It's probably quite an understatement to say that 2019 was a good year for VR. Oculus released some new, game-changing headsets and published some incredible AAA VR experiences. The PSVR once again played host to a full year's worth of top notch titles and of course Valve announced the existence of Half Life: Alyx, a VR exclusive Half-Life spin-off that blew the collective minds of everyone in the gaming world.
Even the normally quite chill December was an exciting time for VR, with both my favourite VR game of the year, Boneworks and Budget Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency, the sequel to one of the most popular VR games of all time, releasing on exactly the same day.
Now, if you've been paying attention to Ian's VR Corner in 2019, you'll know I had to skip Budget Cuts 2 in order to cover Boneworks before I went on holiday for Christmas. I'm putting that right this week though and you can watch me blunder my way through sections from the first 90 minutes of Budget Cuts 2 in this week's episode of Ian's VR Corner, which you'll find directly below these words. There's so much robot murder...
To my shame, I've never played the original Budget Cuts, although I do vividly remember reading Chris Donlan's glowing write-up about it from way back in 2016. That article was published a few months before the PSVR was released and at that point I'd played perhaps only a handful of VR demos at random press events and gaming expos.
In the back of my mind, Budget Cuts became the peak of Virtual Reality, that one VR masterpiece that I really should have experienced but hadn't. I suppose it's kind of like knowing that the Mona Lisa exists, but never having seen it in person.
Maybe that's why Budget Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency didn't really strike that much of a chord with me when I played it. Maybe I'd built it up too much in my head, or maybe it was because it didn't seem to expand very much on the original concept, which is now almost 4 years old. I've played a lot of VR games since the release of Budget Cuts and many of them have lifted elements from it so, while Budget Cuts 2 was fun to play, none of it felt game-changing or innovative.
The big new addition to the game, a bow, is a weapon that I've fired in countless VR games before, from the terrible Ace Banana through to the haunting, but excellent Roguelike In Death. So, rather than being something innovative, that addition immediately felt like old hat to me.
So too did the level design which, I'm told, expands on the original massively. Don't get me wrong, there's a nice amount of variety on display here, from the first level that takes place onboard a couple of speeding express trains, to the verticality of a later level set on the rooftops of skyscrapers. Graphically though, it all felt a bit bland and boring compared to some of the more recent PC VR games I've played.
There's a lack of detail to the environments and textures too and the amount of interactivity within the game world is rather limited to say the least. What do I mean by that? Well, there are Rubix Cubes to pick up and hold, but you can't play with them. There's a section where you come across a whiteboard with a load of pens in front of it but you can't pull the lids off the pens and use them to draw dongs. Basically, the game teases you with glimpses of immersion but then hardly ever gives you a good pay off. You can flush the toilets though, so plus points for that.
Gosh, it feels like I've been having a right moan about this game now. To be fair, I kind of have, so it's worth pointing out that I think anyone who loved the original will love this too. It's more of the same but bigger, so even though it doesn't have much of a wow factor for me, it's a safe and faithful follow-up that fans of the first will love.
For me though, playing Budget Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency felt a lot like the moment when I did actually get to see the Mona Lisa in real-life and discovered that it was just a tiny painting behind some glass in a big echoey hall. The image I'd built up in my head was much more impressive than the real thing so instead of a feeling of magnificence, I was just a little underwhelmed.