Two New VR Dimensions from The Void
We reviewed Secrets of the Empire by The Void back in April and were blown away by it. Now, just in time for the spooky season to begin, we were able to check out two more “Dimensions” at The Void’s installation in Glendale. Ghostbusters and Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment. Both of these are new additions to the Glendale location and offered a rare opportunity to take a look back and forward at the same time.
Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good
Ghostbusters was the first “dimension” (as Void experiences are called) to open to the public, in July 2016. Because I’d experienced Secrets of the Empire already, going through Ghostbusters would be seeing an experience almost 17 months older. A lot can change in technology in that amount of time, so I was curious if it would hold up. It uses the same stage layout as Secrets of the Empire, so only the VR overlay would be different.
As with Star Wars, Ghostbusters features a real cast member (Dan Akroyd) for the introductory video, which was a lot of fun. Another neat feature was each player choosing an avatar from a set of 4 cards, which were then scanned into the system. Unfortunately, a glitch made my entire group look like the same character and not the ones we had chosen. I was assured it was a one-time error and not a permanent bug.
Heading into a haunted apartment building, the gameplay starts with cute, small ghosts, building to bigger flying demons, and culminating in the most famous apparition in Ghostbusters lore. I wasn’t going to give it away…but the screenshot from the trailer pretty much does that. There is an original story written for this experience, and while it was slightly hard to keep track of the details, we got the gist. Until that aforementioned spirit shows up, which doesn’t fit the story at all and is clearly there because he’s a fan favorite.
Ghostbusters was a lot of fun but a bit slight. While we blasted the smaller ghosts, there was no real objective. It was just target practice without a goal, so several of us soon turned our attention to targeting the decor instead, which was its own kind of fun. Sadly, there was also only one opportunity to deploy the iconic ghost trap and watch the spirit get sucked in. I expected more of those, as they’re great for teamwork. There were 2 fun immersive pieces that I remember, one involving getting slimed and a final touch that everyone agreed was the perfect grace note.
Halloween Starts Now
The next day, I came back for Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment. Unlike the other dimensions, this is a brand new story and concept. It’s not based on anything that previously existed, which automatically gets points from me for originality (like Skyscraper did). Because it was all new, I didn’t know how it would work, how scary it would be, nothing. Which is my favorite way to go into a new experience!
First the Void established a spooky backstory. With no movie cast to draw from, they used old-timey photographs and drawings to set a great tone of time and place–the 1891 World’s Fair. Next we found out that we wouldn’t have the blasters this time around. So what would we be doing? Our instructions were two-fold. First, explore. Second, survive.
We first noticed that our avatars were all working this time. Everyone looked like a different character, all suitably dressed for the era. The next big surprise I will keep, but I will say that it was something that didn’t happen in the other dimensions and was a fun twist. I was worried about going through the same stage layout as before, but we entered the exit this time, so the room configuration, while technically the same, would not feel similar.
With nothing to shoot, we began exploring. The many rooms, all themed very well to the World’s Fair, offered a variety of creepy vibes. Even better, they included ways to interact with the environments. There was an electrical generator to power up, and a giant engine to run. They used real-world props (like Alien Zoo) and the virtual overlay was very accurate for positioning. I hesitate to compare it to an escape room because it is impossible to get stuck. After a set amount of time, you will be able to move to the next room, no matter what. I wonder what happens though, if you don’t finish the interaction. Do you miss out on the spectacle of the generator firing, for example?
One room needed more time than we realized. It was not a puzzle room—more like a museum with interactive displays. We were taking our time to view each one, when unexpectedly we were told (by the in-game narrator) that we needed to go to the next room. This was quite frustrating as we felt rushed and incomplete, since the other half of the room looked more interesting. I suppose we should have started on that side, but how would we know that we’d have to hurry here? I wish the briefing had mentioned this aspect, so we didn’t take too long. Making it worse, others told us that the other displays were more interactive than the 3 that we witnessed before time ran out.
After exploring the interactive rooms, the next phase kicks in, and the experience becomes similar to a walk-through Haunted House. There was less to do except look around wondering what horrifying thing would happen next. On some occasions, it was obvious where to look. A couple of times though, I was searching all around, taking in the beautiful yet disturbing scenery…and came close to missing the scare. My quibble with this section is that you are frequently not guided to a focal point. So when something scary happens in a particular section of the room, if you’re not looking there, you miss it. This happened more than once, as I caught the tail end of a ghost or ghoul instead of getting the full effect.
The graphics here are quite good, and I appreciated that they weren’t overly gory. In fact, there was very little gore in the entire thing. There are some blood stains and plenty of grotesque images, but I didn’t see anything actually violent. The final scare, as we face down the demon we came to find, is a really good one, and I confess it got me. So I walked out with that smile on your face that you get from a nice jolt of adrenaline.
A Tale of Two Realities
After seeing both the oldest and newest of the Void’s dimensions, the progression in just over two years is clear. For what feels like a demo of a VR shooter game, Ghostbusters is fun and a great first VR experience. Comparing it to Secrets of the Empire though, I don’t think it fares as well. If you have to pick between them, Star Wars has a clearer objective, more interaction, and a better story. Judging from the long wait for Ghostbusters (since it’s new to the Glendale location), many people are eager to interact with the franchise even if it is a step back technologically.
Choosing between Star Wars and Nicodemus is a harder decision because they are not as similar. One is very action-oriented, where you can blast stormtroopers to your heart’s content. The other is more about atmosphere and mood. It requires more patience but also rewards attention to detail. The original story is a great idea but is hard to implement. When your instruction is to “survive,” it’s difficult to know what to do. You become more of a spectator without a clear goal, so you don’t get the satisfaction of a story arc.
Of the two new options, you’ve got nearly kinetic indiscriminate blasting or a rich horror environment that unfolds around you. Which is better? This is completely the wrong question to ask! It’s important to remember that Virtual Reality is NOT a genre. It’s a medium. There is no reason to rank these any more than you would rank The Conjuring and Star Wars. The same medium can have different intentions and appeal to different audiences. The best one will depend on personal preference, so it’s awesome that the Void is diversifying. Star Wars feels like an evolution of Ghostbusters, but Nicodemus is its own thing. They’re aiming for a wide audience, and judging from their recent announcement of opening 10 more locations around the country, it’s working. They’re solidifying their leadership in location-based VR, and I can’t wait to see what type of dimensions come next.
Ghostbusters and Nicodemus are available at the Glendale location for a limited time. Neither of them are at the Anaheim location yet. They are only available on certain days of the week, so check the dates and times carefully when booking your tickets! More information, including directions and ticket booking, can be found at www.thevoid.com.