Virtual reality virgin answers zombies' call of duty
BATTLING hordes of blood-thirsty zombies in downtown suburbia with an arsenal of weapons at your fingertips - what could possibly go wrong?
I'm glad you asked!
Zero Latency's "epic-scale free-roam multiplayer virtual reality" gaming arena seems like the perfect mix of gaming and reality, but it left me wanting more.
Before I delve into our capital city's newest tourist attraction I reckon it's important to background my gaming experience.
I've been playing computer games since Galaga was the hottest thing in 1980s arcade fun.
I own a plethora of consoles, old and new; some years ago Bigpond turned my idea for a mobile phone game into reality; and I spent about 10 years reviewing games for print and digital media.
That said, until this week I was a virtual reality virgin.
And I've got to say that having my VR cherry popped turned out to be anything but a virtual orgasm.
The opening of Zero Latency's new Brisbane gaming arena sounded like the perfect opportunity to:
A: Get out of doing real work for a few hours.
B: A cool and inexpensive way to try virtual reality gaming for the first time.
And C: Damn. Good. Fun.
The guy behind the dream
WITH a horde of starving technology and gaming journos turning up for a free breakfast and gaming session at the cavernous Newstead facility, Tuesday's media briefing - or "soft launch" as the press release described it - was a chance for CEO, avid gamer and entrepreneur Tim Ruse to spruik the company's growth.
He's rightly proud of the business that opened its first gaming arena in Melbourne in 2015 and, with the Brisbane facility, now has 13 outlets worldwide.
"We always wanted to build an immersive entertainment facility and we thought 'what would we do if we could build the ultimate gaming experience with the technology we have today?'," Mr Ruse told NewsRegional.
"We landed on virtual reality
"We were inspired by (gaming) consoles and immersive entertainment like real-life zombie experiences and horror house."
So, here's the game plan
ZERO Latency offers gamers - aged 13 and up - 30 minutes of virtual reality fun for $66.
There are three gaming options - Zombie Survival (a classic shoot 'em up); Singularity, a space station-based free-roaming experience; and Engineerium, a cute and colourful family-friendly puzzle game.
The 400sqm gaming arena is big enough to accommodate 16 players at any time.
The arena floor is marked out in squares with electronics and lights criss-crossing the ceiling.
An impressive gaming terminal takes pride of place at the front of the arena where a game master controls the action and ensures everyone plays safe.
Once you and your team-mates are registered on the arena's electronic database, a friendly Zero Latency guide walks you through the gaming process.
There's a quick health and safety briefing that includes a caution for expectant mothers - the guide assures me the key problem is another gamer bumping into them.
Next, you're kitted out with a backpack containing an Alienware laptop that has enough power under its lid to render a pretty smooth, but not overly realistic, wireless three-dimensional gaming environment.
Weighing around 3kg, the kit contains an Oculus Rift VR headset that's central to your experience and headphones with microphone to communicate with the other players on your team.
You're also given a plastic gun equipped with four modes including sniper rifle and shotgun.
About the games
ZOMBIE Survival is a horror game. Your team is trapped in a fort and the undead are desperate to chomp your brains and innards. A rescue team is on its way but you have to slay the zombie hordes until help arrives. You use your gun for everything including killing enemies and rebuilding barriers. You can shoot at fuel and gas cans for deadly explosions. You earn points with the highest scores awarded for head kills.
In Singularity, you and your team investigate a military research space station where the only signs of life come from evil automatons. You have to fight off robots, killer drones and gun turrets as you explore the corridors and lifts. You need to match weapon modes - scatter, beam, pulse rifle or rail gun - with the correct enemy before you can kill them. Holding the gun sideways deploys a force shield that protects you from enemy fire.
Engineerium is a "walking adventure and puzzle experience" set on an ancient alien world suspended above an ocean where gravity turns the everything upside down and inside out. Take a stroll past flying whales and parrot rays, stopping to connect platforms as you can progress through the puzzle. This game features colourful characters and cheery music, but be aware, you do need to work with your team to win.
The scores from your gameplay are uploaded to the arena's database and once you're finished you get the chance to find out how you ranked against your team members. You will also get an email with your results.
Welcome to the land of the undead
ANYWAY, let's return to the business of killing the undead.
Zombie Survival's three-dimensional gaming environment is pretty good, but I couldn't help comparing its graphics to the hyper-realistic imagery available on the latest PlayStation and Xbox systems.
I found the gun cumbersome and after a few minutes it became a little heavy and awkward to hold. Given I don't walk around with a rifle all the time, I'm not surprised my arms strained to keep holding it up.
There is a small button near the trigger that should allow for an easy thumb flick between gun modes.
But I suspect the weapon was designed for big man hands because the mode-switch is just too far from the trigger for peeps with little stumpy girl thumbs like mine.
Shooting is an easy affair - simply point and pull the trigger and the clip will automatically refill when your bullets run out. Gun-fighting purists can press the reload cartridge button if they feel the need.
If you move into shotgun and sniper mode you need to use the pump action to reload between shots.
The gun is a key tool in this game, but it was missing one vital component - a scope. It would have been great to line up the zombie heads in my crosshairs before blasting them to smithereens and I think it would make the game a little more challenging.
Zombie Survival is a sedentary affair. Because you have so many players squeezed into a relatively small space, movement in this game is limited and that really takes away from the experience.
You can't really run from point to point, it's not designed to let you hide behind barriers to avoid and sniper shoot the enemy.
Also, you have to wait for the zombies to bring the fight to you instead of stalking them before taking them down with a stealth kill.
The zombies themselves are just respawns - so the first wave looks like the second wave and the second wave looks like the third wave and so on.
Some of them are harder to kill than others.
However, I didn't lose a life and that means, for me, they were simply too easy to kill.
Eventually, your gaming area turns into a realistic lift platform that rises into the air. Your weapon becomes a high-powered machine gun and you get to slaughter more zombies including a bunch of big bosses that resemble Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars.
The game lasts for 15 minutes, but it's repetition had me entering ho-hum stage by the halfway point.
I with seven strangers and we didn't gel enough before hand to work as a team - I suspect playing this game with some of your nearest and dearest would bring another dimension to the experience.
It must also be noted that I only played one of the three games available.
The other two options - Singularity and Engineerium - do look like they might be a little harder, a little more complex, more fun and challenging and potentially much better options for your $66.