The VOID – Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire [Review]

“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: October 9, 2019

Team size: up to 4; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 15 minutes

Price: from $39.95 per player

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was a technological step up for THE VOID from the Ghostbusters game that we experienced a few years back. The tech felt better and there was more and stronger physical feedback. Plus, it was Star Wars… and Star Wars is the cultural equivalent of comfort food.

The cover art for Star Wars Secrets of the Empire. A team of stormtroopers on a skiff above a molten planet.

The big catch with THE VOID was the price point. At $40 for 15 minutes of gameplay it was a big ask.

I loved a lot of what was going on in Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire; I highly recommend it to Star Wars fans. It drops you in that familiar world and just feels right. At the same time, I left really wishing that I was playing as a Jedi, not a Rebel in stormtrooper armor.

THE VOID did a lot of really smart things when they designed this game and it worked damn well. If you think that you want to play it, and you can afford to do so, I absolutely recommend it.

Who is this for?

  • Star Wars fans
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • You love Star Wars
  • It’s an engaging high quality VR shooter
  • Fantastic immersive detailing

Story

Spies for the Rebellion had reported that an item vital to the war effort had been uncovered by the Empire on the molten planet Mustafar. Our mission was to recover the item from the Imperial installation in a stolen ship, disguised as stormtroopers.

THE VOID in the middle of the Oculus at the World Trade Center. The architecture is massive and imposing. It looks like you're inside of a whale.
Image via THE VOID

Setting

Upon arrival at our start time, we were ushered into a briefing room, given the story, and then brought into a gear room where we suited up. The kit included a:

  • VR headset with a visor and earphones
  • haptic vest that vibrated when our avatar was shot, shaken, or otherwise impacted by something in the game world
  • a blaster
A group putting on their VOID gear.
Image via THE VOID

Once we put on all of the gear and tightened all of the straps, we were brought into the game.

Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was beautifully rendered and felt familiar in all of the right ways. We were free to walk about the world without cables or cords restricting us. If a wall was in the game, it was there in real life. If a chair was in the game, it was present in real life.

The world was further accented by scents, blowing fans, and other real-life stimuli that pulled the game purely out of the digital realm.

Gameplay

The VOID ‘s Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was an approachable VR shooter experience.

Core gameplay revolved around taking in the world, shooting bad guys, and one puzzle.

A group suiting up, wearing the full VOID gear set.
Image via THE VOID

Analysis

➕ The gear was comfortable, balanced, and easy to put on and take off. Additionally, this was the first time that I was able to put on a VR headset and not once think about how to position my glasses. It just worked. I actually forgot about this entirely and only remembered when I was taking a look at my old review of THE VOID’s Ghostbusters experience where my glasses were a problem.

➕ It was Star Wars. I knew what I was getting into. There was a look, a feel, and a sound to the world and storytelling that just pushed the right nostalgic buttons. If you are or ever were into Star Wars, then there will be something here for you.

➕ The addition of physical sensations was wonderful. It added a tactile depth that is often missing from VR experiences.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ There was a light puzzle. It was a thing. My teammates Dani and Bill from Escape this Podcast (we loved being on their show!) solved it, but we all agreed that I had more fun shooting stormtroopers while they solved it.

➖ There was a minute or so early in the experience where the world just seemed to freeze. My teammates and I could move, see one another, and speak, but the cut scene we were watching felt paused. I don’t know what happened, but I doubt that it was supposed to go down that way. The saving grace was that it wasn’t during a combat sequence or at a climactic moment.

➖ Maybe it’s just me, but my Star Wars fantasies never involved dressing as a stormtrooper. I know that it solves a lot of avatar problems. I’m also aware that it’s supported canonically by the Death Star scenes in A New Hope. And having players clutch a rifle with two hands is a lot safer than having them flailing about with a lightsaber. I see the pragmatism, thought, and cleverness in all of this.

None of that changes the fact that my inner 9-year-old wants to be a damn Jedi when he’s inside of a Star Wars game… especially at $2.66 per minute.

❓ $40 for 15 minutes of gameplay was expensive. I’m glad that I played, but I can also empathize with anyone who rejects it on price alone; Lisa sat this one out for that very reason.

