Zero Latency VR - a Fun Concept, Killed by Technical Issues
Sun Feb 24, 2019

Recently, I got to try "Zero Latency" Freeroam VR with some friends. Zero Latency is a company that offers venues where you can play a few VR games (which only exist at their locations) in a Freeroaming setup - as you move around in real life, you move in VR. This sounded amazing, but the actual gameplay experience wasn't up to my already somewhat low expectations, given my experience of past VR systems. They make some very bold claims on their website, like that they run games "where your body is the controller and your mind believes it's real". However, this is far from the case.

When we first entered the place, we were given a briefing on the games, the control system, and the typical safety information. The two games we were playing were "Survival" (a zombie wave shooter) and "Singularity" (a sci-fi shooter set on an abandoned space station). Then we were given our kit. Each player had an Alienware backpack PC, which was fairly comfortable and not too heavy. Then we were given a headset (which is their own custom design, based on the OSVR HDK2). The headsets themselves seemed to have somewhat lower video quality than the HTC Vive (my only other real VR point of reference) but were clear enough for the game to be playable. We were then given some headphones (which were just an off-the-shelf razer headset) and the gun controller, another specific item to Zero Latency. It had a pretty decent weight to it, the trigger was responsive, but the pump-action felt unsubstantial, and had nearly no weight to it at all. There was also two other buttons, one for reloading and one for switching weapons, which were both fairly easy to find and press while wearing the headset.

Then we were taken into the main room. This was a large, empty-ish hall with a pillar in the center. There were numbered circles on the ground, and we were told to each stand on one and put on the headsets. One of the first things I noticed was the "proximity alarm" system. If you got too close to another person, the alarm would trigger. The initial experience was impressive - walking around the lobby in VR by actually walking was an awesome feeling.

Then the games actually started. The first game, Survival, pretty much played like a slightly lame wave shooter. Waves of zombies would come and attack your area and you just had to shoot at them. The game was designed in such a way that the players were always grouped together, so I sometimes couldn't see or hear what was going on due to the proximity alert. Halfway through the game one of my friend's headsets disconnected so the game was paused, and we were all told we could not move or it would break the system. Throughout the whole game there was a lot of obvious technical difficulties. Character models would glitch and animate very weirdly as they tried to track full movement from only a single tracking point on the headset and the gun. The in-game weapons felt somewhat weak and ineffective, and the whole experience was taken away from by the grating proximity alarm sound. Also, there was a pronounced wobbling/jittering effect whenever I moved my head, which was very distracting.

Despite this, it was still fun, although maybe just because sniper headshots are always fun.

The second game, Singularity, was another shooter. This one had more of a free roaming aspect to it, but it was still very strictly linear. The game consisted of levels where you and your teammates walk through corridors in a space station shooting robots and making your way to teleporters to the next level. At least, I think that's what it was, I couldn't tell as an employee was talking over the entire in-game briefing. This game, unlike the previous one, had a HUD, which was rendered way too small to be useful. It also had speech and sound effects I couldn't hear over the chatter of other people in the room. This game suffered from many of the same issues. Player models glitching out, Constant proximity warnings, and technical difficulties. At one point the game froze up while I was in the middle of a swarm of enemies. This game's other main issue was that it was set in corridors, which are small and enclosed spaces. Not great when you have 8 people and they can't be within an arm's length of each other without the game getting mad and popping up warnings. It ended with a boss fight, which was totally stationary - you could not even move much, just stand exactly where you are and shoot.

After both games finished (which was very quickly) we took off all the gear and were just lead out the room, and told we would get email scorecards afterwards.

Overall, it was a fun experience, but despite the technology rather than because of it. I wouldn't recommend it, and it's completely not worth the £30-per-person entry price.

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