You’ve heard it before: VR is almost certainly the future of gaming, but the technology just isn’t there yet for mass appeal. Headsets are too big and expensive, their resolution is too low. But perhaps most importantly, VR is an isolating experience. You can’t easily sit down and play a VR game with a friend – at least not in the same living room.
That’s a problem companies Sandbox VR is trying to solve. The company combines technologies that allow multiple people to share a VR experience in a single physical room. That’s neat enough on its own, but Sandbox takes immersion a step further by incorporating motion capture technology for more realistic movements and in-game actions.
It all amounts to an experience that feels like a combination between laser tag, an arcade, and an escape room – a prime combination for a night out with friends.
The company currently has six locations around the world, and is opening up a new experience in San Mateo. I was able to try out the tech at the Imax VR in Times Square here in New York.
You walk into a large room that is essentially a 360-degree green-screen. Then you strap on your headset – a modified Oculus Rift in my case, but the company use the superior Vive Pro in other locations – and a VR backpack PC that’s lighter than you probably think. Lastly, you attach this doodad onto each of your limbs.
The power of shiny balls allows the motion capture cameras to accurately track individual arms and legs as you move around the room. The experience requires two to six people; there were three total in my party.
The game we played was called Deadwood Mansion. It’s basically a VR version of House of the Dead – a classic Sega arcade game – complete with cheesy dialogue and plot. Of course, arcade shooters aren’t about the plot – in this case, they’re about shooting zombies.
The game places you in the lobby of a mansion, from where zombies can come at you from any direction. You have to try to survive for 30 minutes. Spoiler: we didn’t make it through.
It was a far more physical gaming experience than what I’m used to – but in a good way. Not only can you shoot zombies with your plastic rifle, you can jump and crouch as you would in real life.
When an a stampede of zombified rats attacks, you can literally kick them away or shake them off of your body (sorry rats, it’s only because you’re zombies). You need to coordinate with your teammates to watch every angle – including threats crashing down on you from the ceiling above. And if one of your teammate ‘dies’, you revive them by literally putting your hand on their shoulder.
There are a few caveats. Though my VR movements mostly felt very natural, there seemed to be a slight delay in my gun’s movements. Though you could kick away rats, I found it odd I couldn’t punch zombies while I reloaded my gun. And I was still using an Oculus Rift, so resolution still made the experience.
Still, my complaints are mostly nuances I notice as a gamer and reporter. It works surprisingly well for a first-gen product, and more importantly, shows off the power of VR as a collective experience. Though it will ultimately depend on how popular these types of gaming spaces become, Sandbox showed me that VR gaming doesn’t have to feel like so lonely. Next time you plan a party, you might want to skip the laser tag and kill some zombies instead.