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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Kayak VR: Mirage - title

The PSVR2 set for the PlayStation 5 is a pretty neat piece of hardware. I bought one at release, and have been enjoying it a lot. I might even write a review for it after I've finished playing all of the launch titles that I've bought. The PSVR2 has a critical problem though: there aren't very many games for it. There weren't any high-profile AAA games that had VR compatibility except for Gran Turismo 7 and Resident Evil: Village, which were both already a year or 2 old when the PSVR2 released. Horizon: Call of the Mountain was a release title too, but it's more of a stand-alone expansion pack for Forbidden West than a full game.

Since it isn't backwards-compatible with PS4 VR games (even though the PS5 was heavily advertised as being fully backwards-compatible with PS4 games), the PSVR2 doesn't have the benefit of the established PSVR library. Hit titles like Star Wars: Squadrons, Resident Evil VII, or Déraciné sadly aren't playable on the PSVR2 (unless they get PS5 upgrades from the developers, which doesn't seem likely).

There is a silver lining though. This lack of titles may have been bad for the PSVR2 (and its initial sales figures), but it may have been a good thing for some of the smaller titles available on the platform. Those small titles had an opportunity to shine without there being any massive blockbusters to steal the spotlight or players' cash. One such small standout it a little virtual vacation game called Kayak VR: Mirage. After Gran Turismo 7 and Call of the Mountain, Kayak might be the premiere launch title for PSVR2 (even though it is also available on PC VR platforms, and has been for about a year).

The lack of any blockbuster PSVR2 launch titles allowed smaller games to shine in the spotlight.

Virtual vacation, without the sunburn!

Out of the gate, I was very impressed with how this game looks. I'm used to VR titles looking a little grainy and blurry (especially the original PSVR titles I played), but Kayak VR looks sharp as a crystal on the PSVR2! I'm sure it help that the game is only rendering relatively small environments without any people, and it doesn't have to do any complicated A.I. calculations or anything like that. Nevertheless, these exotic locales look absolutely gorgeous. This game is a textbook example of a "virtual vacation", as just sitting, taking a deep breath, and admiring the view is often just as good as the actual game. I can almost smell the salt in the air!

But there is an actual game here, and it's kind of a racing game, I guess? When you're done admiring the views, you can chose to play several races on each of the game's 4 maps. You won't be racing against actual people in real-time, however, as these races are all time-trials against ghosts of other players.

Races are time-trials against ghosts of other players.

Each race requires the player to navigate through a series of gates in a specific order. But these aren't your typical, hovering magic gates that you see in most video games. The gates are physical poles hanging from physical wires strung up throughout the map. If you hit one of the poles with your body, the kayak, or the oar, you'll be docked several seconds from your time as a penalty. These gates are pretty narrow, so completing these races requires some fairly precise handling and control of the kayak. It gets surprisingly difficult.

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Déraciné - title

I've been enjoying the PS5 and the PSVR2. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that when all is said and done, the PS5 might end up being my second favorite console after the PS2. Its novel controller has even rekindled a long-lost love of Gran Turismo. The PSVR2 has been a bit more of a mixed bag. The few games that I've played on it have been good. The set itself is an improvement over the previous hardware in almost every way. It has 1 wire to connect to the console instead of the million cables required to get the original PSVR to connect to the console and TV, and the screen is a lot clearer and more vibrant. The only real downside of the physical hardware is that it is not as comfortable to wear as the original PSVR.

The biggest problem with the PSVR2, however, isn't really a problem with the PSVR2 hardware itself. The problem is the lack of things to play on it. It doesn't really have any killer apps at launch. There's a handful of games that are hardly more than tech demos or glorified expansions for other games. The only full games to be playable in VR at launch were Gran Turismo 7 and Resident Evil: Village, which were already a year or 2 old when the PSVR2 released.

Worst of all, however, is that the PSVR2 does not support any of the original PSVR games for PS4. This is despite the fact that the PS5 was always marketed as being fully backwards compatible with PS4 games. I get that the PSVR2 hardware works under totally different principles compared to the original system (using motion-sensing hardware instead of tracking the headset's position with cameras). But that doesn't mean that Sony couldn't have developed an API to translate the inputs from the PSVR2 into commands that PSVR games could understand. In any case, the net effect is that those of us who bought a PSVR2 are stuck with the hardware's limited library and don't have the luxury of the back-catalog of great PSVR titles. That means no Star Wars: Squadrons, no Resident Evil VII, and no Ace Combat 7, among other PS4 VR games.

The PSVR2 is not backwards-compatible with any of the PS4 VR games.

I actually wasn't aware that the PSVR2 wouldn't support PSVR games when I bought the hardware, and I never owned the original PSVR unit. While I was waiting for the PSVR2 hardware to be delivered, I already bought a fancy new flight stick with the expectation that I would be able to play Star Wars: Squadrons and Ace Combat, and I also bought another PS4 game that I never got around to playing because it was only available for VR. That game was FromSoftware's experimental little VR game, Déraciné. And since the PSVR2 wouldn't play these games on the PS5, I had to ask a friend if I could borrow his original PSVR headset so that I could play them.

