If you ask just about anybody, they’ll tell you about Groundhog Day, an extremely popular movie from the early 1990s starring Bill Murray in one of his timeless roles. Tequila Works, the creators of Rime, took the movie and gave it a worthy sequel in the form of a virtual reality game, Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son. As Phil Connors Jr., son of the character originally portrayed by Murray, you relive the day before Groundhog Day, a ceremony commemorating your deceased father. Through the experience, you weed through bugs to solve mildly interesting puzzles, listen to slow and at times unengaging dialogue, and experience a touching story complete with great character moments.
As is the case with many VR games, Groundhog Day suffers from a lot of bugs with animation and audio. While not game-breaking, they certainly take away from the experience and ruin the immersion, something that can be deadly to a VR title. You might try to grab something and see that doing so applies forces to other objects around it. Maybe you press the trigger to clench your hand and, upon releasing it, your hand stays clenched until you press and release it again. There’s a nicely-thought-out dialogue system where you grab bubbles of dialogue in front of you to choose branches, but sometimes you go to grab them and find that the one you’re trying to grab doesn’t end up being the one you grasp onto. Thankfully you have to hold it for a certain amount of time to choose it, but this makes dialogue frustrating at times. These issues aren’t common or the biggest problems, though.
There’s a clear lack of polish applied to the animations and audio. Bugs range from dialogue being queued too early or late to people sipping at air while their glass stays on the table in front of them. You’ll also find that animations don’t align properly in the 3D world. Most animations start with small jumps to different parts of the world mere inches away from where they were standing prior. Overall, they;re very rough and don’t blend together very well. Body movements are odd and unrealistic, start and stop points between animations are obvious and jarring, and facial expressions are minimalistic at best.
This all plays to another problem that Tequila Works has with transitions. Transitions between animations, scenes, and dialogue could all probably use another six months of work at the minimum. Loading screens are too long for how frequent they are, which really fragments the game in an unhealthy way. To be fair, the game does give a great option to restart the particular scene you’re in, so it’s important that scenes are divided and individual from one another, but this is no excuse for 10-20% of the game being loading screens.
Fortunately, this is a game about a story, characters, and puzzles, all of which hold up at least moderately well. The animations don’t affect these much at all. Most of the puzzles and minigames are appealing and enjoyable, but you have to do some of them too many times, and other ones you don’t get to play enough. For example, the bartending one was enjoyable with lots of different ways to experiment. That in itself could be a full game, but you only get to do it once. In contrast, you have to do the spray painting minigame several times, which is frustrating and takes far too long each time you do it. Other games, like the t-shirt cannon and tissue-paper basketball, don’t get old no matter how many times you do them.
All of the minigames fit right in with the story. I often see games struggle to implement their minigames and puzzles in a way that’s contextually relevant, but in Groundhog Day, almost all of them involve an interaction with a character, which really drives home the themes of the game.
These themes hit deep in the heart towards the end of the game as Phil Jr. learns more about his parents and who his father was compared to what he thought. It all makes the story nearly as powerful as the movie from over 20 years ago. Unfortunately, the game lacks the humorous writing of its predecessor, and makes a lot of the moments in between sweet character moments drab. However, you end up spending a lot of that time thinking about how you’re going to be able to accomplish everything you need to in order to create the ideal game.
In the end, it’s nice to see how different the first day is from the last. Not only is there a major transformation within Phil, but the writers overall did a nice job putting together many different ways the days could turn out leading up to the final product. There are lots of twists and turns and different locations you end up having to visit at some points that you don’t end up hearing about at all on the last day. It all keeps you guessing and on your toes, and there’s a couple of different twists that are well worth the journey.
Through it all, characters constantly show different colors about them that lead to a better understanding of what happened to Phil Jr. and his family. Games often use the “wake-up-without-knowing-who-you-are-and-going-on-an-adventure-to-find-out-about-yourself” trope to keep the player in the dark and have a big reveal at the end, and thankfully, Tequila Works was above that. You start off believing you know everything about the characters and find some significant depth to most of them, even the one major character who drives so much of the story without ever fully appearing in it, Phil Connors Sr.
Groundhog Day does a lot of things wrong on a technical level, but Tequila Works and Sony still managed to produce a game well worth a shot. After sessions of playing, I found myself excited to get back and discover a new way to make Phil Jr.’s worst day ever a little better. I just wish it were a little more complete. As much as I enjoyed the story, the characters, and the puzzles, I shared just as much disdain for the animations, transitions, loading screens, and audio. A game like that is tough to review and even tougher to grade, but I’ll always be a sucker for a nice story. You can enjoy this game without some of the extra polish, so while no medals are being given out, it certainly can beat any game out there is bugless and no fun.
This review is based on the PlayStation Virtual Reality version of the game. A review code was provided by the publisher.
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