Secrets of the Empire by The Void
Virtual and augmented reality has been picking up some major steam over the past couple years. Oculus and HTC’s VIVE headsets along with lesser experiences like Playstation VR and even Google Cardboard have brought VR into the home with varying degrees of realism and enjoyability. It’s not hard to imagine, especially with this weekend’s blockbuster release of Ready Player One, that people will be quickly itching for bigger and better. That’s where The Void comes in.
Enter The Void
The Void is an immersive experience that bills itself as hyper-reality and is as close to being in Ernest Cline’s OASIS of the future as you can currently get. Instead of plopping yourself down on a couch, grabbing a controller and pulling a visor down over your face, The Void invites you to actually walk around and interact with real, tactile environments effectively skinned through your advanced Rapture visor to be, in our case, the various worlds of Star Wars.
You and your teammates are untethered and largely unhindered. An advanced visor beams a 2k video image into your eyeballs, while a myriad of sensors takes care of matching what you’re doing and seeing to what is actually happening and where it’s positioned in the real world. I could feel the railings I was reaching for or the levers and buttons I needed to use to advance. Large, noise cancelling headphones and a microphone meant that each of us was shuttered from the sounds of any other groups of players or ambient mall noise that might have leaked in.
Completing the gear is what appears to be a tactical vest, one that packs a wallop, in both senses of the word. An advanced, wireless VR “backtop” system is strapped to your back and handles all the syncing of audio and video served through Unity’s VR platform and a next-gen NVIDIA GPU. Dotted throughout the vest were localized rumble packs. That meant, should a stormtrooper somehow actually find his target, you feel it. Of course, there’s no pain involved here, but it’s a super nice touch that helps push the realism. Best guess, the whole pack weighed around 3 pounds, so it never really felt burdensome, but you WILL walk away sweaty.
Beyond that, since this is no at-home VR setup, I was able to feel steam, wind, and heat, not to mention the texture of whatever surface we were walking on as we progressed from starship to planet and back.
Secrets of the Empire
Naturally, the average joe isn’t likely to drop 30 bucks to play just another VR game, even if it has all the bells and whistles, so it only makes sense to partner with an attractive franchise. The Void actually offers several experiences in different locations around the world, including Ghostbusters, but Star Wars is undeniably a bigger draw than almost any other film and game franchise. Lemme tell you, the Star Wars Geek inside of me was not disappointed.
Set prior to the events of Star Wars: Rogue One, you are part of a small infiltration group, ordered by Cassian Andor and accompanied by K-2SO (Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk reprising their roles), to disguise as stormtroopers and use a stolen transport to recover a mysterious artifact that could turn the tide of the rebellion. As soon as you get your headset on, you and your teammates are outfitted in full stormtrooper regalia. I can’t express how wide my grin was as I looked down at my own arms and legs to see the iconic white plastoid composite armor covering what was, just a few seconds before, a t-shirt and blue jeans. Even my fingers had what appeared to be black gloves on them and I marveled that the headset accurately animated my hand and individual fingers as I moved them to gesture my teammates.
We Were Ecstatic
The experience is less of a game and more of an interactive movie. You walk, run and shuffle through different scenes solving simple puzzles here and blasting imperial bucket heads there. Ultimately, you can’t really ‘fail’ but the rush and urgency are ever present in the same way that Star Tours makes you feel as if you’re gunning down TIE fighters or narrowly navigating your way out of ice caverns on Hoth. I found myself calling out enemy positions and barking suggestions through the comlink on how to handle puzzles
The whole thing culminates in a showdown with one of the most famous faces of the Star Wars universe and a daring escape. We exited our shuttle pod, flipped up our visors, turned in our weapons and posed for a final photo ($18 if you want to take it home) before returning to the plain ol’ Earth shopping mall.
Back to Reality
Without a doubt, this is the best VR I’ve ever experienced. Not once did I feel an imbalance in my equilibrium or find the need remove my headset, even if only to see what was actually going on around me (though I am still curious). The Void has created a truly immersive experience with the help of ILMxLAB. The few imperfections we experienced during our brief mission didn’t take anyone out of the moment: you would almost always see both hands on a player’s weapon, even if there was only actually one. Limbs would pop in and out of view. Voice communication wasn’t always clear. These are all just picky little items though and certainly shouldn’t deter any gamer, VR enthusiast or Star Wars fan from checking it out.
Tickets are $29.95 for ages 10 and up. It’s highly recommended you book in advance for most location but walk-ins may be available. Visit TheVoid.com for more information and be prepared to sign a safety waiver before heading in. The Void, my fellow geeks, is the VR experience you’ve been waiting for.
Here’s hoping for a team-based shooter in the near future.