Hands-on: It’s Time to Save the Galaxy in The VOID’s Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire
Great fun, but too short for the price.
If there’s one franchise you can link to pretty much anything to get people interested then it has to be Star Wars. This mega movie franchise is beloved by many, having spawned numerous films – some significantly better than others – cartoons, spinoffs, and more merchandise than is possible to buy. So it makes sense that if you’re going to create a location-based virtual reality (VR) experience that’s going to attract plenty of attention slapping a Star Wars tag on it will certainly help. Which is just what LB VR specialist The VOID did when the company announced Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire in 2017. While these types of experiences tend to miss the UK for once this wasn’t the case, so VRFocus headed down to the London-based, Westfield Stratford City to see if it was worth the hype.
The first thing that was instantly noticeable was the professional look and organisation of Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire. Taking up a large floor section of the shopping centre it was difficult to miss all the massive Star Wars signage. As the visit is by appointment only there were no queues to speak of, with several groups ahead all getting ready. After the usual signing your life away process discussing what’s going to happen it was time for the main event.
Before donning all the VR garb we had to watch a short cinematic video detailing the story we were about to play. We were rebels dressed up as Stormtroopers, our job was to infiltrate an Empire base and steal a particular piece of cargo. So go in shoot up the place and scarper with the goods essentially.
Once the video had finished it was time to get suited up. As a free-roaming experience this involved a backpack PC and a custom VR headset – although there were Oculus logos printed everywhere and the IPD slider looked very familiar. While the whole kit looked bulky and heavy it felt quite the opposite, and was easy to forget once the experience had started.
To say that Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is a premium VR experience is putting it mildly. Once you’ve had a laugh at your digital Stormtrooper mates it’s time for the action to commence. The VOID constantly call its VR tech hyper reality, and at points it’s easy to see why. Early on whilst stand on a moving platform you can feel the heat rising from the lava, whilst at the same time and a gentle wind blows simulating the platform’s movement.
Star Wars: Secret of the Empire isn’t a massive open plan experience for you to run around in. Its tightly controlled with several rooms, enabling not only walls or low hanging barriers to be felt but for a small area to feel much bigger than it is – this is also why several groups can play at the same time without bumping into one another. Once the guns have been located it’s time for the firefights to begin, killing off Stormtroopers left and right. It’s the guns that offer the first disappointment of the experience, while solid and weighty the actual fire rate is slow and lacks purpose. There were several buttons on the physical gun yet they offered no alternative fire, and mashing the trigger button didn’t speed things up.
Without going into details that’ll spoil the ending for those keen to try Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, VRFocus being the expert play testers that we are did manage to break the experience – or more correctly one of our rigs malfunctioned, went dark, so we got another play through for all of us to see the end.
And as epic as the end was meant to be, with a very famous character appearing, it did feel over way too quickly. It must have been around 10-15 mins in total. When you consider a standard ticket is £35 GBP per person, so that a group of four will cost £140, that’s a significant amount of cash for that time frame. Then just like a theme park you can purchase a picture or two of your group all dressed up plus loads of Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire merchandise.
For those that have never tried even a basic VR setup Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire will certainly amaze. There were plenty of big smiles from the other groups finishing their session. As for us cynical lot at VRFocus, it was still very impressive and shows how far VR has come and what it can offer for the future of location-based immersive entertainment. The pricing did feel too steep for the amount of gameplay on offer, needing to be at least double the current length. Even saying this, most Star Wars will love being inside the sci-fi universe.