If you’ve ever wanted to go to that galaxy from far, far away that George Lucas cooked up in the 70’s and sold for billions in the 2010’s, The Void has you covered with its new Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire hyper-reality experience. This fully immersive virtual reality experience is easily the best use of the platform I’ve come across to-date, and as a lifelong Star Wars fan the adventure it has to offer got me closer than ever to the sci-fi pop culture phenomenon that has molded me throughout my 37 years of existence.
Secrets of the Empire isn’t your typical virtual reality experience, and it’s far from a stationary affair. It offers what has been dubbed a hyper-reality experience, so while you wear a VR headset to bring the visuals to life, you also wear a vest full of sensors and a backpack to house the processor, which in turn allows you to freely walk around the virtual world without being tethered by cables. This is a game changer for VR, because you are free to move about the world, which in turn makes it feel even more real than just passively experiencing VR from the comfort of your couch. This in turn allows the experience to play out in a series of rooms that you navigate within the virtual world as you walk about the real world all decked out in your gear. The environment also offers up temperature changes to reflect what you’re experiencing in the adventure, as well as smells and even sprays of water. All of these elements converge on your senses to create a near life-like experience, which only becomes more enhanced the moment you come under attack.
Before I get to the shoot outs, which felt very much like being in Star Wars Battlefront 2, I must briefly summarize the mission you embark on. You and up to three other people are teamed together and debriefed by Cassian Andor before you venture into The Void’s staging center to equip all of the VR gear. Once you and your team are decked out in the VR headsets and 10 pound sensory vests, you’re led into a room with a sliding door and the adventure begins.
Right from the get go it’s a surreal experience as you see your three other teammates in the virtual world as Stormtroopers. Now you’re not actually the bad guys, you’re sent to Mustafar as Stormtroopers to help the Rebels steal something from the volcanic planet, which also happens to be Darth Vader’s home. Once you’re instructed to exit your landing craft, the experience gets ultra-real as you are asked to walk out onto a skiff that is hovering above the lava fields of Mustafar. The feeling of floating on the skiff is heightened by the motion of the visuals, but also from the feeling of heat that washes over you, which also smells like fire if that makes sense. This moment instantly transports you to the world of Star Wars, and you never look back as you make your way from one room to the next as you sneak your way into the depths of Mustafar.
You do more than just walking in this hyper-reality experience. You encounter fire fights with actual Stormtroopers, who by the way can indeed shoot you thanks to the sensory vest you’re wearing, which will vibrate and tingle your torso wherever you get hit. The fear and even feeling of being blasted is just another ingredient for this experience that makes it feel so life-like and immersive. Knowing you can get shot and have to experience a bit of discomfort just drives home the direness of the situation you’re in as your squad comes under heavy attack from Imperial forces. These exchanges reminded me of playing Star Wars Battlefront 2, but rather than using a controller and my fat ass to sit on, I was fighting the Empire myself using my own gun and physical abilities to dodge and fire.
You’re also tasked with interacting with the environment throughout the experience, which includes opening doors with handles, and timing button presses to get past a security measure as your team covers you from incoming Stormtrooper attacks. This particular encounter can get a bit wonky, because at times I couldn’t see my arm being virtually rendered, so I had to rely on my real world touch sense to find the buttons K2 wanted me to press in order. Either way the exchange was frantic, and totally heightened the sense of peril we all felt as we came under fire from Vader’s forces.
When it’s all said and done Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire is around a 15-minute experience, which costs you $30 plus taxes and fees. Quite frankly, after experiencing it, myself and my group found it to be well worth the price of admission, and none of us wanted it to end. In fact, we all said we could have went for another 30-minutes at least, that’s how much fun this hyper-reality experience is. Thanks to the fact that you have to physically move about the world you also don’t encounter any of the motion sickness that can accompany the virtual reality medium, so you can spend much more time in the virtual world because you don’t feel nauseous or out of sorts.
Unfortunately, at this time the Secrets of the Empire hyper-reality experience is limited to just three locations in the U.S., and it appears that the engagements are limited to this Winter. That could all change based on the success of these limited runs, but for now you can only attend this experience at The Void at Disney Springs Orlando, The Void at Downtown Disney in California, and The Void at Westfield London. Times can still be booked, so if you happen to be close to any of these venues, or are traveling to one in the near future, make sure to check out The Void to see if any time slots are available. I highly recommend checking it out if you can, because it is as close as any of us will get to being in the world of Star Wars outside of scoring a part in one of Disney’s upcoming live-action projects.
May the Force be with you, always.
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