2016-04-02 – Virtually Dead – Theatrical zombie VR experience

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It all started with a video, where I was told by a sergeant from a special division of the British army, called Cultek, that my request for training had been approved. Containment after a recent outbreak of the deadly Phoenix virus had failed, and the infection was spreading rapidly. More manpower, a lot more manpower was needed to halt the spread of the disease, and I was given a pickup point in East London, along with a dress code, and a strict time to be there.

Donning brand new white head bands, to signify our training group, my friend and I arrived at the pickup point, where Sgt. Williams was waiting for us, with a critical eye for our choice of footwear. Not being the ones having chosen bright pink sneakers, we got away with just some minor comments, but even for that particular fluo-footed girl there wasn’t much time to regret her idea of military shoes, as moments later a military van, loudly blasting The Sex Pistols, screeched around the corner, and ten of us new recruits were loaded in the back. A short drive later we got to the training facility, ready to be admitted to the program.

During a general rule check and a perfectly themed waiting period we got briefed about the situation, and not long after it was time to suit up. A good way to begin training, as we felt like absolute badasses, dressed in blood splattered overalls and our headbands we looked like a bunch of Platoon extras, ready for combat. Well, there was this guy having trouble fitting his beer belly in the outfit, but hey, there’s always one in every squad, right? Time to kick some zombie ass!

In the first part of the show we got additional briefings of the escalating situation and a little tour of the facilities – along with some group building banter. Special thanks to whoever coined our group’s official war cry, after shouting ‘DIE FUCKER’ a couple of times, everyone was pumped to get started! Every separate part was led by skilled actors, depicting sometimes slightly exaggerated, but always believable characters, who delivered their parts with a good sense of improvisation, a great deal of interaction with us and a lot of humour. I’ve been apprehensive before about a bit of comedy in horror experiences, but it suited the overall military training/’the situation is very dire’ setting perfectly, and brought us in a fitting amused yet agitated mood.

After a tour of the medical research lab of the facility, including a very tense section in pitch darkness, we all got separated, in order to participate in our VR training program. Now, I’ve done VR a couple times before and have always been very enthusiastic about how easily you get immersed in these virtual worlds, even getting strong physical reactions and balance issues just from the visual and auditory input, no matter whether the graphics are photorealistic or basically pixel art. This however was the first time I experienced VR standing up, moving about and actually being able to use my hands in the simulation. Minutes after my first practice shots at a couple of bottles, I was dual wielding a shotgun and an automatic machine gun, shooting away at a mixture of slow, shuffling zombies and infected that came running at an alarming pace. Every headshot felt like a big victory, and being able to blast away zombies that came too close for comfort with my shotgun was truly epic. Near the end, the action took place in an abandoned mine shaft, with an unreliable flashlight as our only way to illuminate the zombies that came at me from all directions, in an adrenalin-fueled fight for my life. It’s amazing how well the head and hand tracking functions, there’s clearly a huge amount of potential in this technology.

However, suddenly, alarms started sounding out, the VR kit was quickly taken off of me. A containment issue in the facility, we had to get to safety immediately, the infected were running amok! Our group came running from the different training rooms, led by a soldier who promised he’d help us get out. What followed was a mad dash out, barricading doors, finding alternate exits as ways got blocked by infected, encountering soldiers that had been bitten, … I got into the story so much that while I was blocking a doorway, I initially refused entry to a soldier, for fear of him being infected. Little did I know that he was actually essential for the progression of the next scene!  Eventually, we ran into the finale set piece where the true nature of our training program was revealed to us, and we barely escaped with our lives. At the end, we were welcomed in a chill out area, with a bar and some more VR games for us to try out, something we obviously couldn’t decline.

In conclusion, we had an amazing time. The event, from the pickup, over the themed waiting area, two theatrical parts of decent length and the VR section, felt like one big continuous experience. The VR part might seem a bit thrown in for some, but it actually fulfilled its part in the story, and the transition from this to the next theatrical part was flawless, with a huge sense of urgency. For me, the only real point of criticism is that the finale could have done with a bit more scare factor, I was somewhat expecting a ultimate hectic all-out run for your lives kind of thing after the finale scene, to really leave us breathless. As it was, I arrived in the bar area wanting just a little bit more. This really is a minor point though, as the entire event was full of unforgettable moments, awesome environments and theming, great characters, laughs and a couple of really tense bits. We might not have stopped the spread of the zombie infection, but seeing how much fun shooting away at them was, I can’t really feel too bad about it, to be honest. DIE FUCKERS!

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Official Virtually Dead website

Official Virtually Dead Facebook page

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