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I was inspired a few weeks ago by a Twitter post from Ryan Moody (@ShutdownSafety), who asked why people are being so negative about football video gaming, and why people aren't making content. Well, I decided that I'd make some content sharing some of my optimism about the future of football video gaming in the next few years. I posted a video to my YouTube channel, but loyal blog readers can read the full transcription here.

YouTube: Will 2020 be a good year for football video games?

Football video games have been in a rut for a while now. The exclusivity deal between the NFL and EA didn't only kill NFL 2k series, it also may have killed the NFL Gameday, NFL Fever, NFL Blitz, and other series as well, some of which had game releases as late as 2004. All Pro Football 2k8 is now eleven years old. Backbreaker came and went nine years ago, leaving EA as the only major publisher still making football video games. EA's own NCAA Football series is now in the fifth year of its hiatus (the optimist in me still prefers to use the term "hiatus" instead of "cancellation"). This has all left football video gamers with nothing but mediocre Madden releases for years.

EA's NFL exclusivity may have put the final nail in the coffin for other games besides just NFL 2k.

All that being said, I am actually very optimistic about football video gaming come 2020 or 2021.

New indie games on the market

First and foremost, Madden's 5-year complete monopoly on consoles was broken this year with the releases of Canuck Play's Maximum Football 2018 and Axis Games' Axis Football 18. For the first time since 2013, there are football games on consoles not called Madden, and for the first time since 2009, there are football games on consoles that are not published by EA.

So why do I still consider football gaming to be in a rut?

...

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The Evil Within 2 - title

Okay, I said I would give up on Shinji Mikami after the first Evil Within game, but here I am giving that IP a second chance. I had heard that the expansions for Evil Within were actually pretty good, and that they even made the base game better by filling in some of the narrative gaps. But I was so furious with the base game that I sure as hell was not going to shell out more money for DLCs. If they were that integral to the core game, then they should have been included with the core game. Now that my furor over the original has faded a bit, I was hearing that the sequel is also much better than the original game and leans more heavily in the horror camp than the action shooter camp. I was dismissive of the game's announcement, and I was skeptical of the claims that the sequel was actually good, so I picked up a [relatively] cheap used copy off eBay so that I could give it a chance over the Halloween week without necessarily giving any more money to Bethesda.

The Evil Within 2 - Kidman
I feel like I missed something...
Maybe I should've played the DLC?

Besides, Shinji Mikami isn't the director this time around. Instead the sequel is directed by John Johanas, who was the director of the [supposedly] good DLC expansion packs. The first game actually did have some good ideas and set pieces within, so maybe a different directorial approach could bring those ideas out to their full potential?

A more focused package

To Johanas' credit, the game, as a whole, definitely has a more "unified" presentation. The first game felt very scattershot with regard to how it wanted the player to play. It's early chapters (which were also the most enjoyable parts of the game) were focused mostly on stealth, with a few pursuit and escape moments thrown in. It was slow, somewhat atmospheric, and built incredible tension. But those mechanics were quickly dropped in favor of shooting gallery set pieces, constant scripted ambushes, set piece boss encounters, and frantic, funhouse-ish trap / puzzle rooms. The sequel, thankfully, is much more focused. I didn't feel like I was wasting my resources by putting points into Sebastian's stealth skills (a skill tree that was completely absent from the previous game), as you can actually continue to use them over the course of the entire game. Sure, there's still scripted ambushes and puzzle rooms, but the focus is much more firmly planted in sneaking around, exploring the environments, and generally avoiding detection.

Unfortunately, there's still a bit too much of a focus on frenzied action. It detracts significantly from any sort of horror or tension that the game might be trying to build up. The autosaves are fairly generous (even though there are also manual save points in each of the game's safe houses), so enemies come in hordes, hit very hard, and deaths are going to happen. Chapter 3 basically completely desensitized me to death and put me in the habit of just standing up and letting the monsters kill me if I ever screwed up the stealth.

The Evil Within 2 - learning curve
The early combat encounters are not gentle, as they put you up against hordes of enemies.

There's a greater focus on open-ended exploration this time around, and Chapter 3 is the first open map that the player is free to explore. There's basically two main paths through it: the hard one and the easy one. The easy path is basically a straight line due north from where you start, but the game throws some curveball objectives at you that basically encourage you to try the other paths that end up being much harder. You're told about weapon caches and NPCs that you're supposed to try to save. One such weapon is the crossbow, which is actually a pretty necessary tool (because, you know, every game has to have a crossbow). It's right off to the side of where you start, but picking it up can easily lead you down a much harder path to your actual mission objective...

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A gamer's thoughts

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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