Hands-On: Sandbox VR Delivers Fun And Adaptable Location-Based VR Gaming

by David Jagneaux • July 3rd, 2018

When I first tried The Void’s Star Wars installation at Disney World earlier this year, it totally blew me away. I loved how intricately detailed the in-game environment was and that it was mapped to the real world so I could freely move around and reach out to touch walls, levers, and buttons on panels. It was amazing, but scaling that business to more than just a handful of locations isn’t going to be easy. It requires significant space and careful mapping.

Sandbox VR, another, similar, location-based VR gaming space, recently opened up a location at the Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo, CA with an excellent storefront display right next to one of the main mall entrances. All they need a is a large green room and the software does the rest. The Sandbox VR website also lists locations in Los Angeles, New York, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

What I played was extremely fun and adaptable in a way that I could see this sort of content easily scaling throughout malls, theme parks, and other locations with the foot traffic to support it.

You can see some example footage of the experience above. Everyone that does a Sandbox VR sessions is given digital copies of this mixed reality footage. They even show you the footage immediately after you’re done using an iPad. The cameras are all set up to record and process the video seamlessly, making it extremely easy to watch and share.

As great as The Void was, they don’t have anything like this in place which feels like a major missed opportunity. All they have you do instead is take a regular photo wearing the gear afterwards, but it lacks the mixed reality flair. The setup at Sandbox uses a mixture of HTC Vive Pro headsets, tracked rifles, backpack PCs, haptic feedback vests, and sensors on your wrists and ankles for full-body tracking.

In terms of content, Sandbox VR currently has two experiences as of the time of this writing. The first and most popular one is a standard zombie wave shooter. The games are designed for 4-6 people (they’ve got an even larger room next to the one I played in) but we did it as a pair of just two. You’ll stand inside the box and gun down waves upon waves of undead. Some of them stumble/walk slowly, some run at you, and some of them even climb along the walls and try to incapacitate you with disgustingly long tongues.

It’s fun and it does a good job of introducing the mechanics of using the gun controller and getting comfortable with moving around the space, but it’s pretty basic. If you’ve played The Brookhaven Experiment, HordeZ, Arizona Sunshine, or any countless other zombie shooters then you’ve already played something better to be honest. However, the second game I tried is what really blew me away.

The folks at Sandbox VR didn’t send footage of my time in this one, but basically it’s a Davy Jones-themed cursed pirate ship adventure. You can see some clips directly above right here in the official trailer. Instead of rifles we used flintlock-style pistols and had to fend off waves of an undead pirate crew. The variety in this first scene was already much better as some enemies threw weapons at us, some had swords, and they all moved at various speeds.

Once clearing them out we went down below the deck to a brand new environment where we had to fight off new enemies then solve a puzzle. Each of us had to stand on two buttons at opposite ends of the space and then toss a VR-tracked foam stick (a torch in the game) to light fires. Actually tossing a physical object to my partner, in real-time, inside VR, was really surreal.

The pirate game also had two boss fights. First up was a giant, blind ghost that stumbled around the play space aimlessly trying to catch us. We had to flee by physically running around the room and not bumping into him or each other. That’s easily the fastest I’ve ever moved while in VR and I never once worried about slamming into the wall or tripping over something.

Finally, the grand finale of the game was a boss fight against a giant squid-like monster. We had to dodge laser beams while fighting waves of undead monsters and then using the torch to light the canon and fire off shots to take him down. It was an incredibly fast-paced and dynamic fight that really took advantage of the space, forcing us to constantly move and communicate.

Sandbox VR has a variety of locations you can see on the official website as well as details about opening your own location. A third, sci-fi themed experience is reportedly on the way soon. Let us know what you think from what you’ve seen here down in the comments below!

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