This VR Moments series covers some of the highlights of immersion and presence in virtual reality (VR) software; the experiences that stand out from the crowd. It was more than a year of working within the medium before I, as the editor-in-chief of VRFocus, experienced my first true moment of presence thanks to Sony London Studios’ The London Heist.
It was my second experience of what was at the time labelled as nothing more than a technical demonstration (as time has told, The London Heist is set to be offered as part of the PlayStation VR Worlds software package upon the launch of the PlayStation VR later this year). In the first instance the interrogation scene was offered – a polished looking piece of loosely interactive storytelling followed by a cleverly empowering first-person shooter (FPS) sequence – but second time around the getaway sequence was presented.
The getaway sequence places the player in the passenger seat during a flashback of a story retelling by the aggressor of the interrogation scene. The bald headed brute is sat next to me, foot on the gas and with no patience for Sunday drivers. There’s a moment of calm as I inspect the vehicle, twiddling with the radio and opening the glove box, but it’s not too long before I’m told it’s time to arm up and take out our pursuers.
Suddenly vehicles surround us – vans and bikes and armed men vying for our blood – and it’s up to me to make sure they don’t reclaim our prize. A submachine gun is my weapon of choice and I instinctively aim at tyres and fuel tanks, living through a scene of a ’90s action film as if it were me who caused endless explosions leaving countless bodies in my wake in an effort to save the girl. Dozens of foes fall to my hand, and it eventually looks like we’re in the clear.
At that moment, my untrustworthy colleague informs me that we’re clear, but realising that later that day he’ll have me tied to a chair and be grilling me for information I’m prepared for a double-cross. I search around all angles ahead and behind, left and right to make sure that another adversary isn’t about to get the jump on me. I open the van door, lean out and see that all is clear.
Relaxed after a moment of adrenaline, I close the door, sit back in my seat and raise my arm to lean on the window. Of course however, there is no window there in the real world, and my sudden shift of balance almost pulls me off my seat.
This kind of immersion is rare. Whether it was the pacing of the experience, the clean cut nature of the characterisation or the implementation of familiar gameplay mechanics in a virtual world with which I could relate to through prior movie viewing is hard to tell, but one this remains certain: in that moment I was in a getaway vehicle.