Virtual Reality is awesome, the 80’s and 90s promised that this amazing tech that would revolutionise gaming and in the past few years it's really begun to deliver on that promise with the rapid evolution of VR technology.
One of the biggest problems with it is that VR is an inherently a solitary experience. Once that headset comes down you are pretty much isolated from your environment and any other people.
However it doesn’t have to be that way. Navrtar in collaboration with Vicon are using state of the art location based VR technology to get you off the couch and bring you and your friends together into the gaming world.
Navrtar is a free roaming VR arcade and bar where you and up to four friends get to work together to survive a zombie infestation, fight an alien invasion or stop and bank heist.
Also after you’ve played you can sit back at the bar, discuss your scores and make the loser buy the first round of drinks.
Ealing Broadway in west London is currently the one and only UK location. On first glance, Navrtar looks like a normal bar with black walls and neon blue lighting giving it a slightly sci-fi vibe. But theres a lot more to this venue as it’s also the closest thing to Star Trek's holodeck I have ever experinced.
VR Arcade are a Dutch company who develop the games and have several locations in the Netherlands. They have brought their expertise over to the UK to create the first free roaming VR and Bar experience.
A session at Navrtar lasts sixty minutes and this includes thirty minutes of smaller VR mini-games to get you used to the basic’s of looking and moving around in a simulated environment.
The first is a simple underwater experience called The Blu in which you look around and enjoy the aquatic environment. This is followed by Longbow VR from Valve’s The Lab. For this you use you hands to aim and fire a virtual bow at small attackers in a fun tower defence game.
The last mini-game is called Richie’s Plank Experience, this involves you stepping out of a lift onto a plank that’s 80 stories high. A real plank is beneath your feet and this aids the feeling on immersion and really messes with your senses. This game is not for those afraid of heights, and while it sounds simple I’ve seen this game reduce adults to a gibbering mess.
Vicon is a thirty five year old British company who’s motion capture technology and location based virtual reality software makes Navrtar possible. Vicon's Origin virtual reality tracking system system is state of the art and incredibly accurate at tracking our movements as well as where you direct your gunfire.
When I first walked in to a tucked away separate area, approximately 4500 sq.ft I was surprised by how large it was and I could see camera’s on the ceiling for tracking our movements.
Displayed on the back wall next to screen displaying our names was a backpack, headset and life-sized sci-fi looking rifle. Our guide - called a Navrtar - then helped us attach the gear and talked us through the simple set up. None of the kit was too bulky or heavy and still allowed for a wide motion of movement.
Meanwhile screens at the bar was showing our scores, locations and what we were seeing in-game.
Three main events
In addition to the warm up single mini-games there are three unique co-op scenarios to choose from and they vary in complexity but all are well worth a try.
Apocalypse is a team based zombie shooter. You and your squad hold your own against waves of the undead trying to tear you apart. Headshots make all the difference as well as being aware of your ammo count as reloading takes time and leaves you defenceless. It means your team need to cover you, and you also need to pay close attention to your environment as death can come from any direction
This game is more tactical as you and your friends need to protect a drone while repelling a hostile alien invasion. Aliens fire blasters at you and sneakily hide to snipe off your team one by one. You’ll need to move more and utilise cover and teamwork to overcome this menace.
Lastly the heist an escape room scenario that requires problem-solving skills. You play the role of police officers at a bank robbery. it is definitely harder than the other two, like an escape room in VR.
The games are very fun an addictive, it's also surprising after a short while you adapt to the simulated environment and you stop standing still. You find yourself ducking, weaving and moving to safer positions while co-ordinating with your team to maximise your effectivness. The sessions cost £40 per person but while I was there I saw several promotions and offers to tempt you back in, so it’s always worth looking on the website. Drinks were reasonably priced for London with spirits for £3.50 and beer for £4.40, I was chaining energy drinks in the vain hope it would give me faster reactions. It didnt.
The games are suitable for ages 13 and up but any children must be accompanied by an adult.
There was only a few minor issues I noticed and none were enough to decrease my enjoyment. It is important to note that carrying all the gear, while moving around a lot can eventually get tiring if you play several sessions in a row.
I did notice some minor graphical issues with the apocalypse game, zombies and guns clipping through walls and floors or some models not falling to the floor which is understandable consider how many undead horrors were on screen at one time.
Also some zombies wouldn't fall to the ground once killed and just stood upright, which meant I continued to shoot at them long after they are dead, and thats what I'm blaming my low score on.
It can be hard to hear your teammates with the headset’s speakers covering your ears and so much going on, several times it became harder to use any tactics or discern exactly what was being said.
I wish there was more different games to try like some sort of death match as well as some no combative games. However I'm sure given time more games will be added.
The games were really fun and with the incredibly accurate technology it was made a seamless experience. With the assistance of our Navrtar guide and the introduction session it meant it’s very easy for newcomers to pick up.
With engaging games Navrtar is something worth getting together with friends and trying out even if they are not gamers, I look forward to my return visits and can't wait to see what they add in future.
Whether you're a VR veteran or an utter novice, Navrtar is really fun day out with friends and a great adventure.