➕ You can’t really ask for an easier, more picturesque location than the center of the World Trade Center Oculus. It was lovely getting off the train and being at the venue. We tend to find Immersive experiences hidden in strange, difficult to find locations. This was a lovely change of pace.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: It’s NYC; take mass transit. THE VOID is sitting dead center in the middle of one of the city’s largest transit hubs.
  • Food: There are food options in the mall, but I recommend taking a short walk to The Wooly Public.
  • Accessibility: Check the “Accessibility” category in THE VOID’s FAQ.
  • Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is currently available in Anaheim, Glendale, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Orlando, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Plano, New York (all US), Edmonton, Mississauga, Toronto (all Canada), and Genting (Malaysia).

Book your session with The VOID ‘s Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Ubisoft Escape Games – Beyond Medusa’s Gate [VR Review]

A VR Odyssey

Location:  at Up the Game in Amsterdam, The Netherlands & at Trap’t in Stamford, CT

Date Played: May 7, 2019 & May 17, 2019

Team size: 2 or 4; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $40 per player at Trap’t (consumer pricing varies by licensee)

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Beyond Medusa’s Gate was a gigantic, dramatic, and intense journey through the worlds of Greek mythology and the Assassin’s Creed video game series.

Ubisoft Escape Games published a worthy sequel to their first VR escape game by refining and expanding upon the concepts introduced in Escape The Lost Pyramid.

In-game: A gigantic statue of Atlas wrapped in a snake holding up the ceiling of a cave.

Beyond Medusa’s Gate wasn’t the most puzzley game. However, it accomplished what I believe is the key to a great virtual escape game: the gameplay provided experiences that cannot be created in real life escape games.

I wholeheartedly recommend playing Beyond Medusa’s Gate. (We took my parents to play it.) I’d encourage you to play Escape The Lost Pyramid first so that you’re comfortable with the controls and mechanisms that Ubisoft expanded upon in this sequel.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level (with VR, escape rooms, or Assassin’s Creed)

Why play?

  • Fantastic collaborative puzzles
  • Beautiful graphics
  • Massive set pieces
  • Puzzles that aren’t possible in a real-life escape room
  • A cool boss battle

Story

Set in the fantastical ancient Greek world of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, we were off in search of a powerful lost artifact.

The Poster for Beyond Medusa's Gate featuring a stone door with a sculpture of Medusa.

Setting

We boarded the Argo, the legendary ship of the Argonauts, and sailed through a magnificently rendered Mediterranean cavern filled with huge structures and mythological beasts.

In-game: a burning cauldron in a temple.

Gameplay

Ubisoft Escape Games’ Beyond Medusa’s Gate was a VR escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around teamwork, puzzling, shooting, climbing, observing, and making connections.

In-game: The Argo in the Mediterranean.

Analysis

➕ Ubisoft included some additional character customization options allowing us to change the color of our avatar’s clothing.

In-game: a team of avatar's getting suited up.

 Assassin’s Creed factors in minimally. On the one hand, if you’re familiar with the series, there are some lovely nods both in the gameplay and in the introduction. On the other hand, you can enjoy the game almost fully without knowing anything about the Animus.

➖ If you’re completely unfamiliar with Assassin’s Creed, then the introductory exposition will sound something like, “Blah blah blah Ancient Greece. Blah blah blah powerful artifact. Blah blah blah genetic memory.”

➕ The opening puzzle sequence was really clever, both as a standalone puzzle and as an introduction to manipulating the game world.

➕ Beyond Medusa’s Gate had a greater diversity in puzzles and challenges than did Ubisoft’s first escape game, Escape The Lost Pyramid.

In-game: A statue of Athena in a cavern.

➕ As with Escape The Lost Pyramid, Beyond Medusa’s Gate did a wonderful job of providing experiences that could not be created in a physical escape room.

❓ While the puzzles within Beyond Medusa’s Gate were enjoyable, the emphasis was on adventure. If you’re seeking serious puzzle-play, there might not be enough of it for you.

➕ Ubisoft ramped up the opportunities for teamwork and collaboration. There were lots of moments were we solving as either a duo or quartet.

➕ The world of Beyond Medusa’s Gate was gorgeous. There were points where I stopped playing and found myself getting lost in the beauty of the world and all of its detail.

