May 13, 2020
Cyberpunk is an extremely versatile setting. It’s an easy vessel for a compelling story, and it’s a great excuse to deck your game out with cool environments and crazy technology. Even a few short years ago, Cyberpunk was very niche (and to be fair, it still very much is) but there have been several exciting video game additions to the genre lately t,he lastest of which being VirtuaVerse.
Of course, there is also the upcoming first-person RPG Cyberpunk 2077 and smaller titles like the character-driven narrative Neo Cab. But it’s great to see a Cyberpunk-inspired point-and-click adventure that takes its cues from favourites like Monkey Island and King’s Quest.
Right off the bat, VirtuaVerse absolutely looks the part of a Cyberpunk tale. Its pixel art style is beautifully nostalgic while still presenting its futuristic world with all of the neon flashiness it deserves. The world is clearly far more advanced in technology than our own, yet it’s clear from just the first few screens of the game that humanity is squandering its potential just as much as ever. Streets are grimy, public terminals are in disrepair, and everybody seems wrapped up in their own problems.
In this future, humans live with virtual reality switched on 24-7, meaning that what their eyes see doesn’t always match up with reality. What starts as a hunt for his missing girlfriend leads protagonist Nathan to a conspiracy with deep roots, going to surprising places. VirtuaVerse combines some classic Cyberpunk tropes with new ideas to create an interesting tale with a thematically challenging take on our future.
The gameplay is your standard fare for a point-and-click adventure, which is clearly exactly what they’re going for. There are no attempts to re-invent the wheel here. You have an inventory full of items to use to solve various puzzles, with most solutions involving exploring all areas and thinking outside the box. Most puzzles don’t delve too deep into the world’s technology, which on one hand means that its accessible to everyone regardless of how much they know about technology – but on other hand means missing out on a lot of what a Cyberpunk setting has to offer.
The best puzzles are the ones that utilise Nathan’s virtual reality goggles. The VR is used to awesome effect, adding a unique twist to some of the puzzles as turning Nathan’s AVR goggles on or off can change what you see in the world. The visual flair it adds is great: the environment is full of detail, constantly moving and flickering to match Nathan’s faulty AVR goggles.
This look, combined with the cool metal-inspired soundtrack by Blood Music, sets the atmosphere perfectly. The only thing that brings the worldbuilding down is some of the ‘tell, don’t show’ storytelling.
Not much ever happens to Nathan: he often comes in late, and an NPC will talk at length about the situation, why you should care, and what you need to do to fix it. It’s not always like this, but it’s enough that it starts to seem like a crutch.
VirtuaVerse has a lot to tell you in its 15-hour playtime, so it’s forgivable that a lot of its story is exposited to the player. Relying on this style of storytelling is to be expected of a puzzle adventure, where your main source of engaging with the world is listening to people talk. The lore is an interesting read for those who want to hear it, and easy to skip through for those who don’t. But it becomes more of a problem when that ‘tell, don’t show’ attitude extends to our protagonist, Nathan.
Nathan has very little defined personality. What little can be gleaned about him is told to us in literal terms with rarely any subtlety. The game does not seem to understand who he is, constantly framing him in a way that contradicts how he acts. For instance, we are told early on that Nathan lives off the grid, yet he makes multiple credit card payments to purchase items. He is told by others that he’s a good man, but he hardly thinks twice about a man who dies as a result of his actions. Without a bit of flavour to go along with these discrepancies, he comes across as a generic protagonist that wasn’t well thought out.
If VirtuaVerse is not a character-driven game, that’s fine. But it becomes hard to engage with a cyberpunk setting without a personal perspective from the lead characters. It hardly ruins the game, but it’s certainly a waste to have such forgettable characters.
My only other bone to pick with the game is some of the puzzles: they can get frustrating, and not in a good way. Upon solving a puzzle, there are generally two reactions you can experience: “Ah, of course!” or “What? How was I supposed to know that?”. There is not a single puzzle adventure on Earth that has winning puzzles all the way through, but VirtuaVerse had more of the latter than I’d like. To be clear, the majority of its puzzles are good, and there were a few I found to be ingenious, but others are downright infuriating.
To be specific, some puzzles feel artificially dragged out. More than once Nathan will return to a quest giver with what they asked for, only for them to give you yet another task before they’ll help you. Other times the solutions to puzzles won’t be activated until you talk to somebody or look at something, even if you’ve already figured out the answer. The inevitable backtracking does nothing but turns Nathan’s slow walking speed into a genuine annoyance, and sours the better puzzles the game has to offer.
“The majority of its puzzles
are good, and there were a few
I found to be ingenious.”
Despite the frustrations, VirtuaVerse is an easy recommendation for Cyberpunk fans. The story’s cool even without terribly interesting protagonists, and if I were able to score it on look and atmosphere alone, it’d be getting a 10. And though I didn’t find many of the puzzles to be winners, that wasn’t enough to spoil my enjoyment. That kind of this is subjective, anyway, so you might not have the same issue.
- Cool Cyberpunk world
- A genuine challenge
- Awesome visuals and sound
- Puzzles can be frustrating
- Tell-don't-show storytelling
Though unfortunate, I think I like the idea of VirtuaVerse more than the meat of it. The premise, art, music, and potential are all fantastic. But when it came time to actively engage with the game, I was hindered by unremarkable characters and poorly-conveyed puzzles. I enjoyed it nonetheless, and it definitely has the most important thing for a Cyberpunk game – the soul. So it’s still an easy recommendation from me – you just might want to keep a walkthrough on standby to keep yourself from becoming infuriated.