Today I’ve tried BBC Home, an experience on the Oculus Store that makes you feel like you were an astronaut having a spacewalk! Super-cool, isn’t it? In fact, it is, but the experience has also some issues… follow me and I’ll tell you!
When you launch BBC Home, you see a menu asking you if you want to play with Easy Mode or Astronaut Mode. Easy Mode is made to give less motion sickness and make the final challenge easier, while Astronaut Mode doesn’t offer you these facilitations. After having tried both modes, I can tell you that 90% of the time the experience is basically the same, with the true differences happening when you reach the final challenge. My advice is, however, to start with Easy Mode and maybe choose the other one in next replays of the game.
Once the game starts, a written introduction tells you that you are on the International Space Station and you’re going to make your first walk in space (wow!!). After that, the true experience starts and you find yourself inside an astronaut suit, floating inside a little white space. Around you there are other objects floating: you’re inside the ISS and you’re an astronaut! A voice from the command center starts talking with you and tells you to grab the handles and to secure yourself to them. All these actions have to be performed with Oculus Touch controllers and their index trigger buttons, that basically are used to perform everything during the whole experience. Most of the time, anyway, you’ll use them to grab stuff.
The beginning of the experience is great because it really gives you the impression of having become an astronaut, thanks to the suit, the absence of gravity and the radio communications with the command center. That’s awesome, but at the same time you start noticing the first problems. First of all, you can’t rotate your head! Really, I’ve already seen a lot of 180° VR videos, but this is the first time that I see a 180° VR experience in CGI! If you try to rotate your head, the system blocks you from watching behind you… I think that it has been made to emulate the fact that astronauts can’t actually rotate their head completely inside the suit, but the results are really weird. It’s also hard to look at your legs… basically, all you can see is what you have in front of you. Furthermore, the emulation of the arms given the position and rotation of the controllers (thanks to IK) is good, but far from perfect.
The commander at this point invites you to grab the yellow handle and to pull yourself outside of the station. The movement inside this experience is made all this way: you grab a handle and then you use it to push toward some direction. Notice however that this is not Echo Arena… you can’t grab handles and push you everywhere… actually all the movements are already pre-coded, so you can only move along a pre-set binary (boring, boring, boring). Anyway, this initial action of pushing yourself outside the station means performing a 180° vertical rotation of yourself and this is the first moment when your stomach says “hey man (or woman), what are you doing?”.
Once you’re outside the station you start appreciating the graphics of the program. The ISS has been made with a good quality, I liked the reconstruction. Then there’s the Earth below you and it is fantastic: it is big, colored and alive. I highlight the fact that it is alive since they’ve not just taken a texture of the Earth… they use more graphical effects to make you see the Earth as something in evolution. You can see storms, bolts of lightning and such. When the sun will set, you’ll see the Earth becoming black and all the lights of the cities becoming lit… this is a wonderful show. About the graphical quality of the experience, nothing bad can be said… and watching the Earth from the above has been one of the things that I loved the most about this experience. It’s just wonderful.
At this point, a colleague of yours (another astronaut) welcomes you and guides you to learn how to use your controllers to move using the yellow handles that compose the path of the experience. Moving with the handles is very very easy and doesn’t foster much motion sickness. Once you’ve learned how to move, you can jump on a vehicle that will guide you towards the part of the ISS that you have to inspect. Due to some debris, there’s been a little damage and you have to give it a look. This small vehicle moves, but while it moves, it rotates on various axes and the fantastic combo of non-voluntary movement + rotations (something you should absolutely avoid in VR!) makes your stomach regret not being part of the body of another person. This part is also very slow and a bit boring.
Long story short, you arrive at the damages zone, but since “Lucky” is your second name, new pieces of debris arrive and hit you, that get detached from the station and start spinning into space. The spinning is motion sickness inducing even in easy mode, but it is in astronaut mode where it gives its best: it didn’t cause me only nausea, but my body (that was simply standing still) started feeling unstable and two times I almost fell to the floor (and I’m a VR enthusiast, so I’ve VR legs!!!). Your stomach will suicide itself at this point.
This part is nice because really conveys you the anxiety and fear of having got lost in space. Luckily you have some jetpacks with you and with some luck, you could be able to return to the spaceship. Maybe. I’ve tried this part 3 times and I failed all the times, both in easy mode (where you just have to look at the direction you want to head and press the trigger of your controller) and astronaut mode (where you have to control a virtual joystick to tell the system where you want to go… all of this while you’re still spinning like crazy).
The fact is that the fuel ends too fast and even if you don’t use the thrusts pressing your controller button, they go out of fuel anyway (???). Someone in the reviews has written that he has managed to win the game and have a happy ending… but honestly having to repeat THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE just for the final 2 minutes of the game, after few tries, becomes frustrating (and really vomit-inducing), so in the end I gave up. If you run out of fuel, the control center tells you to standby yourself while they think about a solution. While they think, you die. #ilovehappyendings! So basically you got a lot of nausea just to die in the end. Not bad.
My final opinion on the whole experience is that it is a high-quality one that offers very interesting sensations, like the ability to feel like an astronaut and the beauty of seeing our planet from above. But it also has little and big issues: the induction of an exceptional virtual sickness plus the excessive difficulty of the final game ruin the final impression of the experience, that appears only as mediocre. In fact, it has only 3 stars on the Oculus Store.
If you want to try it, this is the link. Be sure to have not eaten too much before hitting the Play button…
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