was not at all what I expected -- but in a very good way!

When I first put Propagation: Paradise Hotel on my PSVR2 wishlist, I expected it would be more of a point-and-click puzzle-based walking-sim kind of game with some rudimentary zombie shooting. I was not expecting a full-fledged survival horror game with robust, immersive combat mechanics and open-ended exploration. And I sure as hell was not expecting the game to be nearly as intense or difficult as it proved to be. If you're squeamish about horror in the slightest, you probably want to stay far away from this game.

And when I say that Paradise Hotel is a "full-fledged survival horror game", I mean that it very blatantly evokes old school, classic survival horror design philosophies. Honestly, if somebody caught glimpses of you playing bits and pieces of this game, they could be forgiven for thinking that you were playing a VR adaptation of Resident Evil. Paradise Hotel draws very clear inspirations from the first Resident Evil game on the original PlayStation. From the hotel lobby that looks strikingly like the foyer of the Spencer Mansion, to the use and placement of save rooms, to the use of a first aid spray can for healing, to one particular enemy type that is the spitting image of a Tyrant, to the pacing of early-game exploration and puzzle-solving, Propagation: Paradise Hotel really does feel like a modern-day VR homage to the classic Resident Evil. And for the most part, I think the developers and designers at Wanadev Studio nailed all of it!

Paradise Hotel is deliberately evocative of the original Resident Evil.

At least, they nail the first half of the game or so. The second half of this short horror VR title is a little bit more shaky and uneven. It's still good! Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I think the game falls apart in the second half and becomes bad. It's good all the way through. The second half just diverges from the slower, methodical, exploratory play that perfectly captures the essence of retro survival horror, and starts to feel more like a borderline-unfairly-hard corridor-crawling action shooter.

Oh, and I want to apologize in advance for the poor quality of most of my screenshots. This game is incredibly dark. It looks fine in the VR headset, and the darkness makes the flashlight into a legitimately necessary tool. But all the streaming footage and screenshots that I captured are almost completely illegible. I couldn't find an in-game brightness setting, and the PSVR2's system brightness was at max, so I'm not sure what to do to get better screenshots and video capture. I tried increasing the brightness of the screenshots in Photoshop, but this left the screenshots looking washed out. So I promise you, the actual game looks a lot better than the screenshots in this review make it look. Maybe I need to disable HDR if I want screenshots and captured video to be legible?

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Project Wingman: Frontline-59 - title

To be considered an "ace", a pilot usually only has to shoot down between 5 and 10 enemy aircraft in a single campaign. A player of an aerial dogfighting video game will usually do this 4 or 5 times over within the first mission. Project Wingman is no exception. So if you're looking for a "simulation" flight sim, then this definitely ain't it. Project Wingman is thoroughly in the category of a casual dogfighting flight sim. It isn't a completely "arcade" dogfighter either, because it does use realistic flight controls and maneuvers, with the player having control of pitch and roll on one stick, and yaw being controlled with shoulder button "rudders".

In typical casual flight sim form, you'll also have dozens of respawning missiles and bombs strapped to the wings of your plane, even though the actual plane model only has like 6 or so. But shooting down enemy planes with the main guns isn't super difficult, with even a tiny bit of rudder practice. I had to retry the first mission I tried (in the VR campaign) because I ran out of ammo. But with more judicious use of my guns in the retry, I cleared the mission with well over a third of my bullets left.

Only the Frontline-59 expansion missions are playable in VR.

But I didn't buy this game to simply play a console dogfighting game. I bought it because I wanted to play with my PSVR2 headset and Thrustmaster HOTAS flight stick. But the game is not entirely VR-compatible on PS5. Only the handful of missions in the "Frontline-59" campaign missions are playable in VR. The actual main game is not playable in VR at all. Worse yet, Project Wingman doesn't seem to support the HOTAS flight stick at all!

It would be nice if I could use the flight stick, and simply map its inputs to gamepad functions (which is possible to do on Steam with un-supported controller peripherals), but as far as I can tell, neither the PS5 nor the game allow this. So I have an expensive flight stick that I now know cannot be used with games unless the game explicitly includes support for it. Score one more for the "PC master race".

