When travelling to Los Angeles for E3 recently, I also got the chance to check out Two Bit Circus, a modern-day twist on a gaming arcade, that features a variety of VR experiences. Most of the VR experiences on offer put a big emphasis on immersion. One of the experiences on offer is “The Maze,” a Vive-powered VR walkthrough experience.
The experience takes place in an actual physical maze with walls and a set path you have to follow. The in-game corridors match the physical walls and maze layout, which means you’re able to lean and touch the walls while playing the game and act as if you’re really walking through the space – because you essentially are. The headset really only acts as a way to skin the physical space similar to Nomadic and The Void, which is quite cool.
The maze has two variations of essentially the same game – one is focused around a mythological theme where you fight reanimated skeletons and a big Minotaur at the end of the battle. The other is based on Ubisoft’s Rabbids IP, and sees you walk through a space station invaded by the crazy rabbids. The same development company also created an Assassin’s Creed-themed maze as well we tried last year. I really, strongly recommend that anyone who is not a young child choose the Minotaur Maze. While there’s nothing wrong with the Rabbids maze (they both follow an almost identical structure, just with a reskin), the Minotaur one is just a lot cooler. It feels more spooky and less gimmicky, and some of the haptic effects work much better with that theme. It could be frightening for young children though, so in that case the Rabbids maze might be a better fit.
The experience uses HTC Vives with just one controller, but despite its age the tech never felt particularly limiting. The only time I found myself frustrated was during points at which I had to shoot enemies far off in the distance. Any enemy that wasn’t in close proximity appeared incredibly blurry. This was more pronounced in the Minotaur game, as it has a large ravine in one section with skeletons standing on the other side. Sadly, although I knew they were skeletons, they more resembled blurry stick figures. With a resolution bump, the experience would improve drastically. The controller tracking was also quite good considering the whole experience only uses two sensors mounted to the ceiling. I did lose tracking of my weapon once or twice, but it wasn’t a huge deal.
The gameplay is basic and the whole experience only takes 5-10 minutes. Regardless of which skin you use, you’ll basically just walk through the maze while being confronted by enemies, which you can shoot with your weapon – a crossbow for the Minotaur maze, and a laser blaster for the Rabbids maze.
By far the coolest part of the experience in the Minotaur version sees you walk across a dilapidated balcony with only a few wood planks intact. There are huge gaps revealing a cavern below and although it might be a gimmick that others have experienced before, I had personally never thought an effect like this could be quite so convincing. I knew I was walking on solid ground and the giant gaps in the balcony weren’t physically there, but it really felt quite frightening! The effect is helped by a fan that blows on you as you cross the balcony, making it feel more realistic, along with wind sounds in your headphones. The Rabbids theme had something similar, but not nearly as scary.
This isn’t the only haptic feedback you get during the experience either. At one point, you enter a lift that pretends to take you down a level, in either game. As the lift lowers itself visually, the floor beneath you rumbles to make the effect more realistic. While not perfect, it’s much more convincing than other “elevators” I’ve traveled in during other VR experiences and it’s actually quite well thought out.
At the end, you take part in a simplistic boss battle with either a giant Minotaur or a Mech-Rabbid. Without spoiling too much, the way in which you interact with these bosses is quite inventive. The boss can never really reach you but gets closer and closer as you shoot it. You always feel threatened, even though you know it’s unlikely that the boss will catch you (although it does get quite close!).
Overall, the mazes aren’t hard to work through by any means, but they are a lot of fun. The experience only lasts 5 minutes, or maybe 10 if you take it really slow. The pace is dictated by how fast you walk through the maze, which you could speed run through if you wanted to. While it’s short, it actually remains one of the fonder VR experiences I’ve had in the recent past.
For me, I find VR experiences that intersect with physical space and location really interesting. When I’m playing VR, immersion is everything for me. The more immersed I am, the more I enjoy the experience. To be able to walk through a physical space and feel the walls, the wind and feel like I’m in an elevator made the experience notably better. Had I completed the maze in an open-plan room with no walls or physical alterations, it just wouldn’t have been the same.
This is something that Two Bit Circus are implementing really well across the board with their VR options at the arcade. It’s going that extra mile that puts them above some other experiences I’ve tried, and I really appreciate it. The maze experience is located just across from another VR experience, The Raft, which you can read about later this week. The Raft has a similar level of immersion, with a room themed to the same aesthetic of the game’s setting.
If you’re in Los Angeles and looking for some great immersive VR experiences, check out Two Bit Circus. Both The Raft and The Maze are great options, and when you’re done there’s still so much more to explore.