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August 2020

Spuds Unearthed

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Gamedust
Release Date: April 23, 2020


PS VR Review - 'Spuds Unearthed'

by Cody Medellin on July 6, 2020 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Assign spuds to different classes, send vehicles and robots, produce bizarre turrets - everything to conquer the Spud Galaxy and continue their frantic fight!

There's a learning curve when it comes to adopting well-worn genres into the VR space. With everyone still figuring it out, the only way to figure out what works is through constant experimentation and just a bit of luck. The elevator pitch for Spuds Unearthed seems ambitious, but in practice, the exercise is too dull to be considered enjoyable.

There is a story to Spuds Unearthed, but you'll have to get it from other sources, since the game doesn't bother to tell you any of it. You are the commander of an army of sentient potatoes that are ready and willing to fight at a moment's notice. As it stands, you are engaged in a seemingly eternal war with another set of sentient potatoes that call themselves the Zombuds. The end goal is anyone's guess, but as long as the Zombuds retain control of nearby planets, you'll be ready to wrest away that control.

Spuds Unearthed doesn't give you a tutorial to learn how to play, opting instead to teach you things via text boxes. Once you've adjusted your height for your platform, you grab a planet and set it as your destination to jump into battle. From here, you're engaged in what can best be described as a combination of turret shooter and MOBA. Your troops, represented by blue cubes, march down the three lanes to the enemy base, and they aim for the generators before going after the base. Sitting back at your own base, you use both of the guns stationed there to mow down anyone in green while occasionally throwing out potatoes to act as heroes with abilities such as firing rockets for a wide area of damage or piloting planes to deliver aerial damage.

There are complaints that tutorials tend to explain far too much to the player, Spuds Unearthed is desperately in need of one, since you have no idea what you can or should do at any point. There's nothing to inform you that in order to use your heroes in battle, you need to pick them up and put them in one of three spots before heading off to your destination planet. You'll need to mess around with the guns to realize that you can lift them up to change their firing rate and ammo type. You have to figure out which hero has which ability, and you'll have to decipher how many tokens you'll need to make them better fighters. You also don't know until you get into a fight that your turret is only good for hitting Zombuds, so you can't use them to shoot at the generators. These complaints would be moot if the interface were at least intuitive, but with so many things going on, the lack of explanation greatly hurts the game.

Once you figure out some of the basics, you'll realize that the actual combat isn't that great. The default guns are good enough to mow down anyone in your way, but the lengthy cooldown time means that you don't get to shoot for very long, and the hand crank nature of the guns is fiddly due to the lack of accuracy on the Move controllers, so you constantly stop moving the crank or firing altogether. The lack of an aiming reticle when it comes to tossing heroes onto the field means that you'll waste them a few times when you hit the wrong spot. When you piece together all of those shortcomings, you'll be surprised to learn that you can win a few battles by doing nothing. This further adds to the confusing nature of the game, since you'll often wonder what went right or what went wrong.

Provided you can stomach those sparse gameplay mechanics, you'll be dismayed by the feeling that your actions don't matter. You can go from an easy battle to a difficult one, but it counts as a win rather than progression toward an end scenario. The endless run through battles would be fine if the game had a scoring system or a leaderboard, but none exist. You could also argue that the solo games are preparation for multiplayer skirmishes, but you can't battle anyone in real time, only asynchronously. Even then, there's nothing special for winning those battles or any drawbacks for losing. It's all rather pointless, and it is the final straw when it comes to players needing a reason to keep going once this is discovered.

As far as presentation goes, some segments are fine. The music is boiler plate space military fare, which is good for setting up a mood without being overbearing. The sound effects suffer from being overprocessed to the point where everything sounds hollow and lacks impact. Graphically, the colors are bold, but the field of view makes everything feel tiny, so while it all runs fine, you generally can't tell what's going on half of the time. It is overall uneventful stuff, something that comes off as a big negative for technology that still has the power to wow people due to its small user base.

While you have to give credit to Spuds Unearthed for trying to be bold and merging two genres into the VR perspective, the execution does not work well. The dodgy controls make a poor impression on those trying out VR for the first time, and the lack of a narrative makes it all feel pointless. The lack of proper explanation for anything is what dooms the game, as it takes loads of unnecessary trial and error to figure things out, from initiating multiplayer to how to set up for fights, let alone how to make yourself useful in the skirmishes. While Spuds Unearthed isn't the worst VR experience out there, it is certainly one to avoid.

Score: 4.0/10

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