What it's like to bust VR ghosts in 'Ghostbusters: Dimension'

The Future of VR Storytelling
The Future of VR Storytelling

Burnt marshmallows. That's the first thing you smell after proton-scorching the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man into oblivion.

It's the completely unsurprising yet appropriately wish-fulfilling — and epic — finale to Ghostbusters: Dimension, a new "hyper reality" experience from Utah-based company The Void. The attraction opens at Madame Tussauds New York in Times Square on July 1, but we got the chance to take an early peek.

First, though: what is hyper reality? The Void has built what amounts to a virtual reality arcade concept, which it refers to as hyper reality.

It's effectively untethered VR, with the headset wired into a high-tech backpack/vest. The vest is fitted with multiple vibration points that simulate physical sensations in your virtual experience, such as when a ghost passes through you or a bit of debris bounces off your midsection.

In the case of Dimension you also have a gun-like device to simulate the proton pack's firing mechanism. It rumbles and makes a little noise whenever you pull the trigger, and it moves and responds in the virtual space as if you're holding a legitimate ghost-busting tool.

The equipment is only one piece of hyper reality, however. Experiences like Dimension also require a custom-built physical space, so when you move around in VR and interact with objects it feels natural.

If the virtual space includes an armchair, for example, there's also a real armchair in the physical space that you can touch and even sit on. The illusion isn't perfect — the virtual chair in Dimension doesn't quite sync up with the real one, spatially — but it's close enough.

All of this comes together in Dimension with a story that casts three proton pack-wearing participants as Ghostbuster trainees. Guided by pre-recorded audio (featuring Ghostbusters reboot star Kate McKinnon), you work your way through a haunted apartment building, blasting ghosts as you go.

It's definitely a "leveled up" virtual experience, even if you've played with the room-scale VR in HTC's Vive. Having the ability to move about untethered plays a huge role here, especially since you know that the virtual walls match up with the physical ones. There's no fear of bumping into something you can't see.

On top of that, The Void also employs an assortment of sensory effects to enhance hyper reality experiences. That burnt marshmallow smell isn't your brain playing tricks on you; it's a part of the simulation.

You feel dripping water as you ride a creaky, old elevator and brace against wind whipping past as you blast airborne phantoms from the relative safety of a window cleaning lift.

Visually, the presentation is roughly on par with the best of what at-home VR headsets have to offer right now. Video games on your TV look better, but the VR combined with all of the other effects make Ghostbusters: Dimension something wholly unique.

It's also part of a larger attraction. This being Madame Tussauds, there's a whole Ghostbusters-themed walking tour to stroll through before you reach the hyper reality segment.

Expect to see wax figures of the reboot's four stars along with props and prop replicas, plus fun "ghost" effects like Slimer.

It's hard to ever recommend venturing into the hustle of Times Square, but Dimension and the experience around it is an attractive proposition for Ghostbusters fans.

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