➕ The use of a boat to facilitate movement through the game world was an improvement over the floating blocks from Escape The Lost Pyramid. Not only did it make more sense within the fiction, it also made the game more friendly and approachable for players with vertigo or a fear of heights.

➕ While Beyond Medusa’s Gate incorporated the climbing as well as the archery introduced in Escape The Lost Pyramid, it limited its reliance on them and put some interesting twists on both as the game progressed.

❓ There’s a learning curve to staying within the play area. If you’re comfortable playing video games and VR, you could acclimate almost immediately. If you aren’t comfortable with the technology, it could be a game-long process .

➖ When one player struggles to execute, the game can grind to a halt and provide little for idle players to do… aside from break pots and look at the beautiful world. (I have a high capacity for breaking pots from years of Zelda.)

➖ If you are the struggling player and you’re holding your team back, you’ll quickly feel a lot of additional pressure.

❓ We played this game twice, once with a wire (at Up The Game), and once wireless (at Trap’t in Stamford, CT). It was a substantially better experience playing wirelessly.

In-game: a massive ballista mounted to the side of a ship.

➕ The boss battle was a strong conclusion.

➕ Ubisoft added a delightful post-game photo system.

Tips For Visiting

  • I would strongly encourage you to play Ubisoft’s first VR escape game, Escape The Lost Pyramid, prior to playing this sequel.
  • Yes, you can wear glasses with the VR headset.
  • If you have a fear of heights or are prone to vertigo, there will be one section that you might want to skip, but you should be fine playing most of this game.

Book your hour with Ubisoft Escape Games’ Beyond Medusa’s Gate, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

If you’re interested in licensing this game, you can learn more from Ubisoft Escape Games:

Disclosure: Ubisoft Escape Games offered free play-throughs of this game on the show floor at Up the Game.

Disclosure: Trap’t comped our tickets for this game.

Ubisoft Blue Byte – Escape the Lost Pyramid [VR Review]

Climbing Simulator.

Location: Breda, The Netherlands (on the Up the Game show floor, available for license by escape rooms & VR arcades)

Date Played: May 8, 2018

Team size: 2-4; we recommend 2 or 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Ticketing: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

REA Reaction

A major video game publisher created a VR escape room:

Set in the world of Assassin’s Creed OriginsEscape the Lost Pyramid placed us at the base of a beautifully rendered ancient Egyptian pyramid where we puzzled and climbed our way to the top…  along the way convincing me that I could comfortably do pull-ups. 

In-game: An upward looking show of large pillars and chains in the pyramid.
Images via Ubisoft Blue Byte

Ubisoft Blue Byte demonstrated thoughtful escape game design by creating a collection of collaborative puzzles that could not work in the real world. Their stated intention is to continue to create virtual escape games set in their own intellectual property, for license by escape room facilities and VR arcades.

I hope that this concept takes off. I encourage escape room players to play Escape the Lost Pyramid if you are anywhere near a facility that acquires the game.

In-game: a small white rectangle on the floor indicating the VR playspace, beside a sign that says Escape The Lost Pyramid: An Escape Room Set in the world of Assassin's Creed Origins.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level (with VR, escape rooms, or Assassin’s Creed)

Why play?

  • Fantastic collaborative puzzles
  • Beautiful graphics
  • Massive set pieces
  • Puzzles that aren’t possible in a real-life escape room

Story

Set in the ancient Egyptian world of Assassin’s Creed Origins, we began at the base of a pyramid and had to work our way up to the top to earn the artifact that we sought.

In-game: A ray of light shining on a large statue of Anubis.
Images via Ubisoft Blue Byte

Setup

Played on an Oculus Rift and wired into a PC, our gameplay area was 7 square feet with a recommended play area of 10 square feet. The controls were straightforward; we could grab/ hold items as well as teleport using one button on either controller. We wore headphones with microphones so that we could hear both the game world and one another.

Someone playing the Ubisoft VR Escape The Lost Pyramid escape room set in the wold of Assassin's Creed Origins.

Gameplay

Ubisoft Blue Byte’s Escape the Lost Pyramid was a virtual escape room. Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: an ornate display of a bow and arrows.
Images via Ubisoft Blue Byte

Escape the Lost Pyramid had us puzzling and climbing our way through a pyramid. Most of the puzzles required collaboration with another player. Video gamers will recognize the concept of navigational puzzles as current mainstays of the adventure puzzle genre. Traditional escape room players might struggle to recognize the pathfinding challenges as puzzles… but I assure you, they are. 

