We’d previously experienced The VOID in New York in the form of Ghostbusters Dimension and were super impressed with the tech meaning that a trip to Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire had to be on the cards, despite our ambivalence towards the Star Wars franchise.
For those unfamiliar with The VOID, it’s essentially VR on steroids. You wear the computer that’s powering the experience meaning that there are no wires, leaving you completely free to explore the virtual environment. The VOID takes things one step further by incorporating ‘real-life’ objects into the world. For example, if you see a table in VR, you can reach out and actually feel something approximating that table. It all combines to create something that feels less like playing a video game and more like inhabiting a living, breathing world.
So, how does Secrets of the Empire fare? Well, first off we should reiterate that we’re not massive fans of Star Wars. We’ve seen all the films once, enjoyed them for what they were and that’s about it. The reason why we think that it’s important to mention this is that it didn’t affect our experience a single spot but if you appreciate that series, you’ll get so much more out of your time in Secrets. It drops you into the universe of the movies in a way that hasn’t been done before.
The story is almost typical Star Wars by this point. You assume the character of a rebel trying to infiltrate an enemy base with the intent of stealing the ‘MacGuffin of the Week’. It’s really not important at all, just an excuse to throw all kinds of interactive shenanigans your way.
To divulge details beyond this would be unfair but here’s what we will say – Secrets of the Empire is a fully immersive adventure. Supplementing the virtual environment; you experience smell, changes in heat, wind effects replicating the sensation of being high up and a few more tactile additions. And then there are a few junctures where you have to perform an action such as pressing a button where you actually have to reach out and press said button – the virtual set is mapped to the real-world location perfectly so you physically interact with these features. It sounds silly, raving about pressing a button, but that act deepens the immersion immeasurably. One other cool feature is that the backpack powering the experience offers haptic feedback. If someone shoots you, you feel that shot!
We know what you’re thinking, it’s on Scare Addicts so what does that mean? Maybe it’s possibly a bit ‘out of scope’ as far as this site goes but it features a bunch of elements that we love – a focus on immersion and giant beasts to name but two! And, the finale is suitably tense, brilliantly forecasting the arrival of the main villain before pitting you against them in a scene that renders you completely hopeless. You definitely feel the threat in that scene, the fact that you are totally defenceless makes for a thrilling finale!
Now, we do feel as though there are potentially two massive downsides to Secrets.
One is obvious, the price. For over £30, your time in The VOID is relatively short, hovering around the 15 min mark. It’s definitely on the pricey side, for that amount of money, we think that there should be more to it. Whether that’s a longer time in The VOID or a book-ending live action piece, it just seems slight for the cash handed over. At the same time, we can absolutely guarantee that you’ve never experienced anything as immersive as the VR here. Even if you own some version of VR at home, this is truly next level – dropping you into a story that feels ripped straight from the movies. And, as we mentioned earlier, if you’re a Star Wars fan you can add another five stars to this review! If you fall into that category, you absolutely need to attend as soon as you’ve finished reading this!
The other issue that we encountered was that the experience glitched. Not just a little skip or freak out but the entire thing crashed, locking our point of view. This didn’t fix itself either, someone had to come and get us out of the space (giving us a sneaky behind the scenes view of what the set actually looks like!) and start the thing over again. So, we didn’t lose anything as such and, in a way, got to go through more than half of it twice because of that but it’s still something that shouldn’t have happened!
This leads into an observation that we made during Ghostbusters concerning the sometimes lag of the proton gun; as impressive as the technology is, it still isn’t 100% up to the task of delivering on its promise. Whilst the majority of our time was pretty flawless, that crash threw us right out of the scene. We love what The VOID does but it doesn’t seem as stable as it should be.
Star Wars buff or not, you should definitely consider checking Secrets of the Empire out. It offers an experience that is definitely unparalleled, especially when held up next to things like Derren Brown’s Ghost Train and demonstrates the true power and potential of VR.
Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire (2017)
+ Sense of immersion
- Game-breaking glitch
If you're happy to spend the plus £30 asking price, we'd totally recommend a visit to Secrets of the Empire!
Ticket Price: £32.50
Address: Westfield London, Ariel Way, Shepherd's Bush, London W12 7GF