Stranger Things VR is a visually intense retelling of the TV show’s last two seasons from VR pioneers Tender Claws, known for their weird and wild VR experiences Virtual Virtual Reality (2017) and The Under Presents (2019). While Stranger Things VR showcases the studio’s patently deft art direction, the game feels distinctly like an extended brand engagement experience that’s more concerned with prepping us for the show’s upcoming fifth season than treading any new or interesting ground.

Stranger Things VR Details:

Available On: Quest 2/3/Pro
Reviewed On: Quest 3
Release Date: February 22nd, 2024
Price: $30
Developer: Tender Claws

Gameplay

If you’re thinking of playing the VR game and you haven’t seen the complete four seasons of Stranger Things on Netflix yet, you’re going to be in for some serious spoilers from the moment you get past the loading screen.

And forget it if you haven’t seen the show at all, as you’ll have absolutely zero idea of who’s who and what’s going on, as the entire game is presented in a way that heavily relies on the user’s familiarity with major events and characters from the show. It is “Stranger Things VR” after all, so that’s to be expected to some extent, although it’s a shame the studio didn’t have the leeway to tell a more unique story within the franchise’s universe.

That basically leaves the VR game hamstrung to retread the main bits from the third and fourth season, albeit starting backwards from the biggest plot point reveal and moving into the main antagonist’s backstory.

Image courtesy Tender Claws

At first, the game seems dedicated to fleshing out the show’s villain Vecna, as it traps you in the terrifying world of the Upside Down and tasks you with finding your way out, all the while taunted by ghostly memories of Dr. Brenner. There’s some light combat and interesting movement mechanics here, although mostly it’s about making your way through successive mazes that are linked together through gateways that you can open in the minds of Demodogs and giant flowers with Demogorgon heads. Yes, that aspect is trippy weird and I’m totally here for it.

Although it started off with what I thought was going to be a deeper exploration into Vecna (who doesn’t like a good antihero?), I soon found myself tackling levels that not only settled into heavy repetition, but were continuously punctuated with things I already know about the story. Beautiful and surreal, granted, but there’s no real payoff outside of that.

View post on imgur.com

About halfway through the game’s nine chapters, it was revealed I wasn’t actually going to stick around as Vecna and build my powers and skills to some satisfying conclusion, but rather I would be randomly shuffled around characters in what felt more like a loosely strung together speedrun of the show’s most recent narrative, punctuated by more predictable featurettes and repetitious combat with the only two real enemies in the game, the Demodogs and Demobats—both of which are easily dispatched by telekinetically tossing crap at them.

This is a shame, since Vecna’s mechanics are pretty promising, as you can spawn vines on structures that act as a basis for him to grip on with a sort of Spider-Man-eqsue ease. I would have liked to see this used to greater effect, and incorporated into puzzles, boss battles, more challenging parkour—basically everything the game is missing. Instead, you’re ejected from Vecna, and only ever get to use a sliver of those abilities as Eleven, who is significantly less fun as a playable character.

View post on imgur.com

That said, it took me around four hours to complete all nine chapters, and a little more to tool around with the bonus mixed reality games, which are fun but brief. The ending left me feeling about as bored as I was during the entire game, albeit with a credit roll and outro music as the only real indication it was all over.

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Immersion

The game’s visuals are highly stylized, and at times can be absolutely jaw-dropping. Despite some distinctly lower quality textures and lesser poly counts than the gameplay trailer above would suggest, Stranger Things VR clearly takes the mantra “every frame a painting” to heart.

In contrast to the lackluster gameplay I mentioned above, which at times felt more like a tutorial to something greater that never came, the game’s art and jarring surrealism does a lot of the heavy lifting.

Image courtesy Tender Claws

The game’s clear dedication to nightmarish surrealism and constant narrative switching comes at a cost to ’embodiment’, or feeling like you’re actually in virtual place and not just overly occupied doing some complex task. It’s the difference from being immersed in a movie or flatscreen video game and forgetting you’re sitting in a chair, and feeling like you’ve actually been transported to somewhere else. Being shuttled around from environment to environment and character to character so abruptly diminishes that ability to feel like you’re there and can trust the rules of the world, since you’re always left guessing where you’re going, who you are, what powers you have in what timeline, etc.

Still, the first half of the game does a great job of building up those mechanics that let you traverse chasms and stay out of the Demodogs’ reaches, although sadly enemy AI is pretty dumb, as enemies can oftentimes get hung up on game geometry and wig out stupidly.

