Two things. It's great. It makes you feel sick.
I came close to tearing the goggles from my head. Inertia similar to that felt on a roller coaster hit me in the gut when the wheelchair swung to the side, and the sensation wasn’t pleasant.
Knowing immediately I’d be unable to stay with Starbreeze’s Walking Dead VR demo for longer than a few minutes, I decided to leave the goggles on regardless. I could stomach the motion sickness just to get a taste of pulling zombie heads apart with a physical shotgun forced into my hands when the auxiliary characters realised they needed another shooter, whether or not he could walk. As it was in my hands, so it appeared in the game. When I pumped the prop the in-game shotgun pumped too.
The undead advanced towards my legs and my immediate reaction was to not die, to beat back the crawling killers and wheel my way to safety. I didn’t, however. One must maintain a certain level of dignity.
The just-announced StarVR headset, Starbreeze's bespoke foray into the VR space, plenty aided the immersion with its 210 degree horizontal field of vision and 5K resolution, but the tech itself isn’t the reason you should be interested in the Walking Dead take on VR. You want to play it because it’s so wholly impractical and unquestionably fun. It took three other developers working as a team to even give me the demo. They fixed the headset tight to the back of my head and the screens blurred, but I didn't care. The Walking Dead VR demo really is a prototype, a test, a curio. Nothing more. I just wanted to see it.
See it, feel it, murder it. Dodgy tummy or not, the new goggles immersed me enough to allow the demo to force me to swing around wildly on my “wheelchair,” an ingenious device for fixing the thorny VR issue of people wanting to walk around, in order to keep thumping buckshot into zombie heads. My compatriots got eaten, then I got eaten when I conveniently ran out of shells. The undead advanced towards my legs and my immediate reaction was to not die, to beat back the crawling killers and wheel my way to safety and the promise of a future, however scant.
I didn’t, however, as doing so would have involved me sitting in a chair, wearing a headset and swinging around a plastic shotgun in a roomful of people demoing video games. I may have been "in the game," but one must maintain a certain level of dignity. Apparently.
Myself and Dan Boutros, the ex-Walking Dead dev who got me into Starbreeze’s Hollywood party on Saturday, were among two of the first people to experience the VR demo outside of the company, and the team was showing a few nerves. The helmets were brand new, having only been announced earlier that evening in a rather odd presentation which obfuscated a little more than was necessary ("Is this the Overkill game? I didn't think it was VR?"), and there was a discussion about how best to fit it to my head. I felt like a guinea pig, the people around me occasionally pulling the earphones away to ask me questions. This was a behind-closed-doors proof of concept, not the full co-op game talked about in a presentation earlier that evening.
What does it mean for games based on The Walking Dead? More than anything else, it shows Starbreeze is willing to experiment with the franchise and it sees at least a partial future for it in the world of VR.
But it’s very early days. The headset made me feel genuinely nauseous, a feeling that refused to quit for some time after play, and the representation of the in-game gun was sometimes at odds with the prop's physical position. It was hard to aim (although this did add to the feeling of desperation as the zombies closed in) and the way the in-game arm attached to the shotgun’s handle sort of stuck out at an odd angle served to push me out of the game world. But it’s forgivable.
There’s a long way to go, but that feeling of being trapped in the world - a world in which you can’t walk about and you’re inevitably going to die in one of the most gruesome fashions imaginable - is new.
This isn’t meant for general consumption. But that doesn't mean it isn't good. There’s a long way to go, but that feeling of being trapped in the world - a world in which you can’t walk about and you’re inevitably going to die in one of the most gruesome fashions imaginable - is new. You can look down and see your useless legs. You do feel as though you’re being moved around, even if the symptoms are somewhat exaggerated. And best of all, when it does work properly, you pull a gun round in real space and shoot a zombie in the head. You want to do it repeatedly.
The Walking Dead VR demo may be just a demo, but that basic compulsion means there's real promise in the series' VR future.