Virtual Reality Rooms: Cosmos

We were invited to a surprise birthday celebration, held at Virtual Reality Rooms in Sydney. We are both familiar with virtual reality (VR) having a Oculus Rift as well as a Samsung Gear VR in our home (and exposure to other VR setups) so we were keen to see what this experience could be like in an escape room setting and how this might compare to a real world experience. Note that we are also familiar with VR puzzle games having own and played a number of these games so our experience of this game is likely to be different to our teammates who were new to VR and escape rooms .

This was my 33rd escape room and  my 14th Sydney escape room. This is my first virtual reality escape room. Virtual Reality Rooms has been opened since October 2017 and features two games at the time of this review. This review covers one of the games, Cosmos.

The trickiness with the use of VR is how it deals with the potential nausea effects, how you deal with the learning curve required in an immersive environment (the VR user interface shouldn’t be in itself the puzzle) and how you take full advantage of the technology to give it a unique spin over a traditional escape room. Read on about how Virtual Reality Rooms tackle these challenges.

Theme

From their website:

A black hole is devouring and entering our galaxy through a dark portal. You and your super team will teleport into Eden space station using the latest technology. The team will be equipped with special space suits that provide 60 minutes of oxygen and many abilities. You and your team need to work out how to use your suits and solve the challenges that cross your paths. Fly in zero gravity, destroy enemies with a laser and move illusory objects using telekinesis to close the dark portal and save Earth.

Communication among the members of your team is essential to accomplish your mission.

Beware the black hole is getting closer! Work together for the salvation of all humanity. We are counting on you and hope you can return back to earth…alive!

The theming relates to what we saw in-game as the physical location was setup to cater for a number of configurations. The theme in-game reflected the space theme – we had a space station, robots and space!

Game breakdown

The game starts with a video briefing in the reception area, covering what to expect during the gaming session, the background story and how to interact with the game. As we soon discovered once the game started, it’s really important that you pay close attention to the briefing video – particularly about the VR user interface controls. You will  waste valuable time trying to figure out the interface if you’re not paying attention. Not everyone in our group understood the briefing video, which affected our gameplay. You’ll also need a fairly good grasp of English as the briefing video and the instructions during the game is provided verbally in English.

Once the briefing was completed, our group was split into two and taken into two dark rooms. You can bring your personal belongings in with you (we brought in our pram). Each room can hold 6 players, with players seated throughout the entire game. Each person has a headset and over ear earphones, so we can hear each other and the Mission Control (the game master) if needed.

Ruth and Veronica playing Cosmos

I’m on the left. We’re seated in comfy seats with headsets and over ear earphones. Photo credit: Virtual Reality Rooms

The game is geared towards the simple end of the puzzle spectrum, with puzzles ranging from observation, geometry, and matching. Puzzles are heavily reliant on teamwork and communication. Each puzzle stage needs to be completed before the team can move onto the next part of the game.

The second stage onwards showed off the advantage of VR – including being able to fly and do a range of things that is not possible in a traditional escape room. This was fun and I particularly enjoyed the flying aspect of the game.

Mission Control is available for help anytime, by pressing a button located near your left knee. Help is provided verbally over the headset. Mission Control also checks in if you end up taking longer-than-average time to complete a section.

The tech and how well it worked

In terms of the tech, Virtual Reality Rooms uses a HTC Vive headset, with a Leap Motion used to detect hand motions. The headsets were comfortable, and those in our group who had glasses had no problems using the headset. Michael (our game master) worked with each person to ensure that the headset was comfortable before the game started.

The Leap Motion was fairly good at picking up the hand motions, as long as you held it at the correct distance (there’s a calibration activity that you do right at the start do work out the right distance to hold your hands). Unfortunately not all players understood about holding up your hands at the right distance, and we all spent a lot of time trying to help out our team mate.

Verbal communication was interesting as I could hear everyone through the headset and also in the room, as the headset didn’t block out all the noise. To be fair, my baby was crying a lot throughout the game (which I think added to the atmosphere!).

There was a bit of a steep learning curve on how to use the VR gestures to interact with the game. I found it a little bit finicky bringing up the menu and doing certain functions, but I’m not sure how much of that was due to calibration issues as I had to remove my headset a number of times to tend to the baby.

