Today I’ve tried the BladeRunner 2049 Memory Lab experience for Oculus Rift. This is an experience that has been made thanks to a collaboration between Oculus and Warner, to offer 3 VR experiences dedicated to the new Blade Runner 2049 movie. I ignored the first one, but I decided to try this one and I have come out with quite good impressions.
The plot of the experience is as follows (I’ll try not to spoil that much): you are a Blade Runner replicant that works for the Los Angeles Police Department. You kill another replicant during one of your patrols, so the company that owns you recalls you to analyze your memories to understand what has happened. You’ll soon discover that there is something strange about what you remember, so during the experience, you’ll have to play around with your memories, living them again, but also actively modifying them. Cool, isn’t it?
The whole experience lasts around 15-30min, depending on how much you want to play it fast. Notice that I can’t define it a game, but more an experience targeted at Blade Runner fans. It is more an exploration experience, that lets you live some moments inside the world of Blade Runner. If you play the experience this way, you find it awesome, since it really captures the vibe of the Blade Runner world. If you play it with the idea of playing a game, you will found it awful, since there is no real challenge to solve. It must be clear to you that this a CG experience, so it is absolutely NOT a 360 video dedicated to the movie… everything is rendered in real time.
The quality of the graphics and sound is high: this is not a cheap production, it is a high quality one, that has been developed also by Oculus Studio (R.I.P.). Some people complain about the fact that to have a good graphical outcome, you have to raise the quality level of all the game settings and this makes the game very very heavy. I can confirm that it is far from optimized since with my monster i7 + GTX1080 Desktop PC it didn’t run completely smooth.
I won’t describe you the whole experience to not spoil you everything, but there are some things that I want to highlight about it.
The first one is the beginning when you are in a spaceship and you’re moving inside the city. Seeing the city from the above, with all its lights, buildings and spaceships, is just awesome. Developers have designed this moment very well, since it doesn’t give you motion sickness, maybe thanks to a combination of the fixed cockpit and fixed path of the ship with no accelerations. This part reminded me a lot the AirCar experience, where instead you can navigate freely inside a Blade Runner-like city with your spaceship, having a lot of motion sickness. If you want to fly around a dystopian LA, I really advise you to try AirCar.
The second interesting thing is the control scheme. Movement, when available, is made through teleportation with the selection of the final look-at direction through thumbstick rotation, as in Robo Recall or The Wizards: as always, teleportation kills presence, but it is very effective and lets also make you some jumps between buildings that would be impossible with a standard locomotion scheme. To analyze objects you use your index trigger, while to interact with them you need to press the X or A key on Oculus touch. Interaction scheme is really simple to be used, especially because it is similar to the one of a lot of other games. So, when you have to modify your memories, you have to scan the world around you with the scanner that you activate with the index trigger and when you find something that is modifiable, you press the X key and modify it. Simple and neat.
The third feature that I want to highlight is the environment. I think that the best part of this experience is that it can really convey you the impression of living in that dystopian future: everything is coherent: people, information, electronic devices, neons, lighted signs, spaceships… are perfect to represent the environment of the Blade Runner 2049 movie.
The best part of the experience is when you can go for the streets of the city to find evidence that you have to modify: you can visit every corner, watch every person, look at every shop window and you can analyze with your beam every object and see for lots of them an accurate description of it, taken from the official registries. Objects and people are not interactive and that’s a pity, but a fan of the movie can surely have an amazing time going around, watching every detail of this wonderful world and reading the description of the various objects. For him/her, this could be as really living inside the movie, something that some years ago was possible only inside his/her dreams.
The fourth feature is volumetric recording. The main characters that you see inside the experience have been recorded from real actors, thanks to Microsoft Mixed Reality capture, the same one used for people that you can see inside Hololens experiences. Microsoft has surely developed an amazing technology if a competitor like Oculus has asked it to perform some work. Surely, looking the video, I think that no one is regretting that decision, the recording of real people is wonderful.
The fifth and last thing that I want to highlight is something about violence. I’m a real fan of violent action games and I really spent a lot of time in my life playing with Unreal Tournament, that is a game where you just shut down your brain and then start shooting to everything that moves around you. But for the first time, in this little experience, I felt a little discomfort for violence in VR. There are two scenes where I had this issue: one where I saw myself shooting at the victim from a first-person perspective and the other one when the victim was about to beat me hard with a bar, seen from a third person perspective.
As you know, inside VR every emotion is amplified and this is why I almost cried playing Dear Angelica. And inside this experience, as I’ve just explained you, there are no cartoons, robots, zombies or such, but there are REAL PEOPLE recorded and inserted into the experience. This means that when I shot the victim, I saw the recording of a real person faking to die in front of me, because of me. It has been quite realistic. It has been… strange. Surely I didn’t feel comfortable. Now I understand better all that debate about violence in VR, especially when it includes very realistic people that you have to kill. I don’t mean that I want VR to become a place of only hugs and flowers, but I mean that some care has to be taken when developing ultra-realistic killing experiences.
My final impression of the Blade Runner 2049 Memory Lab experience is that if you’re a fan of Blade Runner you have to absolutely try it because you’ll love feeling the atmosphere of the movie all around you. If you’re not a fan, I think that you won’t come out very impressed, but in my opinion, it deserves anyway a shot: the experience is well made and will surely intrigue you at some point. If you’re interested, you can download it directly from the Oculus Store.
(Header image by Oculus)
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