Review: Zombie Outbreak at Zero Latency

This week I visited Zero Latency in Melbourne to play their Zombie Outbreak virtual reality game. I learned of Zero Latency while listening to a panel discussion on the business of VR Arcades; the panel included a consultant for the Melbourne-based firm, who made some great points about customer experience. I looked up the company and their facility was only a few minutes from my home!

The ticket, priced at a hefty $88, gave us a 45-minute game with about 15 minutes of pre/post-game introduction and debrief. Our last “new” experience was the Flemington Escape Room, back in January 2017, and we decided to try this VR thing out (I think Andy just wanted me to shut up about it). This price point is not within our usual entertainment budget!

Venue – 5/5 Stars

Situated in the outskirts of Melbourne’s CBD, the facility is housed in a warehouse district near a rail yard and freeway overpass. The building itself was of the old, brown, 80’s-slash-Star-Wars type of architecture. The waiting room was nice, with an instant high-tech feeling due to large screens and futuristic posters. The play space itself was looking a bit worn, compared to the promotional videos, but that’s a minor part of the value proposition, since we can’t see it most of the time.

The customer service was excellent: enthusiastic, hands-on, and very switched on to any issues we were having. Andy and I were grouped with a party of 4, and the staff did a great job of building a social and talkative mood.

Technical – 4/5 Stars

The equipment consisted of a backpack, head-mounted display unit (HMD), headset and a futuristic plastic assault rifle. The whole setup was fairly comfortable, with clips, straps and cables in logical places. My partner Andy, with his lighter body, started to feel the weight of the equipment towards the end. We both felt that the weapon was difficult to hold and aim comfortably.

Technical issues occurred two or three times during the game, and gear was quickly switched over. The rest of us were laughing hysterically because, in the paused game state, the body physics became distorted and people’s legs and necks were in horrifically impossible tangles. My suggestion is to give other players something to do while they are waiting.

The game recorded our stats such as headshots, zombie kills, and deaths, to present a score. The post-game room showed us a leaderboard, allowing us to compare performance against other player sessions. I love the idea of training to improve stats, however at this price it seems unlikely to incentivise players to return.

The game used space very well, and most of the time I didn’t feel constrained by physical walls. The main issue about space concerns the game design…

Game – 3/5 Stars

The visual style of the game was realistic, and I’d say it is similar to the level of graphics in Halo 1 (first generation XBOX). I’m not an expert in the tech area, however it seemed to me that the resolution of the display unit is the limiting factor. Given that the experience will never be “real”, I believe a stylised realism along the lines of Team Fortress 2, Overwatch and Borderlands would do well. Zero Latency’s Engineerium game appears to be less realistic.

At times during the game, I found myself in places with no visual indicator of where to go, and no zombies around. The objective was to move to waypoints in the map. I think they could have found more creative ways to guide players’ movement, such as subtle arrows, lighting, following an NPC, building collapsing, etc. Throughout the game I felt torn between the objective of killing zombies, and the objective of moving to a waypoint. Finally, if we moved to a waypoint too early, the team had to wait in one place.

During the game, there were 2 epic moments that I missed, because my view was obstructed by game geometry. I felt penalised for taking initiative to play in my own space. As such, epic moments should be designed in locations that every player will participate in.

I had one major negative experience during the game: because player proximity pauses the game, preventing collisions, there were times when other players would walk to a doorway and stop moving. On several occasions I was stuck with nothing to do but yell “Move up! Move forward!”. The group of players seemed fairly new to shooter games, and were totally immersed in the experience of shooting zombies, completely unaware that I was behind them. It was a frustrating experience.

To summarise my feedback on game flow, I believe the game needs to be clearer about when it’s time to move, and when it’s time to hold, and build interactive elements suitable to that activity.

I enjoyed the experience of shooting zombies. At moments I felt like the hero in control of the situation, and at other moments I felt complete disorientation and disempowered. After the game, someone mentioned an epic moment and I (in a giggle) exclaimed “I did that!”.

I won’t write about story; it’s a zombie game, and I don’t think story matters at all. In addition to that, I am more interested in VR/AR as a skill-based social activity, not for narrative experiences. Somewhere amongst the chaos there was a story. There was just so much exploding heads and panicked screams!

Summary – 4/5 Stars

My second VR experience is a world away from the calm 3D painting of Tiltbrush. I went in with realistic expectations of the level of technology, comfort and game, and the game solidly met my expectations. This game feels like a classic arcade shooter without the guided camera, great for groups of any gaming ability, and at a much higher price. I plan to try the Engineerium (above) game in about 6 months.