Analysis

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Ubisoft decided to make an escape room and created a puzzle tower-climbing game. Gamers will know that tower climbing has become an Ubisoft cliche over the past decade. Ubisoft gets a lot of grief for this…

and has even made fun of themselves for it…

When I first heard that Ubisoft had made a virtual escape room, I unknowingly and sarcastically suggested to a friend that “it’s probably a tower climbing puzzle.” When I say that this concept really worked, I do so knowingly.

In-game: a corridore featuring an image of Horus on a wall of hieroglyphics.
Images via Ubisoft Blue Byte

Escape the Lost Pyramid worked because Ubisoft Blue Byte presented a series of challenges that a real-life escape room could not create. They used fire, projectiles, and a ton of climbing. There was only one puzzle that could be completely recreated in a real-life escape room.

+ Ubisoft Blue Byte made great use of verticality. The vertical scale of Escape the Lost Pyramid was imposing. It was brilliant, once again, because this sort of grandeur isn’t possible in real-life gaming.

In-game: A statue of Horus with a beam of light shining from him.
Images via Ubisoft Blue Byte

Escape the Lost Pyramid leaned heavily on immersive adventure. The puzzles were in trying to maneuver our avatars through the virtual space. It was less puzzley in a traditional escape room sense. This format, however, played towards the strengths of a virtual space.

+ The challenges required teamwork. We enjoyed figuring out how to work together, from different spaces in the VR, using the tools each had at our disposal. It was exhilarating.

+ When we shot arrows in VR, it felt like we were shooting arrows.

? I didn’t get a lot of Assassins Creed out of Escape the Lost Pyramid. There were whiffs of the mythology in the briefing and conclusion, but it was more environmental. I didn’t see this as an issue. In fact, I felt that it made the game more approachable for those unfamiliar with the series. If you’re looking for a lost chapter of Assassins Creed Origins, however, you won’t really find it here.

– We did a lot of climbing. Climbing was initially deceptive. With each motion, it felt like moving the world rather than moving my own body. This took some getting used to. Climbing was also too easy, as it didn’t have any weight resistance. This was weirdly off-putting. And thus, we might as well have been moving the whole world.

– Escape the Lost Pyramid was missing a culminating puzzle or a finale scene.

+ The vertical movement didn’t cause motion sickness. Even Lisa – who is generally motion sick in all VR – was happily moving up and down.

? While motion sickness wasn’t an issue, vertigo or a fear of heights could be a factor.

– The VR equipment was a small obstacle, especially the wire. We’d constantly step on it, or get tangled in it. To compensate for the small physical space in which we maneuvered, we needed to teleport a lot, even across small distances. This wasn’t initially intuitive and took some getting used to. We did, however, get used to it.

In-game: The avatar customization area. Players are selecting extra props to adorn their characters.
Images via Ubisoft Blue Byte

+ Players could select an avatar and make small aesthetic customizations with hats, masks, and other props. While I couldn’t see my own avatar in-game, I spent a lot of time looking at my teammate’s avatar.

+ Overall, the equipment was easy to use, comfortable to wear, and worked well. The controls made sense.

+ The world of Escape the Lost Pyramid was beautiful and detailed.

Finally, Escape The Lost Pyramid is a licensable game that will only be available through escape room and VR arcades. Ubisoft Blue Byte intends to release new virtual escape games set in other Ubisoft worlds. If this is their starting place, I’m eager to see what they build next.

Tips for Playing

  • If you have a fear of heights or are prone to vertigo, this may not be the game for you.
  • You may have slight motion sickness early on. Lisa almost always gets motion sick in VR, but she was mostly comfortable in Escape the Lost Pyramid.

Connect with Ubisoft Blue Byte to license the Escape the Lost Pyramid, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Ubisoft Blue Byte offered free play-throughs of this game on the show floor at Up the Game.

Exit VR – Huxley [Review]

This made me believe in VR.

