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Stranger Things VR Review: Just for the Fans

Stranger Things VR keyart

Whenever a huge IP from film or TV gets turned into a videogame there’s always that thought of fan service. Whether a project will stick heavily to the source material or try to do its own original thing within that universe. We’ve seen the likes of Peaky Blinders: A King’s Ransom evoke its source TV show very well, without neglecting newcomers too much. We were hoping for something similar with Tender Claws’ Stranger Things VR. But as we found in our review, Stranger Things VR is a fan service through and through.

We’re not going to spend time here giving you a synopsis of the Netflix show, and neither does the game. Throwing you straight into the Stranger Things universe, Tender Claws automatically assumes you know the programme inside and out. Because you kind of need to. Rather than centre the game around the show’s main protagonist Eleven, who features throughout. You instead step into the shoes of Vecna, the main bad guy, who was introduced in Season 4. Yet not even that’s explained, so best of luck if you’re going in blind.

Chapter 1: It’s Getting Strange

Even if you have seen the show, the first couple of chapters are a sensory onslaught. You’re thrown into Vecna’s nightmarish world where you begin to learn his powers. It’s all telekinesis-based, being able to grab and crush environmental objects to use as weapons. Because those evil-looking creatures from the show come for you as well, so there’s a lot of pulling and pushing of objects to kill them all.

It’s enjoyable to start with but after a while, the mechanic does start to wear a little thin. There’s not much strategy required here. Just slog through and try not to die – yes even as the all-powerful Vecna you can be killed. Alongside the telekinesis, Vecna’s other main ability is the ability to grow vines. You can grow these across most surfaces in the Upside Down, which can be grabbed and climbed where needed. Which you’ll do a lot. Aside from the rich narrative Stranger Things VR features a lot of walking and traversing this surreal world, with the voice of Dr. Brenner guiding you on.

Vecna’s party trick is invading the minds of others like Will, Mike, Lucas and the rest of the gang. And this is where you need to be a fan, due to these moments being both convoluted and integral to the entire story. It is interesting to see the other side of the coin, so to speak, seeing how Vecna played his role so subtly. Yet, there were times when (even as a fan of the show) I found the pacing a slow trudge, repeating the same squidgy organic tunnels – representing the mind – over and over again.

Chapter 2:

Stranger Things VR‘s nine chapters clock in at around four or so hours so you can speed through the game in an afternoon. They can all be replayed in the chapter selection menu, although there are none of the classic video game replay tropes to tempt you back in. There are no secrets to discover or collectables to be found. But if you like binge-watching the show you can easily binge-watch the game.

Offering a slight twist to the main campaign are the two mixed reality chapters. These can be played independently of the campaign, where Vecna’s portals will open up in your walls. You’ll have to close these quickly or deal with the monsters that come through using only hand tracking. It’s great to see Tender Claws deploy this, providing a fun offshoot. Although the telekinesis pull and throw is used to death here.

Stranger Things VR Review Summary

Stranger Things VR can be boiled down into three components. Repetitive combat, surreal walking simulator and story filler. Being able to use a superpower like telekinesis should be an awesome gameplay mechanic, but over four hours I longed for something else. Walking through Hawkins, the Upside Down and the minds of the characters was more satisfying, really only aided by the show’s narrative. And that’s what Stranger Things VR really boils down to, if you love the show then this game is made for you. It’s a fan service through and through, beautiful to look at yet difficult to penetrate for anyone else.

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