Magic has long enthralled mankind for generations, offering a fascinating twist on reality that’s both entertaining and perplexing in equal measure. There have been many a famous magician, from Houdini all the way up to current street magicians like Dynamo. When it comes to stage magic, duo Penn & Teller are up there with the best, mixing magic with comedy and a little danger (as well as debunking). Collaborating with Gearbox Software, the pair have created a rather intriguing virtual reality (VR) experience called Penn &Teller VR: Frankly Unfair, Unkind, Unnecessary & Underhanded which could well be a highlight for any local VR gathering.
Gearbox Software shared a brief demo of Penn & Teller VR during the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this month, allowing VRFocus to gain a sneak peek behind the curtain. It’s one of those sort of videogames where discussing it can reveal too much, as once the twist is spoilt there’s no going back. You have been warned.
The title is made up of 14 tricks (or ‘Bits’ as they’re referred to). Each Bit is essentially one magic trick which can either be performed with a friend or solo. For the demo, VRFocus got to see several of these, as well as some other parts of the experience. These were Bits involving the game paper, scissors, stone; a sawing in half trick and a water tank escape.
In Penn & Teller VR you are the magician which means you tend not to put the headset on as often, controlling the sequence via a monitor. This is because of the videogame’s other fiendish feature pranking. So the Paper, Scissors, Stone game is a prime example. Here both VR player and non-VR player enter into the classic game, trying to beat each other as usual. The twist is that you can then automate the hand movements without the VR player knowing. So while they’re happily trying to win, blissfully unaware they’re no longer playing you that frees you up to prank your mate. In VRFocus’ case, the Gearbox Software team member playing then snuck up and tapped me on the shoulder for a surprise scare.
Highly amusing, it’s easy to see how with a few friends Penn & Teller VR could be the party title to beat Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. The water tank escape, on the other hand, called ‘YOU be Houdini’ was a solo experience. Chained into a tank – for added effect both hands were put through the Oculus Touch strap – there were loads of padlocks each with different key shapes (circles, triangles, squares etc.) which needed to be unlocked by random keys being dropped in. The aim is not to drown – probably best not played if you have a fear of water or tight spaces – and needless to say, VRFocus failed but managed to survive thanks to the duo.
They’ve certainly tried to make Penn & Teller VR: Frankly Unfair, Unkind, Unnecessary & Underhanded more than just the Bits by themselves. You can go into the famous ‘Monkey Room’ which guests for Penn & Teller’s live shows in Las Vegas wait in before going on stage, and the pair have recorded videos going into greater details regarding their tricks.
What’s impressive about Penn & Teller VR: Frankly Unfair, Unkind, Unnecessary & Underhanded is that it really plays to VR’s strengths, offering an experience that’s distinctive and a refreshing change for some of the other releases on the horizon. VRFocus does have one quibble at this point, and that’s longevity and repetition. Will 14 Bits be enough? Because once you and your friends are in on the gag it no longer becomes entertaining or funny, killing any pranks in the process. Hence why most magicians keep their tricks a secret.