Location: Berlin, Germany

Date played: September 3, 2017

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-6 (but if you go over 3, choose an even number)

Duration: 44 minutes

Price: from 69€ per team of two on weekdays or 79€ on evenings and weekends to 129€ per group of 3 vs 3 on weekdays or 139€ on evenings and weekends (detailed breakdown)

Story & setting

We strapped a computer to our backs, put on an HTC Vive and entered the year 3007. We were among the last human survivors living on a space station above an Earth that was devoid of life. Our crew had received a message from the barren planet below: “My name is HUXLEY and I need your help!”

In-game: three beams of light shooting down towards a wrecked Earth.
Image via Exit VR

Huxley’s virtual Earth was a magnificently rendered WALL-E-esque wasteland where we met a WALL-E-esque robot who was a bit angrier than Pixar’s cute creation. No detail was overlooked… and I looked.

In-game: a disabled Huxley hanging from the ceiling of a strange cathedral to him.
Image via Exit VR

Huxley was a 2- or 3-player game. It was also setup so that a pair of teams could race. We each wore an HTC Vive and a computer mounted to an XMG Walker harness that hung comfortably like a backpack. We each played in an isolated 4 x 6 meter space with dedicated motion tracking.

Puzzles

Huxley was a fantastic puzzle game. It had unusual puzzles that took advantage of the virtual world and allowed us to do, see, and solve things that are impossible in meat space.

Additionally, these puzzles required teamwork.

Standouts

It really worked. The motion tracking was perfect. Lisa did not get even slightly motion-sick. Every other time she has ever put on a VR visor, she has become queazy within minutes. She spent 45 minutes in this world without the slightest issue.

The puzzles were smart. There was one puzzle in particular that I desperately want to spoil because I want to talk about it. I won’t spoil it… but I want to. It involved something that is physically not possible in real life.

Huxley was a truly collaborative escape room. Whereas our past VR escape room experiences were either solo games or didn’t include satisfying group interaction, Huxley required teamwork and made it feel natural.

In-game: a pair of avatars with a head and hands on a dead Earth.
Image via Exit VR

We each selected a cute avatar. These were initially a little off-putting, but successfully eliminated the issues that usually arise in VR from having false, non-representative, and non-reactive bodies.

The gamespace was gorgeous. This wasn’t some homebrew virtual world made of purchased and slightly tweaked renderings. Huxley was professionally designed.

Huxley used the substantial physical space in the virtual one. The world was big and open and the mechanism for traversing it was brilliant.

Because we wore all of the gear – including the computer – on our persons, there weren’t wires in the way.

Shortcomings

There was a little too much exposition from Huxley’s title character. He spoke a lot, but observing the game’s world was simply more interesting… so we tuned him out.

One late-game puzzle revolved around a task that felt strange in a virtual world where nothing had weight. We eventually got the hang of it, but it seemed like there could be a better interaction that would downplay some of the idiosyncrasies of VR.

There are a few things about the current generation of VR technology that were simply out of Exit VR’s control, but affected Huxley nonetheless:

  • The weight of the Vive put some strain on the neck over a 45-minute play session.
  • While the laptops on our backs were surprisingly comfortable, we started noticing them more as the game progressed.
  • We needed a battery swap mid-game (Update – per comments, this does not happen in every game).

While the battery swap was handled swiftly and efficiently, I think it could have been possible to work this into the game itself such that it didn’t feel like we’d paused.

Should I play Exit VR’s Huxley?

Absolutely. If you can play Huxley, you should go play it.

We’ve played a number of VR experiences over the past few years and they have been a mixed bag. Until I entered the world of Huxley, I never believed that I would truly want to play VR… not in the current generation anyway.

Huxley was a virtual escape room done right: it limited the impact of the weaknesses of VR, while creating gameplay that wouldn’t be possible in the physical world. It was a great escape game.

In-game: Lisa in her dedicated space wearing the VR rig.Huxley is available for licensing. I know nothing about their pricing, but I would love to see this game proliferate. That said, please do not license it unless you have the space and will to do it right. Don’t cut corners. This game is too much fun for a hobbled experience.

Go play Huxley and join Lisa and me among the other converts who now believe in the power of VR.

Book your hour with Exit VR’s Huxley, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

For a local perspective, see Escape Maniac (in German).

Full disclosure: Exit VR comped our tickets for this game.