We're sure the irony of taking a fake holiday within the confines of virtual reality isn't lost on Owlchemy Labs, a studio that revels in the absurdity of what it's making. Job Simulator was one of PlayStation VR's first games, a series of silly sandboxes stuffed with interactive objects and madcap characters. It's about as far from real work as you can get as you goof around, throwing staplers across the office or replacing a car's wheels with doughnuts. This irreverent, open ended play is exactly what you should expect in Vacation Simulator, but with some clever additions that make it feel like a more cohesive experience.
On the face of it, this looks like a pretty straightforward sequel. The game is comprised of three typical holiday destinations, as well as a luxurious hotel suite, that those witty little robots have cobbled together to simulate the human practice of vacation. It's all presented in a similar way; the floating bots want your help to engage in all kinds of activities across each location, and there's a huge array of things to interact with. It's wonderfully tactile -- even menus are integrated into the world around you.
But while the setup is much the same as its predecessor, this follow-up has a few new tricks up its sleeve. There are a couple of big changes that make this a more complete package. Firstly, the environments are much bigger, and you're able to teleport around them. Where in Job Simulator you were confined to a compact work station, here you're free to move from point to point and discover everything at your own pace.
The second major change is the interplay between all the environments. An example is when you acquire the slingshot in Vacation Forest -- there are six targets to hit within the woods, but it turns out there are also slingshot targets to find in Vacation Beach and Vacation Mountain too. There are also recipes you can make in all three areas, but some ingredients only appear in one, so you'll have to move between each place if you want to fulfil all the orders. It gives you more reasons to revisit each location.
Speaking of the locations, they're packed with things to do. At the beach, you can grill burgers and build sand castles; in the forest, you can catch fish and do some painting with Bot Ross; and on the mountain, you can throw snowballs and go skiing. There's all sorts to see and do, and pretty much every activity will reward you with Memories. You'll need to gather these in order to reach certain points in each location, such as a sea dive at the beach, or a nature trail in the forest.
Aiding you throughout the game is a backpack. This inventory, which doubles up as a menu of sorts, is strapped to your back, and you literally reach behind you to grab it. It's a brilliant addition that means you can transport items found in certain places and take them on other excursions, which will be necessary for certain tasks. It also houses a camera with which you can take photographs. Yes, that includes selfies, and because you can now customise your in-game character, it's occasionally worth turning the lens on yourself to snap some goofy pics.
The overall feeling we get playing this game is that Owlchemy Labs wanted to make this a more fulfilling experience than Job Simulator, and to that end, there's even more of a narrative to follow this time. As you continue to explore each destination, two robots will argue about whether your enjoyment or the efficiency of the simulation is more important. It's nothing too involved, but it provides a push forward in a game that's otherwise quite directionless.
Despite all these improvements and additions, there are some occasional hiccups that hurt the experience. Vacation Simulator is played exclusively with the PlayStation Move controllers, and while they work fine a lot of the time, tracking issues do crop up more often than you'd think, and it can cause you to fail certain objectives. It's a shame, as the controls are intuitive and brilliantly tactile, but every now and again, you'll see your in-game hands glitch out as you attempt to catch a ball, or skip a stone across a lake.
It's also not going to trouble PSVR's best when it comes to visuals and dialogue. The blocky, cartoonish style works on some level, as the game doesn't take itself seriously at all, but it seems a touch out of date. Unfortunately, the overriding joke of robots having a loose grasp on human behaviours is similarly beginning to get a little stale. Don't get us wrong, there are plenty of amusing moments throughout the game, but it's starting to feel a bit overplayed at this point.
With some very smart additions, Vacation Simulator is a suitably more free flowing and open ended experience than its predecessor. Larger locations, reasons to revisit, and a huge range of things to see and do, this is a successful evolution of the silly sandbox antics Owlchemy Labs does so well. Despite PS Move tracking issues and no real step forward in writing, this is another mindlessly fun time-waster for when the summer Sun dips behind the clouds.