After booting up the game and discovering that Project Wingman doesn't fully support PSVR2, and doesn't support the HOTAS flight stick at all, I strongly considered trying to refund the game. And if I had bought the game on Steam, with its generous refund policy, I would have. But I bought the game on PS5, and Sony's refund policy is less generous. If you play the game at all, it is not eligible for a refund unless it is "faulty". So I was stuck with it, and decided to play it anyway. Score a second point for the "PC master race".

I was excited for some kick-ass VR dogfighting action with a flight stick.
Boy was I disappointed!

I'm now seriously doubting if the investment in the PSVR2 headset is going to prove to be worth it in the long run. Just like with Green Hell VR, the PSVR2 version of a game is severely limited in a technical sense, even though the full game is playable in VR on PC. Are developers constraining the PSVR2 versions of their games simply because they lack the motivation or budget to add full support? Or is there some technical limitation of the PSVR2 headset that makes these game impossible to be fully playable in VR on the PS5? Is the PSVR2 going to be a viable VR system in the long run?

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The Twilight Zone VR - title

I like the original The Twilight Zone TV show. I wouldn't call myself a huge mega fan or anything, but it's easily my second favorite show from the 60's. Heck, The Twilight Zone might even hold up better than the majority of original Star Trek episodes, and the show is probably more progressive too. For one thing, it isn't loaded with as much of the casual sexism and fetishization of women that keeps popping up in Star Trek.

In any case, the PSVR2 release of a Twilight Zone game kind of came out of nowhere. I saw a preview of it on my Google news feed on my phone the day before the game went on sale on PSN. Heck, the PSN didn't even have it listed as "coming soon". It didn't even show up in the store until it was released, and I immediately jumped on it and bought it.

The game is a small anthology of 3 short, original Twilight Zone stories with some contemporary themes. I was glad to see the game divided up into multiple chapters, and for these chapters to apparently be playable in any order (even though I opted to play them in order anyway). The Twilight Zone really works better as short stories like this, as the premises and twists rarely (if ever) hold up for longer stories. In fact, trying to pad some of its stories into an hour runtime or longer was one of the biggest problems with CBS and Jordan Peele's recent reboot.

You are about to enter The Twilight Zone.

As a tiny nitpick, I will say that I don't understand why Pocket Money chose to use the term "chapters" instead of "episodes"? The use of the word "chapter" implies a small section of a larger story, with that small section not being a story in itself; while the word "episode" would imply self-contained stories that may relate to or follow one another, but which have their own beginning, middle, and end that does not necessarily depend on the other episodes. Yes, all 3 chapters do refer to one another, and seem to take place in the same continuity, and one of them kind of acts as a prequel to another. Regardless of those connections, each chapter is a completely independent, self-contained story that does not at all rely on the events of the other chapters in order to understand what is happening. You can play these chapters in any order, or play any one of them without playing the others, and it wouldn't make any difference to the perception or interpretation of the stories. And in fact, the game is perfectly willing to let the player play them in any order.

Each of this game's chapters takes about 30 minutes to an hour to play, and the whole game should be playable in 2 hours (give or take). Any of the chapters may take longer depending on how many times you might have to repeat some of its more tedious stealth or shooting sections. So these little VR stories hit the sweet spot in terms of length, and they don't over-complicate their gameplay such that it distracts from the story being told. In terms of story-telling, Pocket Money Games puts up a really solid product here. The actual game, however, is a lot less solid.

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Green Hell - title

I always have mixed / complicated feelings about survival games. They always seem like a great idea in principle, and I feel like I would really enjoy them for their methodical gameplay oriented around problem-solving (which is one of the reasons I also love classic survival horror games). But when I actually play them, they are often annoying and frustrating, and I have a miserable time trying to learn how the game works.

I think a big part of the problem is that a lot of these games, being modest indie titles, don't have robust tutorials and aren't very good at communicating their gameplay mechanics to the player in an efficient manner. Even when they have tutorials, those tutorials feel like they barely scratch the surface of what the player needs to know. And then you're shoved out into the deep end, having to learn the rules of the game world and the controls for navigating it, while your precious food, water, and energy meters are all depleting. These games are insanely difficult in the early sessions because every new threat or challenge feels like an unfair "gotcha!" from the developers. Once I learn the systems (through lots of frustrating trial-and-error), I find that everything I need is readily available, and most of the fun and challenge of the game gets optimized away, leaving only the tedious chores.

