Disclosure: The organisers kindly gave us two press tickets to try out the experience.
In May 2019, two of us went to an immersive experience in London, called War of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience. We did not know what to expect; it was a steampunk bar in the middle of London, with a fun vibe. There are a fair few immersive activities in London, Secret Cinema being the most famous, but this was an alternative option. The paintings were animated, and the drinks were potent. The lack of expectations made it a trip and a half as we chuckled throughout our journey.
There is so much that happens that it is challenging to put it together. Nor do I want to, as the experience has so many small and large parts. It uses a mix of VR, holograms, actors, and set-pieces which work very well to its favour. Its blend of music works splendidly too, offering a throughline through the tale. That’s a plus for the production.
Together, War of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience was a compelling experience which we enjoyed. The soft launch showed a lot of potential, and I recommended it to my friends afterwards.
For this review, we will explore the first few parts. Several themes will consistently appear, so it felt fitting to start in that way.
Traveling in a group
For a start, there was only 12 of us through the trip. That’s a nice number; not too small that someone may feel they are being focused on by actors, and not too large that it becomes unwieldy for the actors. It is a blend of intimacy and group safety, which fits the perspective of many people.
Our tour wandered through the streets of London, with a quick set-up guide for the VR headsets. A few members of the group were already tipsy; while this broke the immersion, it added levity to the situation which made us chuckle throughout.
A cinema introduced us to the memories of our narrators, George and Carrie. The holograms laid out the story; things will be on fire, people will die, and we are all basically stuffed. Nice. The music struck out with sick guitar riffs, and the holograms were used really well to immerse people in.
Look out! An alien!
We were then taken to the observatory, while we observed the stars. We give credit to the actors that they played along with our jibes nicely; in this case, one attendee said that a nearby galaxy had three stars, which he humoured in reply. As we scanned through the telescope, a meteor crashed down nearby.
While inspecting the glowing rock, the man was incinerated by, what else, an alien. The effects were awe-inspiring as the flames shot out from the ground, and holograms made it look like he was caught aflame. We were then taken down to a house, and then to a dinner table where we needed to talk about what happened. The light shut out, and the audio kicked ion with robots sinking around the place. It was genuinely creepy.
Finally, we were hooked onto a VR rig and walked around a home. Trackers lined along the top of a massive room, and they tracked our hands as we… poked each other with them. Unfortunately, we’ve found that the experience glitched out, people’s legs were backwards, and some people misplaced their faces. But it was very entertaining to stroke a VR cat. And watching one alien shoot lasers.
Is it the future of immersive entertainment?
As I walked along a fake bridge with my fake friends, impersonating a woman from the Victorian times, I started wondering what the point was. Why would someone intermix acting with VR headsets? What does it add?
A fun blend is one reason. Hopping from a living room to a VR experience provides a nice break from reality, and adds layers of memorable experiences. For the sheer novelty value, it is great.
However, there is a dissonance between the very real living room we were in – where they served sweets and biscuits and the obviously fake VR experience. Having it all as actors would make sense, and would mean less of an investment into VR.
But having said all that, the VR experience was worth it. The use of moving objects, music, and props made for one of the most immersive experiences I have come across, and it would be a shame to remove it. Currently, the VR is good. If tweaked and honed, the VR element would be astonishing.
Wondering through a fiery land
Telling more would spoil too much; the surprise in the middle, the games in between, and the actors in the tunnels. One wonders how many times they repeat the same lines, or ad-lib based on what (sometimes sober) people say.
But it ties together. While glitchy, the use of VR adds to the experience by weaving itself into the story. The same goes for its actors who immersed themselves in the story. it was like treading into an alternative world.
For fans of steampunk and a bit of fun, War of The Worlds: The Immersive Experience is a fun time for a bunch of alternative friends. Just avoid the aliens. For more information, check out their website.
Editor, Virtual Perceptions