Edutainment at best, dull at worst.
Growing up I always wanted to be a paleontologist because I was obsessed with dinosaurs. Instead, here I am a lowly game critic, but every cloud has its silver lining, mine being that I get to review all the video games with dinosaurs in them—like this one. If only this game were good.
Time Machine VR has you travelling back to the times when dinosaurs were still alive and researching their behaviors in hopes of finding a cure for an ancient virus unleashed from the melting ice caps. The story is told through full-motion video sequences and voiceovers from your AI guide. Flat FMVs inside of a VR game is just an odd choice considering video can now be recorded specifically for VR, but I suppose it makes sense if in the future we are still using flat screens. Regardless, the story isn't all that interesting nor all that important.
Your time is spent scanning dinosaurs from inside a time machine that also doubles as a submarine in four levels, all of which take place underwater. The submarine moves slowly, can freeze time momentarily, and is equipped with various scanners used to learn more about each species of dinosaur. Each level is essentially the same formula: swim around till you find a dinosaur, hit it with a scanning ball, freeze time to get close enough to them to use your various scanners one by one, and then move onto the next dinosaur. Meanwhile, your computer states various facts about said dinosaurs in your ear.
Unfortunately, the whole experience is rather dull. If the game were pitched purely as educational entertainment, it would have been a better sell. I know as a child I would have loved this, but as an adult, I expect a bit more depth, especially considering it only took me two hours to complete the main storyline. That said, there is plenty of post-game content if you're willing to go back to every level multiple times and use the scanners you unlocked in later levels to gain more knowledge about the dinos, as well as discovering mysterious alien artifacts.
The developers claim the game lasts around eight to ten hours, and I'm assuming they mean if you complete it 100%. I couldn't imagine the game holding anyone's interest for that long, as the scanning is both boring and repetitive. Also, I was hoping at least one level would be on land considering the hub world is, but for some reason, the developers opted for only aquatic levels.
Time Machine VR is currently available for both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, with a PS VR version planned for the future. I sampled the game on HTC Vive to see if it had any motion control-specific features, and it does. The left controller acts as your movement by holding the trigger and moving the entire controller like a joystick in the air. While functional, this way of controlling the game got tiring quickly and wasn't very intuitive. The right controller aims your scanners, versus in the Rift version where you aim your scanner with your head. I much preferred the Vive's aiming, as aiming with your head does a number on your neck, but I much preferred controlling my ship with a Xbox One controller instead. The game is a sitting experience across both headsets, so don't let the developers video fool you in thinking that you're walking around the room with the Vive, as that is pure fabrication.
Having six various tools used to research the dinosaurs, which have to be annoyingly selected one at a time by holding a button and physically looking at your selection makes no sense in a world where we have the technology to travel in time. Hear me out. You're telling me we couldn't combine three different types of scanners into a device that does all three at the same time, but we can build a time machine? Right… Obviously, the game isn't hard sci-fi, but constantly swapping between scanners is just a tedious, unneeded step.
The only people I could recommend this game to would be parents who have younger kids who have a thing for dinosaurs, but I'm cautious even doing that as the effect of VR headsets on the sight of someone still developing is still unknown. Plus, manufacturers themselves have recommended that players be age 13 and up for the time being as research is done into the impact of VR usage.
Unless you're an aquatic dinosaur fanatic who has a thing for submarines and listening to facts about dinosaurs, you're probably not going to enjoy this. Your time would be better spent at a local museum; at least they have the cool dinosaurs there and not just the underwater ones.