In olden days, back when we didn't have a good enough PC or internet connection, we'd go to internet cafés and compete against our friends or strangers using the facilities on offer. Virtual reality has brought back that same concept in the last few years; lots of new spaces have been set up for people who want to enjoy the VR experience but lack the equipment (and space) at home. Madrid offers a great amount of variety when it comes to these experiences, and we've been to try out Zero Latency's new game aimed at competitive multiplayer fans, Sol Raiders.
The company's hallmark is that they won't give you a VR headset and a few games to rent in a small space like HTC Vive; instead, they offer original multiplayer experiences during which you can freely roam a real arena. In Madrid (and in Nottingham in the UK), when you put on the equipment and headset, a 200-square-metre warehouse transforms into a futuristic world bordered by walls your character won't be able to pass through, no matter how far you walk.
The hardware is pretty simple. You have a bag with processing equipment that's not too heavy and that you'll quickly forget about; a plastic weapon with positional tracking sensors, which is heavy enough to feel real and allows you to charge it and see stats; finally, a comfortable, customised VR Razer OSVR HDK2 helmet (it's good quality, but it could be better), which complements the headset necessary to communicate with your teammates. Wearing the equipment isn't uncomfortable nor it too heavy, and you can easily move around, which is the most important thing in this kind of experience.
Zero Latency has been up and running in Madrid as well as in other cities around the world for some time now, and the range of experiences on offer includes survival games with zombies, space travel, and fantasy puzzles. We decided to visit so we could discover the new android shooter that was released last month, Sol Raiders. For the first time, players don't work together, rather they compete in teams, which really makes it different from other games in the same space, with the teams designated orange and blue, with up to four players on each side.
We played on a map called Turbine Station 2 vs 2. Here the final goal isn't to kill your rivals but to move a floating sphere to the enemy base. Of course, you can use your weapon to take out your opponents too; you'll have unlimited rifle shots and, in shotgun mode, the shots will reload as you fire. The software developers thought that involving the whole team in one task would make it more tactical, and it works. It's better if the team members communicate and come up with a plan, as one of them can move the sphere while the others protect them. It didn't work out too well for our team because of a lack of communication on our part as well as poor aiming (shots to the head are more effective than they are on other body parts).
We quickly learned that you have to keep moving and stay alert (however, it's forbidden to drop to the floor), properly use cover, and avoid going crazy and losing control. All of the stages are small in terms of their size, although the space is big enough that players don't bump into one another. You can get out, walk around the corridors, go for the goal and, as soon as you get hit, you go back to the starting point found in the respawn zone.
Our favourite map was Dark Wreck, as there are mini corridors with lots of doors you need to open with a single shot. The goal here is to catch a series of markers that keep changing position. Keep in mind, though, to defend yourself, you must see your enemy before they see you and environmental awareness is a must. The third map is the best developed; it's called Mining Canyon and you have to take an elevator to get to the battle zone, where the aforementioned sphere awaits. The arena seems quite small, although, as we found out later, there is a hidden floor you can visit if you want to play sniper.
Sol Raiders is set in a futuristic world where all characters are robots. The graphics are very appropriate for VR, and we approve of not using human avatars for this kind of combat. The device's performance is fast; it lags slightly but it's easy to compensate, so it's a good shooter to pass the time. All in all, the presentation is decent, though it could do with better image resolution.
It's worth mentioning that we had a good experience in terms of safety and motion sickness. The quality of the VR headset and fluidity of the image is solid enough to prevent sickness, which is also easier to avoid when there is real and virtual movement. In addition, players aren't likely to bump into each other or into the walls surrounding the playspace - red signs will pop up on their screen pointing to any physical risk if someone approaches from behind (or from any other angle for that matter).
Nevertheless, we were disappointed with the duration of each game, as each mission lasts about ten minutes. You end up wanting more and, for the price being charged, normal folks won't be able to afford to go every day. That being the case, perhaps Zero Latency should consider making the experience a bit longer to keep users happy.
Sol Raiders works well once you get the hang of things. It's dynamic because of the compact levels, efficient and quality design, great hardware performance, and, of course, it's fun playing with your friends and trying to get good scores. Virtual reality comes in many forms, and the full movement experience - which is the best for shooters - is quickly gathering momentum.