Moving on to Divr Labs, the genius of the setup is the multi-room layout of the single arena, allowing groups to start within minutes of each other (each following behind as the first group progresses ahead) and the illusion that you can freely walk around at will. There are actually six rooms you go through but it flows seamlessly.
Set in an attractive welcoming room inside a shopping centre, it’s all blue neon and orange sofas.
You are zipped up in a bHaptics haptic suit and there are no heavy backpacks to carry. It’s very user friendly and easy to get started, even more so for my pal and technophobe Mark who struggles with controllers.
Of the two experiences we tried, The Lost Lab used a simple one-button device and the other, Meet The Dinosaurs, was played entirely through hand tracking. A third game is coming soon—the inevitable zombie shooter, Last Stand—with a ‘variety of cool and deadly guns’. For now there are no shooters in sight at Divr Labs.
You can see each other the second the headset is activated with nametags on our backs and clear voicechat. One press of a big red button and we go together into The Lost Labs, an adventure into a mining facility in underground tunnels.
It’s a fun escape room style puzzler with looting and an epic thrill ride. The full haptics came into effect early on with the suits electrical stimulation causing jumps and screams.
Meet The Dinosaurs was breathtaking in scope and features one of the best flying sequences you could hope for. Set 80 million years ago, it has an educational bent as you explore the jungle and collect data by touching everything around you.
“The Lost Lab was good as you had to find different things like keys to open the door and you had a torch so you could look around.”
Divr Labs is equipped with fans and heaters that give an effective impression of wind and heat at the appropriate moments.
His dad Mark thought it was “an incredible experience.”
“We were trying to get some DNA to recreate a missing dinosaur. With the swooping across the plains and the panoramic views, I really felt I was back in a different age. Loved it.”
“I was surprised how easy it was. There are tasks that you have to fulfil, but if you don’t reach those levels you still get the full experienced.”
“It felt like we’d travelled miles but we didn’t actually move very far. When we saw how it was done it was like pulling back the curtain on the Yellow Brick Road in The Wizard Of Oz.”
DNA VR has three venues in London. This one was under the arches in a redeveloped area around Battersea Power Station full of shops, bars and restaurants. It was London’s first VR arcade, opened in 2017, and it’s showing its age.
The VR arcade experiences are old and available for Quest 2 anyway (Eleven Assassin, Arizona Sunshine, Synth Riders). Then there are four escape rooms for up to six people, four premium ‘free roaming’ experiences and four Ubisoft-made VR escape rooms for two or four people that are wired.
We chose one of those, Beyond Medusa’s Gate. Four of us played but we were each our own small box and the virtual guardian was practically an ever-present intrusion. Apart from a controller there were no haptics to enhance the experience beyond a standard consumer VR headset, like fans or a rumbling floor.
Once in the game and after correcting feedback on our mics, we had fun customising our avatars and greeting each other virtually for the first time.
Beyond Medusa’s Gate is set in the re-creation of Ancient Greece from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. You have to find a way out of a vast Aegean coastal cave where the legendary ship of the Argonauts is anchored. The scale is dramatic.
The puzzles require teamwork and we could call for hints over the voicechat when we got stuck, which wasn’t too often. Twelve-year-old Charlie was disappointed we didn’t manage to complete the game in our allotted hour.
“It was really cool. I’m normally very good at escape rooms, I do them all the time. It was hard this one, hard. We were in pairs and I think it would have been better if we had solved them as a four together. I like the Quest 2 but you’d need to have a lot of headsets to do anything remotely similar to this.”
Being used to a standalone headset, the tethered wire proved problematic. “I tried to do a ballet pirouette and I got all tangled. I turned around to look at something behind me and I was asked to stop spinning.”
Charlie’s dad Fergus was impressed. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been together with others in VR and sharing it is amazing, it’s a big difference to playing solo.” Her mum Nina thought the scenery was incredible. “I thought it was more realistic than the games we do at home. It was more ‘wow’. It felt nice to share the experience.”