What a strange little game. I’ve certainly played my fair share of crazy and experimental projects (particularly on the VR platform), but never thought I would see myself commanding an army of potatoes conquering other potato-inhabited planets. But what was I expecting to play with a name like Spuds Unearthed? Sure, it would involve spuds of some kind and perhaps use VR in entertaining ways, but a single player MOBA VR game with asynchronous multiplayer capabilities was not quite what I had imagined for a video game at all. Mind you, it took me a few hours of gameplay to not only work out what the hell was going on, but how to play the game properly as well. Ultimately, the game does get brownie points for cool ideas but none of them really gel together to create an engaging experience. Any fun you can glean from the title first requires a hefty leap over a few accessibility hurdles and getting your head around the alien controls.
I wasn’t lying earlier. In Spuds Unearthed, you assume the role of the overlord for your loyal nation of potatoes, while you scour the galaxy for other planets infested with Zombuds. All this to reclaim fragments of your home world, which was destroyed all because your starchy citizens couldn’t get along. I mean, whatever works I guess. I’m not sure how compelling you can make a world or story centered on potatoes, but I was willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt assuming the gameplay was fun.
Don’t let their innocent spud-faces fool you
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t do itself any favours in creating a good first impression. Very little of the systems are explained and you kind of just need to guess or figure it out yourself. For example, the customisation options in the home base have some surprising amount of depth. But you wouldn’t know about it unless you went searching for it yourself. With very few text-based hints, it’s difficult to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing and I feel I didn’t even fully grasp the game design hours into playing.
From the home base you can equip your abilities, heroes and weapons and then select a mission by reaching out to one of the many planets and physically grabbing it. Holding the planet will reveal mission details before jumping in. In battle scenarios, the game borrows design elements from the MOBA genre. Players have to protect their base from endless waves of enemies, while having an endless supply of minions, a selection of spud heroes (which are unlockable and upgradeable) with cooldown abilities and turrets. Maps are divided into three lanes and players must destroy the enemy tower on the other side of the map to complete the mission. Interestingly, the game allows players to take control of their base turrets, while being able to throw their heroes on points of the map to unleash their abilities, which does help it somewhat stand out from other games in the genre.
As missions are completed, players can unlock new spud heroes and earn tokens, which are used as a currency for upgrading, acquiring new abilities and pretty much everything else. The system works well enough and adds some surprising level of customisation and depth. But once again, the lack of explanation or guidance really prevents you from enjoying these aspects to their full potential.
This footage was shot with a potato
There are some cool ideas here but operating the different turrets is cumbersome, clumsy and inaccurate (especially with the PS Move controllers), creating a truly starchy experience that would make the most seasoned VR player’s patience boil over. Moreover, each individual idea never meshes into something cohesive or special. For example instead of traditional multiplayer, Spuds Unearthed supports asynchronous multiplayer where players can select planets conquered by others online and fight their AI as well as defending their own. It works, but overall really removes what makes the MOBA genre so intense and competitive in the first place. It’s a competitive genre at its core, and Spuds Unearthed kind of dances around the problem and creates something that looks like a potato but quacks like a duck.
In terms of other production qualities, the game looks solid for what it is. VR games with a more animated look tend to be popular on the platform due to their simplistic art style lending to less noticeable blur and this is the case for Spuds Unearthed too. It does look clean but overall the art style isn’t anything you haven’t seen before. There weren’t any signs of motion sickness for me personally, and that’s mostly due to the nature of the gameplay itself but the overwhelming and complicated controls might end up being nauseating for some.
Spuds Unearthed ultimately feels like a weird paradox of a game that knows exactly what it is as well as having no idea on what it wants to be. In the end, it feels like a convoluted mess that could be more fun and engaging if they just cleaned up and simplified the design a bit. Lack of guidance and clumsy controls further bring down a concept that could look good on paper. However, even without these issues, there is a concern about the longevity of the title, particularly due to its choice to go asynchronous. I imagine the decision was made due to the limitation of the hardware but I would not expect many people talking about this game after a couple weeks let alone months to come, which would be concerning for a game with multiplayer. Finally, due to its complexity and weird mashup of genres, I’m not quite sure who to recommend this game too either (unless you are of course, a fan of classical potato war epics), but I’m going to have to insist that you pass on the fries this time.
Reviewed on PSVR using a PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher