PowerWash Simulator VR brings the cleaning sensation to Quest headsets, but not without some compromises. Here’s our full review.
PowerWash Simulator VR is a casual cleaning game that asks players to become the ultimate dirt aficionado, building up local clientele and pulling off increasingly impressive (and eventually, strange) odd jobs. Establishing yourself in the fictional town of Muckingham takes considerable effort and many hours spent with tools in hand. However, you’ll always be rewarded with some tasty tidbits of town gossip and the Pavlovian ‘ding’ that arrives when you achieve the 100% clean threshold on any object. Based on Futurlab’s indie flatscreen sensation of the same name, PowerWash Simulator VR mimics the original game wholesale, for better and for worse, letting players adopt a more physical role in their budding business.
Platforms: Quest headsets (Review conducted on Quest 2)
Release Date: Out now
Nozzles and Soaps
Thankfully, before you can muck into an actual mess, PowerWash Simulator VR serves up a simple kennel cleaning tutorial to give players an idea of how its control scheme has been transposed into an immersive medium. Players will learn how to equip nozzles, change equipment, get around levels and highlight specific areas of filth. Veterans of the nozzle will be pleased to hear that it’s pretty much 1:1 with the original game, with some clever adaptive changes. Text messages from prospective clients arrive on a wrist-mounted display, which you can check by turning your wrist to your face. Strangely, it makes PowerWash Simulator VR feel a lot like a competent VR shooter in some respects – dirt-denying gun in one hand, stats and story info on the other.
Another addition to the VR port is a handyman’s tool belt that keeps all your valuable equipment within reach, from special soap types to your most precious nozzle extenders, which can be combined to attack different mucky obstacles. If you’re feeling especially silly, you can attempt to draw your tools with haste like a regular cleaning cowboy. I didn’t have the chance to test the game’s co-op multiplayer mode, but I can see how the little playful aspects of PowerWash Sim VR would be enhanced when playing with a friend in tow. For those keen on multiplayer though, the VR release remains available on Quest headsets only – for now at least. That said, we’re hopeful there might be releases on other platforms like PSVR 2 to come, though there’s been no word from FuturLab or nDreams yet.
Outside of using your own two feet, you’ll also be able to gain better vantage points on your dirty subjects with ladders or stepladders. They’re easy to set up, allowing you to scale roofs and get the drop on an evasive piece of grime, which is always satisfying. While I was nervous about the height element of climbing in VR, the ladders felt surprisingly sturdy. When you place one down, it becomes firmly locked in place, allowing you to teleport up its rungs and locking your position. If you are afraid of heights, there are nonetheless a few daunting vertical levels that you’ll need to take on to progress, so it might be worth considering your comfort levels.
A Quiet Place
Unfortunately, you’ll find no music to back up your dirt-removing exploits in PowerWash Simulator VR – a strange choice that gives the world an eerie atmosphere. Only the sound of the high-powered washer and the squelch of mud will keep you company. Some of the environments benefit from this liminal vibe, as it complements the intentionally spooky text messages. Still, the majority would have benefitted from a toolbelt radio or some form of accompanying music to keep you engaged. I often found myself popping on an album, audiobook or podcast just to make things feel a little more normal.
When I did add my own custom soundtrack, I was able to lean into the methodical swing of cleaning, swiping my gun to the beat. In these more mindful moments, it felt as though the ambitions of the original release were being realized and improved in the VR format. Reaching into tighter areas with the freedom of physical movement was not just a relief but a much more rewarding experience. I even ended up blazing past some hard-to-get items that plagued me in the original flatscreen game.
The signature ‘ding’ feels even more earned after bracing your controllers in the air for hours and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sore the morning after my initial hours-long session. But even with the specter of pain, I was consistently compelled by the next job and the promise of more nozzles to unlock. Completing levels earns you cold, hard cash as well as stars. The money will help you to buy supplies and gear, while the stars act as gatekeepers to greater tools for the trade.
Muckingham’s mood in PowerWash Simulator VR reminds me a lot of the curious worldbuilding in The Sims 2’s Strangetown. Everyone knows something is wrong, and yet no one seems to do anything about it. Even as tensions rise with a volatile volcano, extraterrestrial visitors, and mayoral mayhem, Muckingham seems to be in an unnatural stupor, with only the power-washing protagonists aware enough to help. While the overarching story plays on, individual levels have their own unique stories to tell, tonally flipping between fiction and the explainable, often at random. It’s an uncanny storytelling method that kept me on the hook throughout.
Alongside the main story, players can methodically wipe away the dirt from a variety of other buildings, vehicles and miscellaneous items in the Free Play and timed Challenge modes. These modes feature the same bite-sized chunks of environmental storytelling as the campaign, such the Mars Rover level, which teases you with peculiar alien imprints and ominous messages mid-clean. It’s nice to have the ability to keep cleaning post-story, especially if I want to find something new to take on while tuning out to a podcast.
During a few of the larger, more intricately set levels, I did notice some framerate issues rearing their head. If I turned a little too fast or sprayed a wild pattern in the dirt, PowerWash Simulator VR struggled to keep up on Quest 2. While the issues weren’t too frequent, they were nonetheless notable.
A Dirty Business
As we’ve established, Muckingham is brimming with mystery, and yet the in-game world itself looks flat and lifeless, as though every level was experiencing a Lāhainā Noon. For a game that is so wonderfully simple in premise, the underwhelming visuals were a huge pain point. Shadows are pretty much non-existent, and textures are low-res and jaggy across the board, as demonstrated in the photo below, captured by UploadVR on Quest 2.
PowerWash Simulator relies heavily on environmental storytelling through things like footprints or graffiti, so when things don’t look right, it feels like a real blow to the overall worldbuilding. I longed for the streaming sun rays and appropriately-sized hints of the original PC release.
I also noticed texture pop-in on certain levels. Bushes would suddenly flash in the distance if I briefly turned past them, for example – a startling experience not helped by the complete silence of the world around me. I was relieved to find that the metallic textures did polish up well though, and brought some reflective life back to the more intimate jobs. I only wish this reclamation of cleanliness looked as good on other textures like wood and plastic.
Editor’s note, updated Nov. 7: This review was conducted on Quest 2, but we reached out to nDreams to inquire about whether the game features any performance improvements or visual enhancements on Quest 3.
nDreams advised that there are currently no specific Quest 3 optimizations in the game, but "Quest 3 users may notice a slight uplift due to the higher resolution and increased power of the hardware." nDreams also noted that FuturLab are working on Quest 3 improvements for the game, but have no date to share in regards to their arrival.
PowerWash Simulator VR – Comfort
PowerWash Simulator VR can be played in either left or right-handed mode and seated or standing position. Movement can be toggled between teleport or smooth artificial locomotion, with the latter based on either head or hand direction. You can also choose between fluid and incremental turning, with increments options for the latter.
PowerWash Simulator VR Review: Final Verdict
From the methodical, mindful freedom of cleaning to the impressively strange world-building, PowerWash Simulator VR successfully ports a lot of the brilliance that made the original game stand out. Unfortunately, there are existential issues that stand in the way of its widespread success: the visuals are a huge letdown, and the soundless ambience of levels doesn’t complement this new medium.
I’m hopeful that the team at Futurlab and nDreams invest further in the VR version, but even with its many problems, it’s hard to deny PowerWash Simulator VR still has its charms. Even with the sincere graphical gulf, I’m still drawn to pick up the gun and get cleaning in VR with a playlist on in the background.
UploadVR uses a 5-Star rating system for our game reviews – you can read a breakdown of each star rating in our review guidelines.