So VR didn’t really take off the way everyone anticipated it would. Chalk it up to steep hardware requirements or the limited library of games, but not many people own an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Sandbox VR Singapore wants to give it another shot with their own take on VR gaming.
Take up to five other friends with you, strap on a bunch of motion capture gear and a portable VR unit, grab a gun and you’re off to shoot some bad guys!
A brief history of shooting games
If you look at the evolution of the first person shooter game, there were definitely big strides in immersion since the early days. Side-scrolling shooters like Operation Wolf and T2: the Arcade Game featured colorful and realistic graphics. Wolfenstein 3D allowed you to navigate through a simulated 3D space. Virtua Cop upped it to genuine 3D graphics. Time Crisis threw in a cover system operated by a pedal, while Police 911 used a full body sensor so players used their body’s motion to duck and dodge bullets.
Modern VR puts you right into the virtual body of your avatar, but home VR is still largely controlled by control paddles and joysticks. Navigating through virtual environments was either limited (look at this spot for five seconds to go into this room etc) or done through a joystick – it wasn’t instinctive or natural.
A more natural way to move
With Sandbox VR, you navigate by walking. Straight up walking, hopping, or even crawling. Because your body is strategically covered in motion capture gear (two armbands, two ankle bands, a vest and the VR goggles) and you play inside a green screen room covered with cameras, your whole body can be scanned and inserted into the virtual play environment. Not just your motion but your spatial position too.
If you’ve ever seen casual gamers attempt FPS games on either a mouse and keyboard or dual stick controller, you’ll notice that they tend to run in circles with their guns pointing straight into the air, or get stuck walking into a wall. The controls just aren’t natural.
We played Sandbox VR in a group that consisted of experienced, casual and total non-gamers. Absolutely everyone was in full control of their avatars within minutes of starting the game.
As a result, we were able to coordinate our movements to sidestep and walk around each other while firing at bad guys with little (but sadly not zero) friendly fire. When we were overwhelmed by a flood of bad guys, we managed to collapse into a tighter formation to heal each other and have more overlapping fields of fire.
It’s amazing how coordinated you can be when you don’t have to worry about things like “hey which button is it to crouch?”
Oh, and there was an effect where you were in a virtual windstorm, and you really felt the wind hitting your face. Very cool!
Sandbox VR currently offers two games: Deadwood Mansion, and the newer Curse of Davy Jones. Basically, you can enter a haunted mansion or a haunted pirate ship (I know some people who will be disappointed that there isn’t an option of a haunted Japanese girl’s bedroom).
We chose to try Davy Jones because it was newer. The first 15 minutes consists of strapping on your gear and familiarizing yourself with the basic concepts like movement, shooting and healing (a simple process of touching the downed player’s shoulder). Then you choose your weapon – we had a choice of a fast loading crossbow or a slower but more powerful flintlock pistol – and your character. The group leader also gets a torch.
The weapon makes a difference in gameplay, but the character is purely cosmetic – although the female players in our group spent a good few minutes complimenting each other’s outfits, legs and boobs.
As your primary mode of interaction is your gun, you can imagine most of the game involves shooting at pirate skeletons and other ghouls. The game supports two to six players, and the amount of enemies scales accordingly.
To mix up the gameplay there are portions of the game that require some minor puzzle solving and spatial awareness – nothing as tricky as an escape room puzzle though. For example, one sequence required you to dodge an invulnerable boss ghost, and another involved lighting fuses with the leader’s torch.
There were also a couple of boss encounters to add variety to the usual waves of pirate skeletons.
Is it fun? Yes. It is an immersive shooting experience like never before because it just feels so natural. Turn your head to look around. Sidestep, spin, do a no-look shot over your shoulder – the possibilities are endless because you know your body.
Experienced gamers will still fare better cos the gamer in our group got the highest score, but everyone still played well. Thus, you can easily form a group of different skill levels and still have a great time.
The game allows for 2 to 6 players at a time (at least 4 is recommended), and the amount of enemies that spawn will scale according to your party size. You should not run out of bad guys to shoot no matter how many friends you bring along.
We didn’t play Deadwood Mansion, but logically, it consists of more shooting… And apparently it’s quite a bit harder too. Plus, zombies.
Is it worth it?
All in all, the game lasted about 30 mins. Add in 15 mins of set up and another 15 minutes for the debrief, and you’ve got an hour’s worth of fun and enjoyment with your friends.
We were told that not everyone gets to complete the game (we did though, yay!) due to varying skill levels, but the staff will help make sure you get a decent amount of game time in.
Case in point, our team “wiped” once when we were overwhelmed and got picked off one by one without being able to heal each other in time. Some holy water was deployed to bring us all back to life, and we continued to shoot pirates.
At S$48 per person, it’s not exactly the cheapest experience you can enjoy. Some might argue that it’s half the price of a AAA videogame which will give you hours more enjoyment.
But here’s the thing: this is a game you will not be able to experience at home. Even if you have a VR unit, you’re not likely to have 6 of them. And you definitely won’t have a green room covered in cameras and sensors to play in.
I firmly believe this is an experience that is unique to Sandbox VR and similar dedicated VR setups and one that should be enjoyed at least once with your friends. It is really the closest thing to stepping into another world right now.
P.S. You’re not supposed to wear glasses to this, but one of us did. The guys at Sandbox VR had a bunch of lenses they could slip into the VR goggles instead, and little touches like this definitely upped the professionalism of this place.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
It’s something you’re not going to be able to experience at home, it’s fun for groups of all skill levels, so it’s definitely something you want to try.