It’s a video game. We’ve come full circle.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date played: March 20, 2016
Team size: 2-5; we recommend 3-4
Price: $30 per ticket (minimum purchase of three tickets)
An entirely virtual escape room
Escape rooms are a physical manifestation of a video game genre that is three decades old. We were intrigued when we learned that Maze Rooms was offering an entirely virtual escape room.
I’ve been following virtual reality’s leaps and stumbles over the course of decades. I have played with the Oculus Rift, Facebook’s $2 billion VR acquisition, since its first publicly available iteration with uncomfortably chunky pixels. This was my first foray into a virtual reality escape game.
A bold experiment
Our experience in the VR Cosmos Game was bumpy.
This was an early game in what I think will become a more common trend in the escape room world. This review should be read as feedback on a bold, early experiment, not condemnation of creativity.
We fully anticipate brilliant VR puzzles in physical escape rooms and more virtual escape rooms. Having attempted video game design myself, I recognize how brutally challenging it is.
How did it work?
We were brought into a small dark room that contained 5 gaming rigs. Each rig consisted of a:
- big, comfy, pivoting chair
- Oculus Rift headset
- over-ear headphones
- motion sensor
We put on our headsets and headphones and we were in the game.
We could look around the virtual environment by moving our heads, and move, as well as interact with the environment, via basic hand gestures.
We could also see each other in-game and communicate by speaking.
How well did it work?
The head tracking was pretty good.
The gestures were finicky and required very specific and subtle movements to achieve the desired result. Some of us found these easy to achieve and others did not.
There were times when the controls were glitchy and one of our teammates had her controls completely break down mid-game, requiring a controls reboot.
The vocal communication was a bit irksome because we heard one another in-game through an echo-y com system, but we could also hear each other speaking because our headphones didn’t kill the external noise. We needed in-game communication or out-of-game communication. Both got a bit messy.
The headset worked just fine with glasses (provided they weren’t massive), but it was less comfortable for glasses wearers. If you have contacts, you should put them in.
Those on our team who experience motion sickness absolutely felt it in-game. However, no one had to stop playing because of this.
What was the game like?
It was set in a space-based sci-fi ship. It had a Halo vibe to it, without the guns, explosions, or religious extremist aliens.
It was fun to fly about and play within the limited physics of the game environment.
Unfortunately, much of the game was centered upon learning the controls. The puzzles themselves were pretty rudimentary. Had these puzzles been in a physical escape room, I think that we would have solved them all in about 5 or 10 minutes.
The high point
The second stage of the game (it was broken out into a few individual stages) offered the most collaborative, creative experience in the game. It was the only part that felt like it fully required VR to achieve. I kept hoping that the rest of the game would live up to this, but it never quite made it.
If you’re a gamer, you know how much more quickly gamers take to new games than non-gamers. This shouldn’t be breaking news to anyone.
The learning curve and stage-based structure of the VR Cosmos Game created uncomfortable situations where the gamers in our group finished their tasks swiftly and then had nothing to do but futz with the physics or look around the environment while those who were less experienced interacting with virtual environments rushed to catch up.
Should I play Maze Rooms’ VR Cosmos Game?
Maze Room’s VR Cosmos Game felt like a prototype. We haven’t encountered anything like it before. It was a bumpy, imperfect experience.
The controls weren’t as responsive as we were expecting and the puzzles lacked the intellectual challenge that we’ve come to expect from escape rooms, but the price-point was just the same as a traditional escape room.
The game offered a steep challenge to non-gamers and little resistance to experienced gamers. Because of this, it makes sense to bring a consistent team: go as a group of gamers or a group of non-gamers. A mixed team felt awkward for everyone involved.
If you’re looking to experience VR, then the VR Cosmos Game is a great way to get a bit of time behind the Oculus Rift’s visor.
If you’re seeking an attempt at serious innovation in escape rooms, then this is a game worth playing.
If you’re looking for an excellent escape room, then the VR Cosmos Game is going to fall very short of your expectations.
We have no idea what Maze Room’s regular games are like and we will return to play their physical escape rooms on our next trip to LA.
Book your hour with Maze Rooms’ VR Cosmos Game, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Full disclosure: Maze Rooms comped our tickets for this game.