Zombie shooting at its virtual best — Deadwood Mansion at the IMAX VR Centre

Virtual Reality has become a pretty regular part of my life. I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to a VR rig for the past few years, and while I don’t find myself inside a VR headset daily, a week rarely goes by without my exploring some kind of virtual world. With so much exposure, VR has already become a little bit commonplace for me; it’s always a lot of fun, but much of the novelty has worn off. Just when I began to worry that VR experiences as a whole would start to underwhelm me, I stepped into the Deadwood Mansion Experience at the IMAX VR Centre in Hollywood, and I was blown away all over again.

My small team of four would-be zombie killers assembled in a lounge area outside of a closed room, where we were prepped for the experience, though our tutorial peppered with the screams, shouts, and whoops of those currently playing. The IMAX staff breifed our team, only two of which had actually played VR before, as they strapped specialty motion-capture markers to our wrists and ankles. Properly equipped for VR, the doors to the Deadwood Mansion experience opened, and we stepped into a blindingly green room, where we each got to pick a weapon of choice: dual pistols, an automatic rifle, or a semi-automatic rifle.

Armed to the teeth, we donned portable VR backpacks and slipped on our Oculus visors, then were promptly teleported into something that can be best described as The Matrix. Free from wires, thanks to our VR backpacks, all four of us moved freely about in both the virtual and physical space, our bodies and even our height displayed accurately and in real time within the VR visors. Within virtual reality, each of us wore a futuristic looking black body armor suit which glowed with an identifying color. We dove right into target practice, getting a feel for our weapons, and were taught how to revive a slain ally, which was done by physically placing your hand on their shoulder. With our training over, it was time to move on to the main mission. As team leader, I initiated things by placing my hand on a virtual podium, something made all the more eerily real because of the actual, physical podium which my hand came into contact with.

Before we knew it, we were trapped within the entryway of a mansion, trying to hold off droves of grotesque zombies which approached from all sides  in relentless waves. Some shuffled in from side entrances, some clung to pillars near the ceiling, others dropped in from a second floor balcony, falling as they fell. My rookie squad quickly learned the ropes, covering possible entrance points, calling for help when waves approach, shrieking like banshees when one of the hideous things got too close, and reviving fallen allies while still unloading rounds of ammunition one-handed.

The screaming began anew when waves of red-eyed rats swarmed in on us, half the team unloading their guns at them while others crushed the vermin beneath their heels. One person let out a particularly unhappy sound when a rat he didn’t crush quickly enough started to climb his leg. It was an incredibly immersive experience; having the freedom to move about without the fear of getting tangled in a wire, and being able to weave between teammates who you could see made the entire thing feel so much more real, simply because it felt so natural and normal to move that way.

I braced myself for a tough fight when the front doors of the Mansion blew open bringing in waves of zombies, as well as gusts of virtual wind. I felt my jaw drop as an actual burst of cold air rushed past my face. Several large fans mounted at the front of the room kicked on at the exact moment the doors opened in the game, creating a shockingly surreal and powerful moment which is often lacking in games as a whole; one where your sense of touch, not just sight and sound, draw you into the world of the game.

Deadwood Mansion is an incredibly unique VR experience, requiring you to physically work as a team in real time and within the same space. You’re challenged to dodge laser-beam traps, identify threats, shoot seemingly endless number of zombies, exterminate waves of killer rodents, and coordinate to survive a surprisingly tricky boss battle. As jaded as I occasionally find myself with VR experiences, I left the IMAX VR Centre filled with a giddy kind of adrenaline; hours later I was still turning the experience over again and again in my mind, unable to sit still or even stop smiling.

Deadwood Mansion provides a tantalizing glimpse into what VR could be; far from an isolating form of entertainment, it can potentially as a way to build camaraderie and teamwork, an immersive, high-pressure way to learn how to navigate a situation or work with a new person. It’s an incredibly fun and scary experience, as entertaining as it is challenging, and one I highly recommend.

The Deadwood Mansion Experience is exclusive to IMAX VR, you can learn more about the experience and find the VR Centre nearest you at the IMAX VR website.

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