It wasn’t until a couple of friends had recommended Duck Season that I even gave it a second glance. Next to some of the big, flashy titles available on VR I just assumed it was Duck Hunt VR (Which is cool in its own right but not as impressive as other offerings), but it’s got a dark secret wrapped up in all those childhood memories, and just as soon as you’re all cosy in the nostalgia, things get… weird. Your rental copy of Duck Season comes with some extras, and you might need more than a lightgun to deal with them.
Mum comes home with some groceries, dad’s nowhere to be found, and you have the newest videogame for one day. Toys and books litter the floor, kitchsy 90’s references(Editor’s note: Duck Season is set in 1988 but that was pretty much the 90’s. As were years 2000-2003.) are faithfully recreated on a CRT screen, and as your mother busies herself in the kitchen you pick up your lightgun and start systematically wiping out an entire species. As you shoot them down a friendly dog mascot cheers you on, because this was back in the day before Five Nights at Freddy’s made animal mascots and hell on earth synonymous. The creep factor builds at a gentle rate, invading the idyllic vibe of the early moments, and before you can say Stretch Armstrong it becomes one of those unpleasant childhood memories (like an overactive imagination in a dark bedroom kind of bad, not… uncle bad). Explaining why exactly would spoil the effect, so I won’t elaborate too much. You can easily clear it for the first time in under an hour – especially on easy mode where ducks are stupid and reloads are automatic – and the game is so laden with secrets and diverging endings that you’ll definitely go back for more.
One really cool thing about Duck Season is how well it recreates its game within a game. If you do just want VR Duck Hunt, Duck Season can totally do that. You can go back and chase scores on higher difficulty levels, and if not for the sense of impending doom, it’d be a very generous update. Standing in place, you blast birds out of the air with a shotgun in a lush green field, and if you look behind you, you can see the living room behind the TV screen, your ragamuffin child self aiming his lightgun. At first this is a charming fourth wall break (Even if the little kid is victim to some classic VR broken arms wrapped behind his body) and it’s used for some great scenes towards the end. Much like its bedfellows, the value comes from all the obscure secrets and multiple endings you can unravel. There’s a ton of objects lying around the living room that are either important for particular routes towards the end or just cool references to the days of cartridges and VHS tapes.
For a game that you can clear in under an hour, it certainly has a lot of impact – some of the endings are tragic, some bittersweet, some outright silly. Unfortunately it rushes to that goal a little too quickly, not long after it becomes obvious that something strange is afoot you get a payoff which diminishes the returns of the future frights. They’re well executed but even a slight change of pace would have made it all the more shocking. I’d love to see the concept expanded on even a little, because there’s a ton of potential in it that is yet to be explored.
Is it an essential VR experience? Probably not for everybody, and I’m aware that may be a controversial opinion. For those of you after the Stranger Things/IT style blend of nostalgia and shitting yourself, certainly. If you love games like FNAF this is going to be right up your alley. It’s good, sure, but you can have way more fun with some other games around the same price that will immerse you more and offer something a little different (Both SUPERHOT VR and Thumper are in the same price range and will genuinely blow your mind). Duck Season benefits from VR, but it could just have easily been a regular game. What it does, it does well. It plays smoothly and delivers on the spooks it promises. The shooting game-within-a-game is genuinely fun by itself and a cool use of the technology, but it’s more of a diversion than anything else. For those of you looking for a bit of meat in your VR time, wait until a sale and a rainy day with an hour or two to kill.
- A decent enough diversion full of secrets and scares.
- The Duck Season game itself is a lot of fun and for me at least adds more replay value than the multiple endings.
- Not an essential buy, but uses the technology well.
- Fans of Five Nights at Freddy’s will adore it.