Quanero VR, available from “Laserboys3000” on Steam for nothing, is the best of the many VR experiences I’ve encountered so far.
This isn’t because it’s particularly beautiful (it’s graphics are competent, much more so than those I’m able to create, but not on a AAA level) nor because it’s gameplay is particularly well designed (in fact, it has almost no “gameplay”). Quanero is amazing because it’s the first truly “player-motivated” VR experience I’ve seen.
VR provides the ability to create almost perfectly immersive virtual worlds, and Quanero demonstrates how to use that immersion to tap into intrinsic motivations of players - in this case, mostly curiosity and a little bit of completionism. Quanero presents a tiny virtual world - just a terrace and small bar - with the hints of a large, cyberpunky, Blade Runner-esque world around it.
The experience begins with a little minor explanation. You are informed that you’re a detective and that you can run time forwards and backwards, but you may only observe, not alter things. This sets the perfect stage for pure exploration, since the player’s actions can’t have any consequences. You’re then shown an array of thumbnails, blurred out, of events and interactions you haven’t yet seen. That sets up the completionism; what player could resist at least trying to fill those in?
You’re dropped onto the terrace and, running the time forward with the right wand’s trigger, you see a peaceful scene rudely interrupted by a massive explosion from the outdoor grill, which leads to a dramatic rescue and a fistfight. Personally, I was very curious as to why the explosion occurred, so I teleported myself over to the grill and ran time backward, forward, backward again - and this was where the experience really got immersive for me. I saw a flash of green just before the explosion and I was hooked.
Long story short (and less spoilerific), I spent about twenty minutes figuring out what the green flash was, then where it had come from, and then piecing together the whole story. The scene is maybe five minutes long, but it took me much longer to discover the true sequence of events, and the experience was utterly compelling throughout, without any extrinsic motivation. Looking at that fistfight in great detail didn’t unlock a new level or improve my combat stats - it was just interesting. That’s the true promise VR, in my opinion - it allows game designers to engage players in a much more immersive and intrinsic manner, and to drop many of the traditional gimmicks and Skinner-box tactics that motivate players in traditional games.
This is not to say that VR games automatically (or necessarily) tap into these motivations, however. For instance, Raw Data from Survios Inc. is a traditional first person combat game that smoothly integrates the unique traits of VR without drastically changing the formula; the player’s motivation basically comes from the infinite cycle of beat up robots, get better at beating up robots, find more and more interesting robots to beat up, repeat. That doesn’t make it a bad game; in fact, Raw Data is one of my favorite VR experiences. It just isn’t revolutionary in the way Quanero VR is.
My ultimate wishlist VR item is a longer, more intense, more complex, and more diverse version of Quanero in which the player must find clues in one part of the environment to understand events in other parts. In Quanero, this essentially only happens with the strange green flash that causes the explosion; in a larger game, there could be more such events and more levels of uncertainty. There could also be a few more people who weren’t ripped white dudes - and no, one blue alien, one skinny female pool player with no characterization, and a fat dude who dies right away don’t count.
So, since this seems to have become a review, I guess I’ll give a score. Quanero gets 8⁄10; not perfect, but pretty damn good, especially given the price.