We’ve blasted our way through the new Star Wars Secrets of the Empire VR experience at the Westfield shopping centre in London, and come away thoroughly impressed. Whether you’re a Star Wars fan or simply want to dive into a thrilling, immersive experience, this collaboration between Lucasfilm, ILMxLAB and The VOID is well worth a trip.
We’re big fans of virtual reality here at Recombu, especially now that you can enjoy some quality VR experiences on your humble mobile phone.
Check out our guide on getting started with VR on your smartphone for all you need to know.
Just last month we reviewed the innovative Star Wars Jedi Challenges game, which has you donning Lenovo’s Mirage headset and battling against foes such as Darth Maul and Darth Vader. However, an even more immersive Star Wars VR experience, subtitled ‘Secrets of the Empire’, has temporarily opened its doors at the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush.
Secrets of the Empire has you sneaking into an Imperial base in search of a mystery crate, along with up to three of your buddies. You’re accompanied by the rather brilliant K-2SO from Rogue One, who helps you along the way. Of course, it’s no spoiler to say that things don’t really go as planned, and you’ll end up having to blast your way to freedom once you’ve discovered the contents of that box.
We’re not exaggerating when we say that this is the most gripping and immersive virtual reality experience we’ve encountered to date. Things start off simple, as your team is invited into a briefing room to watch a brief clip highlighting your mission (delivered by another familiar face from Rogue One). Once this is over, it’s time to get suited up in your high-tech VR gear. This consists of a body suit which is strapped to your torso, as well as a helmet and visor of course. The rig is easy to put on and comfortable to wear, adjusting to suit all manner of body shapes.
Best of all, there are no tethers. The computer tech which runs the simulation is all packed inside that suit, so you’re free to squat, jump and move about however you see fit.
With that done, you’re led into the area where the Secrets of the Empire experience properly begins. Slap the visor down and you’ll find yourself clad in the stolen armor of a Stormtrooper, part of the plan to smuggle yourselves into the base. Your buddies also appear in disguise, although helpful coloured markers set everyone apart.
The tracking of your companions is very impressive indeed, made possible thanks to external sensors on each individual rig. This also allows accurate tracking of your hands, which is essential for interacting with the environment.
While the plot of Secrets of the Empire may be simple, the VR method of storytelling ensures that you’re engrossed from the beginning. You’re completely free to move around your environment, seeing a virtual recreation of the base and NPCs as you go. Attention to detail is stunning, although occasionally you can wave your hand right through a wall or some bit of decoration, which takes you out of the moment somewhat.
While we’re avoiding spoilers for all of the cool/shocking moments in the simulation, we will say that at one point you get to grab a blaster and go to town on floods of enemies. As in the movies, that blaster fire can be a little erratic, but it’s incredibly satisfying to take down swarms of foes with your mates. You can crouch and duck behind cover to avoid any incoming shots, while your rig buzzes with every hit that you take.
At one point there’s even a basic puzzle of sorts, which one of your team must take on while the others hold off a wave of enemies. All while K-2SO berates you for being hopeless (well, if you’re anything like our unit, anyway).
There are several breathtaking moments in the simulation, which we won’t reveal here as it would definitely steal their thunder; we recommend going in as cold as possible, which means avoiding the short trailer if possible too. However, even some of the more quiet scenes are just as impressive. The simple ride up to the base on a floating platform is one such example. You’ll actually feel the heat of the lava flow on your face as you ascend, while a quick look over the edge definitely isn’t recommended for anyone with vertigo.
One of our only complaints is that Secrets of the Empire is rather short; the VR portion lasts roughly 20 minutes in total. We’d have happily continued for double or even triple that running time, because we were having such a blast. Also, we were hoping to receive some sort of stats breakdown at the end, revealing which of our party was the ultimate sharpshooter and who got blasted the most. Admittedly I had a bit of an advantage in this area as we were a party of three, so I snatched up the fourth blaster to dual wield. And goddamn if I didn’t feel like a total badass.
You can book a slot from December 16 and the simulation will be running for 12 weeks at the Westfield location. Tickets cost £32.50 per person. Note that Secrets of the Empire is also running now at Disney Springs in Florida US and the Downtown Disney District in Anaheim US.