After the horrific year that was 2020, we could all use a slight stress relief to let off some steam, and that is exactly what the VR title SressOut aims to do. Inviting the player into a virtual supermarket with the only goal being to hit everything in sight as quickly as possible does initially present some gratifying gameplay, but swiftly falls into being a redundant and forgettable experience.
These types of games have become a sort of sub-genre in the VR market, with the likes of Gorn and Drunken Bar Fight being two extremely popular titles that serve as a playground for a player to essentially flail their arms about and cause havoc, and it is certainly easy to see why. Being given the opportunity to create a mess and punch things—provided you have the real-world space, that is—is a sure-fire way to scratch that inner aggressive itch we may have. Yet a game such as Gorn, while not being a perfect VR title by any means, presents a creative and fun world for the player to experiment with, with various gameplay changes happening throughout the short campaign via weapon and scenery differences. StressOut does at first manage to scratch that mentioned itch, but the game is so void of any real depth that playing for any extensive period begins to become a slog.
Upon finding yourself in a void and colourless super-market, you are quickly shown the ropes by an anonymous narrator who provides a swift yet fun tutorial on how to get to grips with the title. Immediately you will spot that while the graphics are very primitive in style, they appear crisp and vibrant within the headset itself. This becomes even clearer when the action starts and you pick up your first weapon and strike the closest box with it; your strikes begin to colour the world around you, akin to what was seen in the Wii classic De Blob. The tutorial showed a surprising amount of promise, with each stage presenting a new twist on the gameplay loop, such as the introduction of Gravity Gloves.
They aren’t exactly providing the satisfaction that Half-Life: Alyx displays, but they do allow for the player to collect items by holding up their palms and shooting those items right back out by pointing their fingers forward. Feeling like part of the X-Men is always a great way to kick your game off, but it also provides insight into the main downfall of StressOut: lack of variety.
Upon completing the tutorial, you are able to begin progressing through the various stages, which are all different variations of the shopping mall scenario. Upon entering a level, the timer begins to count down, and you must essentially cause as much havoc as possible to ensure the timer doesn’t hit zero, as well as keep your score high to try and reach the leaderboards. These give the experience an extremely arcade feel, with the game aiming to be a short-burst title you can smash things in for a few minutes or so and then pack it in. This is amplified in the various power-ups and collectables found within the stages, with you being able to upgrade the speed in which your gloves collect items and dispense them, as well as finding random collectables in the stage to encourage exploration. But as I mentioned, the lack of variety quickly begins to show, with StressOut playing all the cards it has in its deck almost immediately.
The gameplay loop never differs past that initial premise, with each stage beginning to blend into one another, as the bland palette the market provides begins to wear you down fast. Unless I was missing something, those gloves are your only real tool to earn points in the stages, as they are far and beyond better at netting a high-score than any other method the game allows you to engage in. Sure, you might be intrigued in that looming sledgehammer in the corner as a weapon of mass supermarket colouring, but with the weapons not being fun to wield due to a lack of weight they seem to have, and the gloves being so powerful in comparison. Eventually, the levels dwindle down to you frantically looking for an item you have not managed to colour in, as you flail your arms about feeling no impact of any items—your arms just glide through the surroundings.
That is one of the curious things about StressOut; as the title suggests, it wants you to lose yourself in these spaces, causing a mess with the tools provided, but the game doesn’t offer any real aspects of environmental destruction—you find yourself becoming more of a set decorator rather than an anarchist. The movement itself is thankfully done well here, with both teleportation and locomotion options being offered in the settings to ensure that players can make the experience as comfortable as possible. Even when using the locomotion option, the game still allows for the teleport movement to be used to navigate the surroundings, which is certainly a nice touch. Yet the movement is again in favour of this lack of engagement the player has throughout; I certainly struggled to motivate myself to keep playing past a short period.
Overall, StressOut feels like a title stuck in VR’s past, with a primitive gameplay loop that the medium has left in the dust many moons ago. That is not to say a market does not exist for a game such as this, but to stand out in an ever-busy crowd, there needs to be a great reason to take the plunge. While the team behind StressOut are promising many future updates to the title, in its current state it is far too bland and redundant to recommend to the VR enthusiast, though some will certainly find joy in its simplicity.
[A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes]