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Star Trek: Discovery fans with a SandboxVR location nearby can feel what it is like to be transported to a dangerous Star Trek away mission.
Spoiler alert: The sensation is sort of tingly — dematerialization seems to start in your stomach and then rolls in waves up and down your body until there’s a flash of light and — poof — there you are, re-materialized standing on an alien world.
If a convincing dematerialization experience isn’t enough to pique the interest of Trek fans, the Away Mission at SandboxVR includes alien encounters, investigations with a tricorder, Klingon attacks, gorgeous views of the starship Discovery in space battle, and the guiding voice of Sylvia Tilly throughout.
After the excursion, Sandbox staff airdropped a video to my iPhone produced from my trip. That’s a standard part of the ticketing package and a very nice to have commemoration of the visit.
Star Trek: Discovery Away Mission is one of several attractions available from SandboxVR, but it is the first they’ve offered from an internationally recognized franchise. Away Mission made me shiver when I felt the winds of an alien world in what was easily one of the most impressive environmental effects I’ve felt in a location-based VR experience. The phaser felt nice in my hand and I used a tricorder in my other to scan locations and look for clues.
The green walls, floor, as well as the room size of a Sandbox VR location is already a lot like one of Star Trek’s holodecks. It is fitting, then, that the first few minutes wearing the headset are set inside a training simulation to familiarize you with the game mechanics, and the iconic Holodeck archway from Star Trek: The Next Generation makes an appearance.
As a life-long Trek fan who enjoyed Star Trek: Bridge Crew the few times I actually played it, I have to say there’s almost no comparison to make between that at-home VR game and Away Mission other than bearing the Trek name. Sitting at a bridge console and trying to keep the ship from exploding is not the draw of space travel and certainly not the fantasy of Star Trek I wanted to embody and experience in VR. When I think of Star Trek, I think of teleportation and away missions to strange new worlds, and that’s exactly what Sandbox convincingly delivers.
There were a few momentary hiccups — at various points my phaser stopped shooting, my avatar’s hand curled back in on itself, and a foot tracker fell off. These glitches were momentary — I raised my hand per their instructions and the problems were fixed pretty quickly. Unlike some other location-based VR spots, Sandbox doesn’t use physical guardrails, so you’re kept from walking outside the safe area solely through software design. What Sandbox lacks in physical barriers, though, it makes up for in great body-centric haptic effects. Its vest provided the incredible dematerialization effect as well as a startling close encounter with an alien life form that I won’t spoil.
There’s some extraordinarily light puzzle-solving here that amounts to nothing more than pointing at various parts of the environment with your tricorder. This is enjoyable from a role-playing perspective, but it is also not the least bit challenging. There’s superb voice acting for multiple starfleet characters and Tilly provides a familiar grounding throughout the main story that helps add some emotional weight to it. This is only a surface-level story, though, without the kind of intriguing twist or mystery that drives interest in so many Trek tales. I can’t say the Klingons you encounter here are the scariest or even the most exciting alien encounter even in the overall Away Mission, but they do seem to have slightly better aim than the Stormtroopers at The VOID. There’s a nice touch in Away Mission which allows you to revive a downed friend by just putting your hand on their shoulder.
Star Trek: Discovery Away Mission VR Review Verdict:
Impressive and memorable body-centric haptic effects deliver a fully embodied Star Trek experience with some surprising thrills along the way. Away Mission lacks depth in its story but lives up to its name to offer a satisfying realization of some of Star Trek’s most memorable ideas. You’ll embody a starfleet officer shivering on an icy alien world and I imagine that feeling is all that matters to a lot of Trek fans out there. Sandbox got that part right. If you’re a fan of Star Trek, and in particular Star Trek: Discovery, it is worth finding a SandboxVR location and taking the trip.
You can play Star Trek: Discovery Away Mission at a growing list of SandboxVR locations — tickets are priced around $48 each.
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