The steep learning curve was harder for the less experienced players in our group, as they had to learn the VR controls and also the game. There were a number of times we’ll complete our part of the puzzle quickly, but spent the rest of the time trying to help other members of the team to get through the puzzles by helping with understand how to interact with the VR controls, so we could proceed to the next stage.

Overall, I think the user interface could do with some slight tweaks, including renaming the menu, which in the gaming world, implies that it takes you out of the game play into the settings. This is not the case in this game as it’s required as part of the game play. Maybe the game designers can take note from other games where an in-game system is usually given another name to show the relative importance.

Motion sickness was not an issue for our team, but our friends in the second room experienced issues and had to pull out from the game for a short while. Ginger lollies are provided if needed. This could also be addressed in-game by providing a static frame of reference (maybe outline of the helmet that we would be wearing on the space station).

Out of room experience

A reminder email for the game was sent, which included instructions for getting to the venue and suggestions for taking motion sickness tablets if needed.

When we came (Sunday afternoon), there was no accessible entrance that I could see. During weekdays, you should be able to access the lift through the attached cafe, which has a ramp.

We took the lift up to the first floor where we were greeted by Michael, the owner. Michael was really friendly and welcoming. The reception area was roomy and modern, with lots of room to sit down as well as a gaming area where Beat Saber was running at the time we were there. There are toilets available.

Before you start the game, you need to sign a waiver, which is done digitally through their website.

Michael was accommodating and we took in our 13 month old into the room with us, as our baby sitting option had fallen through.

Alastair and Sagan on his lap during the game
Alastair and our 13 month old sitting on his lap during the game (our 13 month old was pulling faces at Michael). Photo credit: Virtual Reality Rooms

As we were attending as part of a birthday party, the venue had a party table set up with chips, lollies and soft drinks. Cake is normally provided if you meet the requirements, but our friend brought along an awesome dairy free birthday cake that Michael kindly put out on the table for us.

If you’re looking for food, particularly on the weekend when a lot of cafes around the venue is closed, check out the Regent Place Shopping Centre, which is on the same block as the venue. It features a range of Asian food (mostly Japanese) along with a nice bar, Daiso and other shops. Unfortunately we didn’t discover this until after the game, and had to resort to eating fast food from around the corner (not recommended if you’re playing virtual reality games and may be prone to motion sickness).

There’s parking opposite in the Event Cinema car park, or you can do what we did (park in a nearby Wilson parking, and get a discount for pre booking the parking spot online). Town Hall station is the closest train station.

Summary

So should you play this game? If you’re looking to try a virtual reality experience, then this is a fun experience. If you’re looking for something different in regards to an escape room, then this is also fun to try. If you’re looking for an overall total wow factor when it comes to an escape room in terms of clever integration of tech and complex puzzles, this is probably not the right experience for you.

Edited 22 Sep 2018: I’ve been reflecting on this game since playing a few more escape rooms. I just wanted to edit this (and the rating) to say that this is really more of a VR puzzle game than an escape room.  It is pricey for what it is but as a birthday party event, it’s fun to be able to play with groups of friends.

  • Overall: 2.3/5
  • Fun: 3/5
  • Atmosphere: 2/5
  • Difficulty: 2/5 (this game is suitable for people new to escape rooms and puzzle games)
  • Creativity of puzzles: 2/5
  • Game duration: 60 minutes
  • Cost: From $49-$65.55/person (depends upon day of the week and whether it’s booked online or walk-in/phone)
  • Team size: 2-6 people (although a team of about 4 would be the ideal size)
  • Escaped ? Not quite – we were literally a second away
  • Played: 15 July 2018

About Virtual Reality Rooms

According to Michael who I was chatting with, Virtual Reality Rooms is a husband and wife team who are also associated with the Australian Escape Hunt franchise. They’ve been opened since October 2017 and feature two different VR games.

Front entrance to Virtual Reality Rooms
Street entrance of Virtual  Reality Rooms

Where: Level 1, 484 Kent Street Sydney NSW 2000

Website: Virtual Reality Rooms

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