The all-too-familiar sound of the Stormtroopers’ laser blasts ringing in our ears (someone’s been training these guys too, they know how to hit). Each blast keenly felt in the haptic rumble of our weighty body armour, we return fire feeling the heat of Mustafar’s lavascape in front of, and around us.
To the left of me, two fellow rebels opened fire at the gantries and walkways in front. The last Stormtrooper goes down. I flip them the bird, with my stormtrooper hand, represented in 3-D in front of me.
This is Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire.
Currently taking place in a pop-up in Westfield Shepherd’s Bush, London, this Star Wars experience utilizes virtual reality to create an incredible immersive adventure..
This isn’t the VR you’re used to, this is an untethered free roaming VR experience.
After queuing for bag drop, signing the waiver, and lastly getting kitted out we finally put our packs and helmets on. If you’ve ever played The Typing of the Dead – carrying around the Dreamcast and the battery on their backs, it’s a bit like that but with the processing unit and a battery (OK it’s almost exactly like that), but with more straps and haptic vibration units. This is weighty solid kit.
The helmets come down, the visors stay up, and we’re led to our mercifully brief briefing – one by one the helmets light up and we’re asked to see if we can see our arms. The VR helmets are quite something – a 2K resolution OLED with 180° field of vision – and here’s the clever part – a leap motion embedded in the forehead which tracks your hand and arm movements down to individual digits, so yes you can flip off a Stormtrooper.
Looking around I could see my friends. We can hear each other through the headphones and our mission to infiltrate the base on Mustafar began.
I am not going to spoil what happens in the following 15 minutes but there is a lot of shooting, there are some simple puzzles, and there is a very clever use of space. Four individual instances are taking place at the same time within a relatively small area. As you walk through you can put your hands up and feel walls, all of it is there, it really exists (I really wish I’d taken my visor up to take a look) of course the way the experience works means you’re really going backwards and forwards between a few small rooms, but it is so beautifully done and cleverly constructed that at the time you don’t notice. Those laser blasts, the noise and chaos certainly help.
15 minutes later we step back out blinking into the real world for a photograph which naturally they attempt to sell to you and everyone is excited about what just happened… mostly.
The tech isn’t without its problems, my arms vanishing making one of the puzzles impossible for me to complete (at least I had the team members to rely on). In one of the other groups one of the guns simply did not work; he was really disappointed that’s pretty shit and the best they would do after an argument was give him free photograph (which frankly isn’t good enough they should have let him go again.) And after all that, after doing what could be one of the greatest video games of all time – there is no scoring. We wanted to know how many times we’d been shot, how many head shots, how fast did we solve the puzzle? A few tweaks that would elevate it (and also we’re competitive, did we do better than our friends?).
Saying that, this is an incredible experience for what it is. This is the future of VR, I’m coming home to plug in my PlayStation VR and well, mustn’t grumble, but it’s not the same! So could you get more bang for your buck? £32 for 15 minutes. Yes of course you could, you can do lots more for less money, however this is a truly one-of-a-kind experience which runs for just a few more weeks. Whether you’re interested in the tech, whether you’re a Star Wars fan or whether you’re a gamer, CfG recommends you get down to The Void at Westfield Shepherd’s Bush and take part in Secrets of the Empire and feel the warm air of Mustafar on your skin.
Take a look to see if the void will be coming to your area; the plans and previous events have taken place in Anaheim, Dubai, London, London, New York, Orlando, and Toronto.
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