Blood Music is perhaps most known as a publisher for metal albums from the likes of my favorite black metal band Emperor and the equally weird and talented Strapping Young Lad. However, it seems they’ve begun dipping their toes into the realm of video games with Theta Division’s excellent point-and-click adventure, VirtuaVerse.
Initially released in May of 2020, VirtuaVerse recently arrived on Xbox, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch on October 14th, 2021 for $14.99 USD. It’s billed as a “challenging old-school cyberpunk point-and-click adventure,” and after spending the better part of 16 hours with the game, I’m keen to agree. It’s very much inspired by the classics, for better or worse (depending on what you’re looking for here).
Here you play as Nathan, an aging computer programmer who wakes up in his apartment to discover his girlfriend Jay had left while he was sleeping. There’s a note signaling her abrupt exit, but it doesn’t give us much to go on — just that she “had” to go and can’t explain why. As it turns out, she’s a hacker in disguise, much to Nathan’s surprise, and it appears she’s wanted by the cops for some reason. How did she manage to hide this massive secret over the last ten years?
This kicks our adventure into gear, as you’ll spend a large majority of your time tracking down Jay and uncovering the looming catastrophe of the world at large. In VirtuaVerse, most citizens have elected to have “permanent reality” chips installed, meaning they now live in an augmented virtual reality version of the city. Nathan, being obsessed with older technology and wary of “putting that shit” in his head, instead uses an AVR headset that can be turned on and off within the inventory menu.
This AVR headset allows you to view two versions of the same world: the neon-drenched rainy city that’s home to all sorts of shady characters, and the augmented version full of virtual graffiti, annoying advertisements, and chosen avatars that represent the versions of people they actually want to be.
You’ll be using your headset’s functionality quite a bit and it’s definitely an interesting way to make the world feel even larger than it already is.
The world of VirtuaVerse is as much a character as Nathan himself. It’s set in the future where live music is a thing of the past and you can bang a hologram of any person (or creature) you desire. The same terminals that offer movies and food also present dating apps for late-night chats. Those implanted with permanent AVR chips see things differently as well, sometimes thanks to illicit drugs. Others partake or bet on drone races with crypto wallets, join a gang of hackers, get A.I. printed tattoos, and more.
And that’s just the first city. VirtuaVerse will see you through multiple large areas, each with its own unique aesthetic and background music, and allure you with screen after screen of incredibly designed pixel art. Each individual screen is just jam-packed with detail (I took all of these screenshots myself, by the way).
The interface is very old-school, requiring you to pixel hunt around screens, collecting and combining items within your inventory. It’s here that I think VirtuaVerse is a bit too nostalgic, though. By this I mean that it’s impossible to unlock the correct dialogue prompts or pick up things you know will be important later on without triggering specific events earlier. Sometimes this just means exiting and re-entering a room, others will have you waiting until much later in the game and then force you to backtrack (which you’ll be doing a lot).
VirtuaVerse knows exactly what it is, though. I mean, it refers to itself as “challenging” within the first sentence of its store page description! If you grew up playing Sierra and LucasArts classics, Gabriel Knight, and 7th Guest, then you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Some of the puzzles left me completely stumped for a while until I eventually gave up and looked for solutions online just so I could progress the story. I usually don’t like doing this sort of thing, but even after finding the solutions, I knew there was no way I’d have come to the same conclusions. None were as miserable as 7th Guest’s piano or microscope puzzles, thankfully, but ohhhhh boy there are some tricky ones.
One particularly nasty puzzle had an NPC reciting randomized riddles that required me to translate them into math problems, then using an ASCII art coding sheet to turn the answer into a symbol. These riddles became increasingly more difficult and you can’t get any wrong without having to start over. I was stuck on the final riddle for more than an hour and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it wanted me to do.
This is partially my fault, though. VirtuaVerse offers two different gameplay modes: hard core and story. I consider myself a point-and-click veteran, so naturally, I went with hard core.
I second-guessed my decision pretty early on, but I was having fun figuring things out and nothing was deterring me from starting over (yet). A game that averaged most players 10 hours of playtime ran me around 16. This includes going back through save slots to unlock miscellaneous achievements, mind you.
I never really felt like I was having a bad time with VirtuaVerse, but it’s important to know what you’re getting into with the hard core mode. Story mode, to my knowledge, removes certain puzzles entirely and makes it much easier to reach the game’s conclusion. No achievements or trophies are tied to the hard core mode anyway.
Puzzles aside, my main issue with the game is Nathan, who I found wholly unlikeable. He often comes across abrasive and elitist in conversations and has no real personality to build him up or redeem him over the game’s entire narrative. Conversations present you with different dialogue options, but they mostly read off as something any generic person would say in 100 other adventure games — leaving the NPCs to do the heavy lifting and provide interesting tidbits of information.
Nathan is just as bland and faceless as his character design, which is unfortunate. I’m glad that everything going on around him was intriguing, at least, but he really does live and die by his sole character trait: aging programmer.
Before we get to this review’s conclusion, I can’t stress enough just how fucking incredible the game’s soundtrack is. Composed by MASTER BOOT RECORD, the sounds of VirtuaVerse are pulse-pounding, ethereal, and ear-pleasuringly (?) satisfying. If darker synth is your thing, you’ll be in virtual heaven here. Give it a listen on Spotify even if you don’t plan on playing the game. It’s one of the year’s best offerings. If you enjoy it, the soundtrack is available directly from Blood Music!
As a fan of point-and-click adventure games, I have an easy time recommending other genre aficionados check it out without hesitation (especially if cyberpunk is your thing). There’s clearly a lot of love poured into VirtuaVerse from all angles, and I haven’t felt the same nostalgia blast since Thimbleweed Park was released years ago.
While the story starts off a bit slow, partly due to how obtuse some of the progression blocker requirements are and how dull Nathan is, it really goes places in the back half and never slows down. The visuals, the music, it’s all superb, but be prepared to scratch your head bald with some challenging puzzles and typical “adventure game bullshit,” as it’s come to be known.
A digital Xbox code for VirtuaVerse was provided by the game’s official Twitter account for the purpose of this review. It was played entirely on Xbox Series X. The game is available digitally on Xbox and PlayStation platforms, the Nintendo Switch, and PC via various retailers for $14.99 USD.