Interested in virtual reality? A lot less interested in spending a grand or two on a full set-up? Head to VR Hideout in the Great Northern Warehouse and you can try out a bunch of VR games and experiences for a tiny fraction of the cost – prices vary depending on how many of you are playing, but it won’t more than a few quid each. It’s set-up by the people behind the excellent Breakout escape room sessions, so expectations are high.
The room itself is pretty bare bones, but that’s all it needs to be. It doesn’t matter how boring old real reality looks when we’re dealing with the virtual version. There are two rooms, each kitted out with a high-end HTC Vive VR system, plugged into an impressive range of games. One drawback is that, as yet, they don’t offer two-player VR, meaning it’s a turn-based experience, but we’re assured that this is next on the list. So what is it like?
In summary: pretty damn amazing. We begin with a pretty mundane game about slicing up fruit, which is about as boring as it sounds, but this is just an introductory game to get the user used to the controls. Plus, you don’t have to do this one – each session comes with advice and guidance from a friendly VR Hideout staff member, who knows the system inside and out, and can gauge what kind of experience each team is looking for.
I’ll be honest here, my head caved in on itself
The next VR experience is the one that blew me away. It’s called, quite simply, Plank. And that’s all it is. A plank of wood. Bear with me – this is the one game where you can tell in an instant if VR is going to work for you. What happens is you go step into a virtual lift, all hyper-realistic visuals, with a smooth lifelike framerate, hit the top-floor button and wait while takes you up, speeding through dozens of floors, higher and higher. Then the doors open and you see this little plank of wood jutting out the side of the building, hundreds of stories up, looming over a busy city, no safety net.
The aim is to walk forwards, along the plank, without falling off. I’ll be honest here, my head caved in on itself. Even though I knew I was in a carpeted basement in central Manchester, it took all my mental strength to take those first few steps. Then when I got to the end and breathed a sigh of relief, the assistant ordered me to step off the side. Dear reader, I effed and I jeffed, before screaming like a baby. After a harrowing few minutes being cajoled by my co-reviewer, I finally stepped off the edge and nearly spewed while I plummeted to the bottom, hit the ground and everything went white. And that was that, I’d completed the game. I needed a sit down afterwards.
Before the end of the year I’ll own a HTC Vive, rent and bills be damned
Then we went through a bunch of other superb games, variously firing arrows at stick men, bashing cartoon ogres with over-sized weapons, and all kinds of other games too complex to describe but amazing to experience. I left declaring that before the end of the year I’ll own a HTC Vive, rent and bills be damned.
VR Hideout might not be perfect yet, but it’s not far off. It’s a superb afternoon out for all kinds of groups – hen parties, family trips, or simply a pre-night out session. And if you’ve got a cocky member of your group who needs bringing down a peg or two? Plank em.