Stranger Things VR review - horror turned all the way to Eleven

Max from Stranger Things VR looking up at the Mind Flayer's flesh form
Credit: Tender Claws

Max from Stranger Things VR looking up at the Mind Flayer's flesh form
Credit: Tender Claws

Since it's reveal last year, Stranger Things VR has certainly caught my eye. As a fan of the show since its debut back in 2016, the series has kept me coming back to see what's coming from the Upside Down with each new season. Unfortunately, the wait for Stranger Things' final season, Season 5, is proving to be particularly lengthy, so a new adventure in Hawkins is always welcome.

While both Tender Claws and Meta have marketed this experience as a story set from the view of Vecna, the Season 4 antagonist who has been waiting to strike against Eleven and co. since his forceful entrapment to the Upside Down, that’s not all the game does. Stranger Things VR is a lot larger than its trailers suggest, filling in plenty of contextual gaps that the show has left rather vague, even if the game ends up being non-canon to the full story.

You start by playing in the dark void where Eleven tunes her powers, with the floor beneath you being completely made of water as you walk on top. Here, you learn how to open portals to view the inhabitants of Hawkins, as well as teaching you to hone your telekinetic powers. However, things take a turn when you're greeted by a young Eleven, who uses her powers on you, pushing you out of the normal world and into the haunting Upside Down.

Mind Flayer watching over Castle Byers in the Upside Down from Stranger Things VR
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Credit: Tender Claws

After that, you become Vecna, still early into his villainous journey (as noted by his still mostly-human hands) as you're invited to make your way through the terrifying Upside Down. Unfortunately, the Demogorgons and Demobats aren't under Vecna's influence, so you're forced to climb around using your creepy tendrils and breakable objects to keep enemies at bay. It's here that you also learn how to lift up an enemy and break their bones, accessing their brain as they die, similar to how Vecna kills Hawkins' residents in Season 4.

But you don't simply explore the dark ruins of a broken dimension, as Stranger Things VR is more of a highlight reel of the entire show. Whether it's being thrown into the mind of a pre-Season 2 Will, as you break his spirit in a horrifying segment of his happiest memories being Vecna-fied, or experiencing Billy's endless night time drive as his body feeds people to the Mind Flayer's flesh form, Tender Claws does an excellent job adding plenty of context for how Vecna has actually influenced the previous four seasons of the show.

You're also given context into Vecna's past too. We know from the show that Henry Creel is thrown into the terrifying dimension by Eleven during her time at Hawkins Laboratory, and that he found the Mind Flayer within, but the game does a great job at giving you his thoughts during his unholy pilgrimage, as he is tormented by a shadow version of "Papa", or Dr. Brenner as you may know him.

Driving in a car during the Billy section of Stranger Things VR
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Credit: Tender Claws

This is how a true adaptation of a show or movie should be done. Recreating the major moments of a TV series would've been an easier task, but Tender Claws has creatively put you in the shoes of someone else's point of view, letting you see things in a different light. Vecna doesn't care about tormenting Will or Billy, they're just means to an end, but your thoughts are much different when watching the series unfold. You're never on Vecna's side, but you truly realise he's been pushed further down a rotten path by Brenner's experiments and his defeat at the hands of Eleven.

Stranger Things VR also does the horror really well. You're fully aware that you're Vecna tormenting Will during his gameplay segment, but it's unbelievably immersive. Will's various memories of his friends slowly deteriorate, as Vecna tries to destroy him mentally, and some of the Upside Down's Demogorgons invade these happy moments in a terrifying section that you'd need to be played to truly be scared.

Unfortunately, your time is fairly short with Stranger Things VR, coming in at around eight hours. However, these eight hours are paced in an interesting way with some chatoers taking an entire hour while others only take ten minutes. There’s also a healthy amount of variety in there as well, but the introduction of more Vecna-focused chapters would’ve been nice.

That being said, it's hard not to recommend this to fans of the show. On one hand, it gives you the fear and the power of Vecna, as a taste of some Stranger Things action during the wait for Season 5, and on the other hand, you get some incredible context into beloved characters of the show. I'd warn you not go in expecting a game-focused spin-off, but rather, a rollercoaster of an experience that is worth playing as a fan.

Stranger Things VR definitely won't appeal to VR gamers looking for a new title. However, for those eager to see Hawkins in a new light, Stranger Things VR does an excellent job at keeping things interesting throughout your time with it. It's dark, tantalising, and an incredible adaptation of the series that delivers a uniquely villainous viewpoint, but it's unfortunately a bit too short for my liking.

Stranger Things VR review
Tender Claws has certainly hid some tricks up its sleeve for Stranger Things VR, giving you a highlight reel of the series' best moments in a new light, and with some haunting sections that really put things into perspective. It's a truly solid experience that varies itself throughout, but a short runtime and a lack of mainstream appeal will likely turn off VR gamers who haven't seen the show.
8 out of 10
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