The Angry Birds Movie 2 VR: Under Pressure presents a unique approach to the franchise on PlayStation VR, though its high cost may deter some players.
The Angry Birds Movie 2 VR: Under Pressure might seem like a no-brainer, a straightforward movie tie-in which leverages modern tech for a decade-old franchise. Curiously, this newest entry — positioned right alongside the animated film sequel — doesn’t rest on any feathered laurels, switching up the classic Angry Birds formula for a frenetic co-op-oriented game taking place entirely within the film’s submersible, the Piggy Gadget Lab. Instead of that recognizable bird-flinging slingshot, players must manage a submarine and make use of a controllable magnet device, coordinating actions between each other to push for the highest score. It’s definitely a bit weird — especially in single-player, which represents the bulk of this review experience — but it’s also quite novel. Is it worth its premium price? Let’s find out.
After a silly intro cinematic which seems to have been pulled frame-by-frame from the film, Under Pressure promptly introduces its bevy of mechanics. While a submarine automatically navigates its way through the sea, you're tasked with keeping tabs on retrievable treasure chests and hazards, yanking them into the cargo hold or abruptly dispatching them with the onboard equipment, respectively. Treasure chests hold rewards, but just as often spill out useless point-draining debris or dangers, which have to be sorted onto scoring pedestals or dragged into a furnace, as needed.
From the ground up, the game begs for company. Four players in all can join in on the fun, with three players couch-positioned staring at the TV screen while the captain dons the PS VR headset and handles the rest. As that captain, you command the magnet device, which is necessary during sub navigation and can toss around various objects in the level area itself. As for the other players, they play as bird shipmates who handle most of the finer-tuned interactions: creating ammo for the sub from resource stations, positioning score-granting treasure in designated areas, or dispensing of debris and dangerous items.
If those tasks sound hectic, it’s because they absolutely are. The Angry Birds Movie 2 VR: Under Pressure is of that slate of titles like Overcooked and Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime — colorful but chaotic task management sims hidden in the guise of a seemingly casual, approachable, and cheery video game. Things get strangely intense even two levels deep and, although 3-star ratings are initially easy to obtain despite any snafus, the challenge and complexity ramps up earlier than you might expect, making it hard to perfect some levels on the first or second try.
Part of this is due to Under Pressure’s reliance on its co-op categorization. Playing by yourself grants you Red as a shipmate, able to swap control between him and the captain’s chair. At first you might think of him as a light backup, since certain actions can be accomplished with the magnet alone and some skillful targeting. Soon enough, though, Red’s presence on the floor and his ability to quickly dispose of explosives clearly establishes that the co-op nature of the game mechanics extends to the single-player dynamic as well.
It’s all such a drastic departure from The Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs, a game which only hit headsets earlier this year and was no less than a 3D VR Angry Birds game, full stop. Under Pressure is just an entirely different beast, an elaborate and intense experience with only the smallest bit of Angry Birds DNA at its core. Each level rearranges the submarine’s geometry, pushing important stations past walls or into tight corners, making it so that every hoovered-up treasure chest prompts instant panic and inevitable blunders.
With even one additional player, Under Pressure's hairy demands smooth out considerably. Its clear intentions for couch co-op are obvious, although this begs the requirement of a PlayStation 4, a PlayStation VR headset, and four controllers. Since Move Controllers are never used, there isn’t even a practical workaround for anything less, which makes the game something of a luxurious expectation. With additional players and no character swapping needed, communication becomes of utmost importance, and there’s a fun chaotic quality to magnetizing other players and tossing them around the sub, to help point them to a task (and a higher score) or just playfully hinder progress.
To be honest, there’s no predictable expectation that Angry Birds’ founder Rovio (or XR Games, for whom this game is apparently a debut product) would have ever dared make something so unusually discordant to the well-established franchise. It’s a move worthy of particular praise, even though the end result can feel ungainly in certain respects. The magnet tool has a distinctly disappointing delay whenever it’s activated on a box or item in a level, a delay which feels even more irritating when playing the game in single-player mode. Simple and obvious unlocks like cosmetics for the given birds are unsatisfying as primary rewards for doing well and, while the level complexity increases steadily as you progress, there aren’t considerable twists or surprises steadily introduced to shake up the basic formula.
Unlike the aforementioned Isle of Pigs, The Angry Birds Movie 2 VR: Under Pressure was published as a PS VR exclusive, and its $34.99 price tag seems admittedly inaccurate to the resultant experience, especially when considering that no online multiplayer exists at all. The ideal experience demands a couch full of friends, and solo players may feel shorted at the premium cost for a game hindered by circumstance.
All the same, there is something definitely worthwhile to this game that a simple video or quick advertisement might imply. The basic design is unique and much more interesting than other lazily developed cash-grab movie games of its apparent ilk. If a family or group of friends is willing to weather the storm, The Angry Birds Movie 2: Under Pressure can be the smartly-designed collaborative experience that really spices up a game night, something to get everyone in the room yelling in desperation for that three-star rating and willing to replay the level until they eventually get nail it.
The Angry Birds Movie 2 VR: Under Pressure is out now for PlayStation VR. A digital copy was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.