Earlier this week EF were invited to attend the European launch of IMAX VR at the ODEON cinema at intu Trafford Centre in Manchester. Although first in Europe, the Manchester IMAX VR Experience Centre is actually the fifth one to launch worldwide. It follows the recent launches of centres in Los Angeles, New York City, Toronto and Shanghai. Up to five more are set to launch elsewhere in the world in the coming months.
The new IMAX VR Experience Centre can be found on the right-side of the ODEON cinema lobby. There you find a reception desk, a Players’ Lounge with a huge flatscreen TV and 10 shiny new Virtual Reality pods. These pods are small walled areas designed for single or multi-user experiences. Each pod is already configured and tuned for each experience. They provide all the Virtual Reality kit and technology you need. There are also multiple flatscreens to allow spectators to watch your experience.
Watch the IMAX VR: Odeon at intu Trafford Centre video below:
The staff at the IMAX VR Experience Centre were very friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. It was clear they are trained to help visitors get the most out of each visit no matter their level of experience. After a quick briefing in the Players’ Lounge it was over to the pods to get stuck in.
Each pod has a storage area to place your personal items during your experience. This is essential to keep the VR areas clear from obstacles. Depending on the experience you’ll be stood up or sat in a swivel or motion chair. Each pod has its own staff to help teach you what you need to know before beginning. They also help you into your IMAX VR gear.
View some photos from the IMAX VR launch event at Odeon intu Trafford Centre in our gallery:
During our visit we noticed that the experiences appeared to be powered by Acer Predator PC’s. The VR headsets we used were HTC Vive along with the HTC Vive Controllers. Some experiences also required us to strap on a rumble feedback backpack. Getting into the gear, with a little help, is quick and easy. The devices can all be easily adjusted to different body sizes and were comfortable to wear. It’s also worth noting that the HTC Vive headset fits well over most glasses.
During our preview visit there were 7 different experiences on offer with a mix of solo and multiplayer. Some brief info on each along with our thoughts are below.
This game by Skydance Interactive is a story-driven shooter built for VR. This was a single player experience where we were presented with a short tutorial before picking a mission and difficulty level. In Archangel you take control of a six-story-high mech that’s armed to the teeth. You’re tasked with preventing an evil corporation taking control of a post-apocalyptic America. You do this by controlling your mech to destroy the invading forces and repel their attacks.
We played this game seated and the brief tutorial was enough to teach us everything we needed to know. The missions we played were ‘on-rails’ so the game chooses your path. At set points all manner of flying drones, tanks and troops appear to attack. Using the Vive Controllers we were able to fire bullets as well as paint targets and unleash rockets. We could also summon limited energy shields on demand to protect ourselves.
The game was easy to learn and fun to play. We had no issues and were able to complete the missions we tackled. Fans of shooters will love the game but it’s easy enough for new players to pick up too.
Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight is set in Paris, some 50 years after humans have vanished from Earth. Nature has reclaimed the city which is now teeming with plants and wildlife. This was a competitive multiplayer experience and we played 1v1 while seated.
Each player assumes control of an eagle which was controlled using our head movement and an Xbox controller. You can tilt your head forward and backwards to dive and climb. Tilting to the sides allows your eagle to turn and you can use the controller triggers to speed up and slow down. Finally the X button attacked with a sonic wave while the B button summoned a temporal shield for defence. We played a Capture the Flag style mode where we had to compete to collect a rabbit and take it back to a nest.
This game looked stunning and the feeling of freedom it gives you while flying around the city was amazing. We found it quick to learn and were soon diving below the canopy and zipping between the trees. Some players new to VR might find this one a little disorienting at first but it was definitely one of our favourites.
Justice League: An IMAX VR Exclusive
IMAX are working hard to create new experiences for players and will also be creating content related to some of the bigger movies. With the Justice League movie having just been released it was no surprise to find an experience based on the film.
The aim of this experience is to let you step into the shoes of your favourite characters to be them for a short time. We tried seated experiences for Batman, Superman and Aquaman. Other choices were The Flash, Wonder Woman and Cyborg.
Overall this was actually our least favourite of all the experiences on offer. The game felt quite basic and almost a missed opportunity. The best character was Batman where we got to drive the Batmobile while destroying enemies vehicles. In Superman we were flying through the air while shooting flying creatures with our eye lasers and pushing our arms forward to boost. Finally Aquaman had us doing battle with a creature from the deep using the Trident of Neptune.
Life Of Us Multiplayer
This was easily the most bizarre experience on offer. Each of us were stood in our own VR pod but were put into the same game. During play we could talk via the headset to communicate.
This one is definitely more of an experience than a game. It takes players through a billion years of evolution. Along the way you morph into many creatures with various abilities. This culminates in a weird intergalactic dance party.
During the experience you can see each other as creatures. One section we were both apes and could talk and wave at each other. As the apes ran along baby monkeys would come and climb on us that we could grab and throw off. It was all very strange but also utterly hilarious fun.
We played Raw Data solo but it’s possible to also play in multiplayer. Here you get your own VR pod and wear the full VR kit. It’s possible to move around the pod and the Vive shows you a wireframe grid during play if you get close to the real walls to prevent a collision.
The game put us in a room where we had to survive against waves of androids. The Vive controllers become pistols and it was possible to aim and shoot while dodging the enemy fire. The longer you last the harder it gets.
Raw Data was the standout experience that really put you into a game where you felt fully in control. Being able to actually move around while playing is an incredible experience. The game is a lot of fun and also challenging. Definitely one for more advanced players.
Space Flight: Orbital Emergency
If you’ve ever fancied going to space and prefer a more passive experience then this one is for you. We played solo while sat in motion chairs.
The game puts you in a futuristic space plane and takes you from runway into space. It really gives you a feeling of what it might be like and might turn your stomach a little when things rotate.
The whole thing was rather impressive and it was one of our favourites. Definitely recommended for those with less VR experience.
Star Trek: Bridge Crew “Rescue at Perseph”
We’d previously played the game solo on the PS4 with PSVR. Here we got to try the single rescue mission on the HTC Vive in a multiplayer session.
Each player is given a role from Captain, Helm, Tactical and Engineering. These roles all have set jobs to perform and working together is essential in order to succeed. The mission was to rescue people from lifepods near an unstable star. To make things more tricky there are hostile Klingons to also deal with.
It’s a game that works really well but requires a lot of practice. In a short session you get a taste of what it’s about but not really long enough to get good at it. A longer session with more training would really benefit this experience.
Overall we were incredibly impressed by the whole IMAX VR Experience Center. You can tell a lot of thought has gone into it and the staff make things go smoothly. IMAX VR is a perfect way to get a tiny taste of Virtual Reality without needing to buy the full setup for home. However, once you’ve tried it we can almost guarantee you’ll be back for more or hankering for your own kit.
When the IMAX VR Experience Centre opens to the public later this week you will be able to choose a timeslot and book the experience you want via the IMAX VR website. Alternatively you can book in person when visiting the Centre.
Just like the cinema, the VR experiences will change on a regular basis. Experiences are expected to last approximately 8-15 minutes and cost between £7.50-£10.
The IMAX VR Experience Centre at the ODEON cinema at intu Trafford Centre in Manchester launches on Friday 25th November, 2017.