Feeling the VR Arcade Fever in Viva Las Vengeance

Zombies, ugly, snarling corpses of rotting flesh that have managed to ingrain themselves in popular culture over the last few decades to such an extent that we’ve all played a videogame or watched a movie with one in. The most recent was director Zack Snyder’s Netflix collaboration Army of the Dead, dropping folks into a ravaged Las Vegas for some wall-to-wall action. And if you loved the movie then you’ll probably want to check out Viva Las Vengeance, the virtual reality (VR) experience tied to the film.

Just like its cinematic cousin Viva Las Vengeance is all about that wild (theme park-style) ride, where explosions and rampaging hordes of the undead fill in those annoying gaps left by a lack of plot. But in a VR experience that lasts around 30 minutes is that necessarily a concern? For the most part not at all, as long as you know what you’re in for.

The location-based entertainment (LBE) industry was hit hard by the pandemic as it was really starting to shine beforehand, attracting VR studios who were looking for alternative revenue streams. With things now settling and getting back to normal, everyone’s interested in getting out again making VR arcades an attractive escape for those after a modern entertainment experience.

And that’s really what you do get with Army of the Dead: Viva Las Vengeance, plenty of tech and an all-encompassing journey that does try to ground you in the whole setup; even if it is somewhat cheesy at points.

Up to six players can enjoy the VR experience at once, with the core gameplay section held within a modified taco truck with bars on the windows for your protection. In actuality, this is one of those 4D, hyper-reality simulators with wind, heat and rumbling floor effects for that truly immersive setup.

Before you get anywhere near the taco truck you’ve got to jump through a few setup hoops first, some more unusual than others. For instance, it’s not often that these kinds of LBE titles will give you a gun selection, let alone accessories. But in Viva Las Vengeance you get to select between a shotgun for close-range power or an assault rifle that’s great for popping heads at a distance or exploding a few barrels. This is where teamwork already comes into play. For this early test, there was only two of us, one on either side of the truck. Armed with the rifle it didn’t need reloading but there were points where it seemingly overheated and stopped, so a teammate with a shotgun next to me would’ve been really nice.

After the loadout selection comes the cheesy military briefing, telling you why you’re there and what you need to accomplish. It really was just background noise as we attached a couple of OptiTrack sensors to our hands. That was all that was required as there’s no running around a big space. In actuality the taco truck setup meant four were employed at the same time, allowing for an efficient rotation of guests at the Westfield London location.

Inside the truck, there were Valve Index headsets and StrikerVR guns to give that nice recoil effect. Alas, the build-up of excitement didn’t quite match the gameplay experience on offer. Because as you might expect from a taco truck driving through a zombie-filled Las Vegas, its point, shoot and repeat for about 10-15 minutes.  

If this were a VR videogame at home you’d play it once, get bored and want a refund. However, this being a VR arcade experience it needs to be viewed as a whole, combining those additional effects, the gun and the physicality of it all. In which case Viva Las Vengeance is a short, sharp dose of exciting VR you can’t get elsewhere.

When there are zombies climbing all over the truck, reaching through the bars which I’m trying to shoot but made all the more difficult because the floor is rumbling away putting my balance off it, quickly becomes very engrossing. And it should for that time duration, intense yet fulfilling enough that everyone leaves with a grin. Plus you can all compare your scores afterwards as well as pose for the obligatory group shot with a superimposed Army of the Dead background for good measure.

I’d class Viva Las Vengeance as an above-average LBE VR experience but certainly not one of the best. It’s ideal for those new to VR as the coordination required is minimal, you stand or sit in one spot shooting zombies out the window with an occasional waft of wind to the face. Those more experienced in VR who’ve tried the free-roaming options available at other locations may find this a little limited in scope. Don’t set your expectations too high and bring some mates to enjoy Army of the Dead in VR.

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