Alien Descent – The Newest VR in SoCal
The path to commercially viable VR so far seems to be marrying popular Intellectual Property with location-based experiences. The best example to date is the Star Wars VR attraction, Secrets of the Empire (review here). Taking one of the most beloved franchises on the planet is a surefire hook to attract attention, and the experience itself delivers the goods. No wonder they keep opening new locations. Now comes Alien Descent, partnering with another classic sci-fi franchise, to let you know that in Virtual Reality, everyone can hear you scream.
Egg (Stage 1)
Inside a mall storefront made to look like a recruitment center for the Colonial Marines, the lobby did a great job setting the mood. The military vibe of the interior was dark and looked appropriately thematic. After being welcomed by crew members in Weyland-Yutani jumpsuits, we received our briefing video and instructions on the USCM weaponry.
We were split into teams of 2 and fitted with our gear, then loaded into cryostasis for the trip to the planet where a mining colony has stopped responding. Waking up early, we learned our ship had crashed and only 3 teams landed successfully on the planet. Carrying on with the mission, we exited our pods and made our way through the industrial superstructure to the lower levels…any guesses what we found there?
Facehugger (Stage 2)
Alien Descent lets participants roam freely within the limitations of the VR world. I had no sense of disorientation or motion sickness, and in fact, I felt more confident walking around than I did at Secrets of the Empire. There is no backpack to wear, but the rifles are fairly heavy. My guess is that all the computer hardware is stored inside them. The sensation is more natural and free than wearing a vest, although you do lose the opportunity for haptic feedback. Walking across catwalks and descending elevators felt very realistic, with the metal grating underfoot and the rumble of the lift machinery.
The meat of the experience comes when you inevitably find the Alien infestation and have to blast your way to safety. I liked the variety of options for fighting styles. You can use your rifle’s bullets or the concussion grenades that are more powerful and take longer to reload, and with either option you can toggle a targeting scope that won’t allow you to shoot at friendlies.
Chestburster (Stage 3)
For several minutes, you are engulfed in a rush of paranoia and instinct (and maybe some mild panic) as the iconic xenomorphs come at you from all directions. Swiveling constantly to keep track of your surroundings, you fire to fend them off. Those who stay calm and collected may come up with a battle plan with their teammate, standing back to back, for example. Or you can do what I did, which is agree to a system only to abandon it in the heat of battle!
The mission included a couple of narrative twists, which I appreciated as an effort to make the story more memorable. And the experience will only get better. Not only are the VR physics being upgraded regularly, but a mere day after we played, they implemented a scoring feature. This will track your accuracy, ammunition used, and xenomorphs killed, so you can compare with your friends and teammate. Not only that, but the scoring is live and will be projected on a wall in the lobby, so anyone waiting can see how you are doing compared to the other team of 2 that is going at the same time. There’s nothing like bragging rights to get you to up your game!
Xenomorph (Stage 4)
I love being immersed in the Alien film franchise, but using that world for a mass-market VR experience is a tricky balancing act. The films are mostly R-rated and scary, but Alien Descent is for ages 10 and up, so the scares are toned down. The xenomorphs get close but stop short of actually attacking you in any fashion. It makes sense from a business point of view, but I was a bit disappointed at the lack of danger or risk.
The gameplay was still an adrenaline rush, as it should be. I found the first part of the action to be more engaging, as the facehuggers are harder to see and target. When the xenomorphs attack, they are an odd shade of gray, like a car covered in primer, waiting for its paint. This is a deliberate attempt to make them more visible, and it’s absolutely effective from a functional standpoint. I wish they were darker though, like the real (so to speak) thing. Since they won’t be attacking you anyway, I think it’s ok if they’re harder to see.
The Cycle Starts Over
There was a steady stream of curious passersby when we arrived, and the next 7 timeslots after ours were all sold out. I take this as a good sign that people are becoming receptive to this form of entertainment. For anyone who hasn’t experienced the latest in VR, Alien Descent is a great introduction to the potential and will leave customers feeling thrilled. I hope the next iteration can add a bit more variety to the experience. Maybe players could shoot holes in a furnace to spill molten metal onto some aliens, a la “Alien 3.” Even simple actions like throwing a lever to activate the elevator, or ducking for cover behind a crate would add some grace notes and enhance your immersion in the world of Aliens.
Alien Descent is located in the Outlets at Orange, at the intersection of I-5 and State Highways 22 and 57 in Orange, California. It is open 7 days a week, with bookings available every half hour starting at 10:00 am. Tickets are only $22, even on weekends. More information, and online tickets, can be found at their website here.