Hydra Squad Virtual Reality at LA Dragon Studios
We love virtual reality here at Media Geeks. Like really, really, love it. We also love its potential, the way it can expand and change things we already enjoy, turning them into new experiences that make everything seem fresh again. Of course, VR is not a cure-all. Simply applying technology does not automatically improve something or make it worthwhile. But when it does work, it can deliver a real jolt of discovery.
The combination of virtual reality and escape room is not exactly new. In fact, we reviewed one just a few months ago (here). It’s very heartening to see that in just 4 months, the same basic concept can improve significantly. I believe this also means the quality trajectory will keep going up!
Familiar but Different
This time we visited LA Dragon Studios. They started with a highly-regarded physical escape room (reviewed here) and have branched out to become a “gaming center.” They now offer 2 VR escapes, an additional VR haunt, and an arcade. We chose the “Depths of Osiris,” playing a team of aquanauts exploring underwater. This VR room had us wearing free-roaming backpack computers, like in the Void’s Secrets of the Empire, along with using joysticks in each hand exactly like Virtual Room, that were used to grab and release items.
Just like real escape rooms that have multiple areas, this one did too. Because we couldn’t physically walk to new areas, when we finished one section, we’d see a door opening to let us know we had solved the puzzle, then our field of vision would briefly flash black, only to come back with an entirely new scene. This made the scope much larger, since our locations did not have to be confined to places we could physically walk to. What started as an underwater laboratory took us into the ocean itself surrounded by marine life, and ended up in an ancient temple like something out of a fantasy novel. The theming was right up my alley and I loved spending time in these areas.
Details Make a Difference
There were lots of fun little touches too, details that were not necessarily puzzles but added to the world. In my review of Alien Descent (here), I bemoan that the xenomorphs never did anything more than get close and look scary. In Depths of the Osiris, the sharks do more than look menacing. If you get too close, your vision will be blurred with bloody streaks from a shark bite. Afterwards, my friends I were trying to remember if there was a haptic response as well. Did the headset vibrate? Did the vest/backpack buzz when you got bit? None of us could remember for sure, but we all agreed that it FELT like they did. If that was purely a result of being immersed, so much the better!
Although a bit shorter on puzzles and time than I would have preferred (the experience is only 35 minutes), the puzzles were thankfully good ones. In Virtual Room, the one we reviewed in March, the puzzles were often solitary activities that we finished quickly and used the remainder of our time to admire the pretty environments. Here, all players share the same space and were generally always involved. The puzzles all require multiple people working together and were clever enough to give a sense of satisfaction when solved. Nobody was standing around for long.
Room to Grow
Because we shared the same space, there was a little bit of bumping into each other. Although you can see your friends’ underwater helmets and hands in the VR space, there are no bodies. You generally understand that there is a person under each helmet, so nobody tries to walk through each other, but the lack of physical bodies is definitely a drawback compared to something like Alien Zoo that tracks all your limbs. It doesn’t affect gameplay at all, but it would be a nice touch for the immersive feel, when the technology catches up.
Overall, my group had a lot of fun and were happy with the puzzles, the environment, and the technology. The managers listened carefully to our feedback afterward and told us how things would only get better. They have the latest iteration of the Vive headset, and the creator of the VR software would provide more games on a regular basis. They estimated they would get a brand new adventure in September.
Because we had some extra time, we were also able to try out Dragon Studios’ “virtual haunt.” This is a VR experience, which is also free-roaming, but it’s more like walking through a haunted house. You don’t have to solve anything, but you’re seeing creepy things all around you. Their first one is called Hospital of Horror, and although it seemed slow at first, the scares definitely picked up towards the end. I know I cringed or flinched several times, with at least one person in my group yelping in fear. There was a nice touch involving a rickety floor that had me walking like I was on a balance beam, despite being (of course) on perfectly solid ground.
As with the VR escapes, they expect to receive another new haunt in the fall, just in time for Halloween. This type of virtual haunted house is not something I had considered before, and is another good application of the technology. After my previous VR adventures as a participant, going back to being an observer was not as fun for me. However, I can see this as a great intro for beginners, or a new way to add some fun to the Halloween season for a fan of scares.
LA Dragon Studios has a wide (and growing) array of entertainment options. You can even rent the whole facility for parties. They are located at 14557 Friar St. in Van Nuys, CA, 91411. More information can be found on their website here. You can also book times for all their escape rooms and VR experiences. I look forward to going back and trying other virtual adventures!