Case in point, figuring out how to save the game in my first couple play sessions with Green Hell VR was a very aggravating experience. I don't recall the game ever telling me that saving requires building certain types of shelters. I assumed the game would autosave every time I slept, and possibly also every in-game day, or every 20 or 30 real-world minutes. So imagine my surprise when I slept, closed the game, and booted it up the next day to find that none of my progress from the previous session had been saved. No, sleeping in just any bed isn't enough to save the game in Green Hell. You need to craft one of 2 or 3 specific shelters, or at a specific landmark.

Saving the game can only be done at dedicated checkpoints, or at a crafted shelter.

Initially, crafting these shelters feels like a relatively daunting task. You need large sticks and palm leaves, both of which are too large and bulky to be stored in your backpack. Scavenging around for them can be time-consuming. They always seem to be everywhere as I'm walking through the jungle, but then nowhere to be found when I try to set up camp. It took me a while to figure out that I could get large sticks by cutting down certain trees, and that palm leaves could be easily cut off of palm trees. I was initially hesitant to use my sharp stones or basic axe to try cutting down these trees because the durability of these tools is so low. So I would wander around looking for loose logs and palm fronds to carry back to camp, all while my health and energy are slowly draining. Logs and leaves were the bane of my existence in the first few play sessions!

I don't have a problem with limiting the ability to save, nor do I have a problem with tying the save functionality to a resource. I've praised Resident Evil for doing those very same things. But Resident Evil at least very clearly explains how saving works, and gives the player an opportunity to save your progress right at the start of the game. The typewriter and an Ink Ribbon are right there in the first room of the game. Green Hell, on the other hand, requires playing through to a particular milestone before you find the first save point, which (depending on how you play) might be hours into the game.

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NFL ProEra VR - title

When I first saw that there was an NFL-licensed VR game, I assumed it was developed by EA and associated with Madden. After all, EA owns the exclusive rights to NFL-licensed "simulation" football games. I downloaded the playable demo expecting that first-person VR football would be a nauseating disaster of a game. But much to my surprise, the demo was not bad. And doubly-surprising, it isn't developed by EA either. It's developed by StatusPro, inc., which is a company that has made VR training tools for actual athletes, and which is now testing out the waters of VR sports video gaming.

So I guess this is a second loophole to EA's NFL "exclusivity". Not only can other companies make "non-simulation" NFL games, but apparently, VR games are not covered by EA's exclusivity, regardless of whether the VR game could be considered "simulation" or not. NFL ProEra definitely falls into the camp of "simulation" as far as I'm concerned. I mean, what could be more "simulation" than an immersive VR game? Or is it "not simulation" because it lacks a multi-season Franchise mode?

Anyway, the demo was pretty hard. I'm used to reading defenses from a bird's-eye view as both a football spectator and video gamer, so I had a lot of trouble reading the defense from ground-level. I also struggled a bit with aiming my throws. I figured that if the offenses and defenses are using actual football concepts in their A.I., then I should be able to learn to read the defense with enough practice, and the control seemed responsive enough that I hoped I could eventually get used to the throwing motion. So I went ahead and dropped $30 for the full game, curious to see how robust and complete of an NFL experience it would provide.

I was expecting VR football to be a nauseating disaster, but it's surprisingly fun and engaging.

Then I was pleasantly surprised for the second time. I fully expected that the game would just be a collection of short scenarios and mini-games. You know, some "throw the ball through swinging tires" kind of things to practice or warm-up, followed by a short scenario in which I'd have to lead a two-minute drill to win some games. But that isn't the case. After the tutorial, I jumped into an exhibition game to wet my feet, and there was a whole football game there! ProEra even comes packaged with options for quarter length and game clock run-offs (e.g. an "accelerated clock", in Madden parlance). So I could even play a full-length, 15-minute quarter match if I wanted to. And yes, there's training camp mini-games and practice modes too! A couple of those mini-games will even be familiar to long-time Madden veterans.

So yeah, NFL ProEra actually does offer a reasonably complete and robust virtual NFL quarterback experience. But right there, in that sentence, is the first big caveat. You can only play as a quarterback. So if you were hoping to get to live out a VR career as a running back, receiver, or linebacker, you're out of luck -- let alone if you're one of the weirdos who dreams of being a punter, place-kicker, or longsnapper.

Some of the mini-camp drills will be very familiar to older Madden veterans.
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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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