Comfort

There are two or three momentarily uncomfortable scenes that force artificial movement, and there are also a fair number of flashing lights that could be of concern to photosensitive users—the latter of which shows up as an on-screen warning before you start every game.

That said, it’s a fairly comfortable game thanks to a good number of options available to the user and an overall smart world design that respects the player, even in the face of Vecna’s ability to swing and move around on vines.

‘Stranger Things VR′ Comfort Settings – February 22nd, 2024

Turning
Artificial turning
Snap-turn
Quick-turn
Smooth-turn
Movement
Artificial movement
Teleport-move
Dash-move ✔ (as Eleven)
Smooth-move
Blinders
Head-based
Controller-based
Swappable movement hand
Posture
Standing mode
Seated mode
Artificial crouch
Real crouch
Accessibility
Subtitles
Languages
English, Japanese, German, French, Korean, Italian, Portuguese (BR), Spanish
Dialogue audio
Languages English
Adjustable difficulty
Two hands required
Real crouch required
Hearing required
Adjustable player height

 

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall
5.5
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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 4,000 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • Ben Lang

    Thanks for reading our review! Please note the following before commenting so that we can have a thoughtful discussion:

    • We scored this game 5.5/10 – ‘OK’ by our linear scale.

    • Even if the text of the review focuses more on critique than praise, or vice versa, the score aims to boil down the reviewer’s overall opinion of the experience.

    • If you haven’t played the game, understand the limits of your knowledge.

    • If you have played part of the game, your experience may differ from those who have completed it in its entirety.

    • Road to VR does not ever accept payment for reviews or any editorial content.

  • This is two missteps in a row now for the once mighty Tender Claws ….
    Quite troubling.
    []^ )

    • VR5

      Actually I thought this game doesn’t just match VVR but surpasses it. The Under Presents had great ideas but didn’t grab me like VVR did. And with VVR2 they did try new things but those didn’t work as well.

      On the other hand Stranger Things VR is very polished and everything works brilliantly, since they stuck to what they know works and refined it. The locomotion and interaction methods are the best in the medium yet, grabbing the world with tentacles to pull/launch yourself towards where you want to go and telekinesis. It also brings back the “put on a headset to change location” from VVR.

      Basically many of the review’s criticisms (no challenge, presumably no embodiment by not remaining in the same place long) apply to VVR as well. I would say if you liked VVR, you should like STVR. And the user reviews agree with that.

      I think in Tender Claw’s case it actually is better to refer to their works as experiences not games. Because they have gameplay but it is exclusively used to tell a story. And that they excel at.

      This title explores what it feels like to have these powers, what it means to use them. How these questions are explored is very mature and doesn’t just retell the story you will ideally already know but recontextualizes it.

      The only flaw I see is that the story telling is better than the resulting story itself. That was more satisfying in VVR. But Half Life: Alyx has a similar problem. That game’s ending just doesn’t have the same impact if you haven’t played the episodes. I know because I only played HL2 and the episodes after HLA.

      But really if you liked VVR and that means you like narrative experiences, this title is great. Good length for what it is and amazing mechanics (albeit no challenge).

      I won’t call it a GotY contender, because I’d rather group it with other narrative experiences (which are usually shorter though), but it definitely is the first VR highlight of the year (just not a “game” game).

      Reviews misframing it by insisting it has to have challenging gameplay is ignoring its genre. Lone Echo 2 was mistreated for a similar reason.

  • gothicvillas

    From the early screenshots it was kinda obvious that this will turn out to be a turd. Quest 3 have enough juice for a pretty nice graphics, we have seen number of games pulling it off. Some are just stuck in quest1 era or dont posses the knowow ” how to make a playable/good looking game”.. i dont know. But there is no adequate reasoning why some games end up being so bad. Im baffled.

    • VR5

      The visuals are pretty great actually. There’s nothing wrong with stylized graphics and the review doesn’t criticize the visuals. It is actually very playable and good looking.

      What it lacks is challenge (gameplay for gameplay’s sake) and a new story. I disagree with the review on it not worth being told though since the interactivity of being a monster that kills to form a hive mind is actually very enlightening of gamer culture.

  • shadow9d9

    It is sad that this site no longer regularly reviews games.. only games with big IP for the most part, a handful of times a year. This hurts VR as a whole.