Penn & Teller VR: Frankly Unfair, Unkind, Unnecessary & Underhanded is quite possibly the longest title for a VR game so far, but it’s also one of the more original ones out there. Out now for Playstation VR, here is our review.
Developed by Gearbox and also available on Oculus and Vive platforms, a lot becomes clear when you abbreviate that lengthy title: Penn & Teller VR: F U, U, U & U. Rather than focus on grand acts of magic, much of the content in Penn & Teller VR is based around pranks – they’re fun, but there is little in the way of “how did he do that?!?” after a trick is first performed.
The game – or experience – is broken down into two phases. First, you practice the tricks with Penn & Teller, who let you in on the secrets required to wow your audience. None of these are especially hard and the game won’t force you to use sleight of hand of memorization techniques – instead, the punchline usually involves some kind of creative use of VR. More on that later.
Penn & Teller VR isn’t much of a single player experience – as with any magic show, you need an audience. There are just over a dozen tricks available to you, and once you’ve selected a “set list” from them you can select a volunteer. He or she then puts on the headset, and is (depending on the trick) offered a move controller.
Many of the feats of magic in Penn & Teller VR revolve around the fact that the person wearing the headset can’t see what’s happening outside of the headset, and this is used to good effect in some of the tricks. It’s extra fun if you have additional people with you, because something like laughter can really increase the sense of suspense that the “player” experiences in the middle of a trick.
But where regular stage magic (the good kind, at least) can instill wonder every time it’s performed, many of the tricks on offer here rely on a gimmick that’s hard to repeat with the same effect a second or third time. You can make a person smash an egg without knowing it once, but they’re not going to fall for it twice – unless they really, really enjoyed it.
Because of this, I’m trying to stay away from explaining any of the tricks in too much detail – it could partly ruin what is a really fun VR experience with friends or family. What helps in that sense is that Penn & Teller themselves appear in the game, and really treat the experience as a performance and want to take you on that journey as well – not just explaining the trick but helping you deliver it.
Some of the tricks on offer unfortunately fall in the game’s “unnecessary” category (who wants to read an entire book on a tablet through a VR helmet, even if it’s Moby Dick?), but with the right people and the right selection of tricks, this is a title that can provide a few really good hours of social fun.