The best VR is near you, if you’re lucky
Virtual reality is undoubtedly becoming a great source of entertainment at home, with growing competition between giant tech companies vying for the best and most realistic VR experiences since Palmer Luckey’s Oculus Rift. Partly due to this competition, VR is also becoming cheaper for home use. For example, the latest Oculus Quest 2 headset is now only $389 for the full 256GB model (available as an Evolvera-affiliate link here), while the first Oculus Rift was hovering at $600 many months after its release in 2016.
This makes it relatively accessible.
But people are also increasingly searching for “VR near me” (and you probably did, too) in order to find a VR arcade, club or experience in your area for a great social experience out with your friends or family. You’ve probably already seen the compilations of “VR fails” on the internet or the footage of slow-moving people in VR headsets shouting at each other about how to proceed to the next level. Maybe you’ve even seen clips of the AT360 VR coaster.
People want to experience the fun and unpredictable nature of VR, but they don’t always want to do it alone.
Now, it’s not difficult to find a generic VR arcade that hooks up a VR rig with Steam and allows some degree of a multiplayer experience. To those that aren’t willing to spend money on a VR headset at home, this becomes the first taste of VR for a lot of people.
Unfortunately, this leaves an underwhelming feeling as the arcades may offer suboptimal games and experiences. If you want the best VR, you need to travel a bit. If you’re lucky, at least one of the VR experiences in this list is in your country or region. Let’s begin.
The best VR location-based experience to ever exist was The Void. Period. It was, because as of April 2022, you can’t experience it. Due to liquidity problems and the Covid-19 crisis in 2020, the company faced bankruptcy and closed its worldwide locations (but do read on for the good news).
The Utah-based company, quickly became a major player in virtual reality in the US and then took the franchise globally. It advanced the field using wireless equipment, and combining virtual reality with actual reality to create what has been called hyperreality. Players would enter a physical space with actual rooms that would be projected as something else in the virtual world.
On top of that, the magic of the experience came from other senses with temperature, touch, smell and “tricks” to make you feel like you’re really there. Curtis Hickman, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer (CCO) was and remains a professional illusionist.
The Void was a franchise that capitalized on strong IP: the licensing of Star Wars, Ghostbusters and Jumanji made it possible to feel like you’re in your favourite movie. In the case of Ghostbusters, we won’t spoil whether the slime was part of the fun. Industry experts agree that during its 6-year venture, no other company came close to creating a sense of hyperreality like The Void did.
You may feel like you have missed out with a strong case of FOMO. However, the great news is that The Void has very recently confirmed its return. There’s no set date, but they’re back. Don’t miss it this time around.
Zero Latency is one of the world’s largest virtual reality park operators. Contrary to The Void, Zero Latency seems to have experienced the pandemic with a positive outlook on the future with a number of new locations, which just might be in your country. The company currently has 55 venues in 26 countries.
Over the course of the difficult year 2020, Zero Latency implemented various protocols to make operations as safe as possible during lockdowns and pandemic restrictions. Equipment was and is disinfected after every game, and the system itself uses player-space tracking and alerts when players come within a certain distance of each other.
It is fair to say that all of this has been provided for before, just for different purposes and perhaps in a different way: disinfection is necessary in any case, since equipment can come into contact with dozens of people in a day, and a proximity warning helps people not collide when they are in virtual space.
Lucky? Not really. Their experiences have received favorable reviews and it’s been one heck of a journey from their first steps in Australia.
The core of Zero Latency’s business model is free-roam virtual reality with a proprietary software platform that organizes devices into a network of eight players in an 18.3×9 meter area. Their content titles are diverse with more than half a dozen titles of its own. A notable partnership is with with Ubisoft, which is how they came to provide Far Cry 3 on its platform. According to Zero Latency, more than a million people have tried their experiences.
When searching for VR near me in the future, you’ll be sure to find Zero Latency on that list as their global expansion is likely to continue.
Anvio, hailing from Russia, is the VR franchise giant in the country, but also as a developer of free-roam technology, giving players complete freedom of movement. The reason why the Anvio model has become so successful with 30 of its clubs in 11 countries is that Anvio creates its own virtual reality software and opens these locations on an affordable franchise model. Their turnkey solution and a diverse set of games has made it a force to be reckoned with.
The experience itself relies on “old” technology.
When creating their games, they use motion capture technology, which has previously only been used for creating 3D graphics in movies and cartoons. This allows for more realistic character movements.
The content library can be available on their website as there is quite a lot to choose from. Notable experiences include The Lost Sanctuary (30 mins) and Escape the Lost Pyramid (a full hour VR experience). In terms of space and concept, they have released a “Cube” concept in the space of 5×5 meters.
While most of their locations are currently in Europe, the company has recently opened a location on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles and two exist on the East coast in Washington and Greenville. Expect Anvio VR near you soon.
Virtual reality gaming arena franchise Sandbox VR survived a difficult year in 2020 by closing all venues, filing for bankruptcy and managing to emerge from the proceedings after restructuring its debt.
The company re-emerged with quick return to business as usual and has opened a new arena in Las Vegas, in the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian Resort Hotel. The company currently has 18 venues worldwide with three additional ones opening in London, Emeryville and Cincinnati.
The company hopes to fill the vacated space in COVID-19-affected commercial properties with good traffic potential. Sandbox’s advantage is its relative cost-effectiveness. Its multiplayer virtual locations don’t need as sophisticated equipment as The VOID, for example.
In terms of content, the company has released the new “Ambersky 2088” experience. You can watch the trailer below.
Sandbox VR is already witnessing a 30 percent increase in demand over the pre-pandemic period at its two locations in Chicago, Illinois and Austin since local authorities lifted restrictions last year.
Steve Zhao, founder and CEO of Sandbox VR, has commented about the “incredible luck” in relation to these numbers.
California-based Nomadic was unveiled in March 2017, when its concept was presented at CinemaCon, the largest gathering of movie theater owners. Since then, it’s been on a journey of licensing deals, technological upgrades and content.
The Nomadic VR-space occupies an area of 6 x 9 m with a location option of 12 x 18 m. Several visitors can play at the same time, going through the rooms and labyrinths one by one. Usually it takes one player about 5 minutes to complete all tasks and pass the location. But the developers have not ruled out the possibility that the game may take longer for some people, so the doors of the room where the next player is will be blocked until another participant passes the quest and enters another room. In this way, the developers try to avoid accidents that can occur when two players who can’t see each other collide.
Nomadic VR, just like The VOID, uses mixed reality in its locations. It also uses effects such as wind, heat, vibration, and smells. Here, too, you can touch real objects and even use them to perform a task, for example, lighting your way with a flashlight or opening a real door
For operators, the Nomadic modular system facilitates the installation of their VR-centers and also allows you to quickly make changes to the game locations, if necessary. FEC’s, for example, are always changing and this is a major advantage to have.
If you’re going to search for “VR near me”, these are our top picks for the best VR experiences out there at the moment. Location-based virtual reality is constantly evolving and, thus, you should be aware that this list may change over time. Nobody expected, for example, that The Void would be revived one and a half years after its downfall.
We’re always on the lookout for the next big thing in VR. If you have and tips or suggestions, leave a message in the comments below.
For other stories related to VR and the Metaverse, read our handpicked ones below.