Back in July, we checked out a bunch of the cool, entertaining, and immersive attractions of VR ZONE SHINJUKU. Sadly, however, one highly anticipated attraction was delayed. Now, at last, VR ZONE SHINJUKU’s Ghost in the Shell: Arise Stealth Hounds is open and we got a chance to dive into the world of Ghost in the Shell.
Near Future War Arena Ghost in the Shell: Arise Stealth Hounds is an interactive game for up to eight players who face off in teams of up to four vs four. Players don special VR suits, wield VR hand guns, and take on the role of cybernetic agents or terrorists shooting and hiding from each other while attempting to capture objective points all inside a virtual reality space.
Before entering the mission, players are briefed on how the game works and are informed of any specific rules or tips by the staff. Players then divide into two teams, Alpha and Omega. Players create an ID for themselves that they can look up online to see their stats after completing the game.
After the briefing, it’s time to suit up. Players enter the play arena. The arena itself is currently the largest of its type at 20 meters by 11 meters. The players don their protective gear which includes two leg guards/sensors, a hip sensor, a backpack, an arm guard, custom HTC Vive headset and headphones, and a VR gun.
Even before you put on the headset, right from when you start strapping on the first leg guard, there’s a sense of excitement and already you begin to feel immersed in the experience. By the time everything’s set and the headset covers your vision, you already feel like a warrior geared up and ready to battle.
After you’re completely suited up and the headset is on and working, then comes the calibration and weapons check. You appear in a white space and you can already see yourself and your teammates within the VR space as floating body parts. You are guided to step forward and place your hands and arms inside four floating rings and look ahead. This is so the cameras can properly calculate your location within the VR space. You’re also prompted to test that your gun is working properly.
When all is set and all players are ready, the in-game briefing begins. The scene before you changes and you’re in a virtual briefing room where Major Motoko Kusanagi appears before you informing you of your team’s mission. A group of adept ghost hacker terrorists are infiltrating a nearby city location. Even when neutralized, they will quickly take control of nearby bodies and attempt to continue their objective. Your job is to eliminate as many as possible and keep them from capturing data caches located in the area. Even if your cyborg body is incapacitated or destroyed, you can jump to a nearby spare body and reenter the fray.
After the briefing the game begins and you and your team find yourselves in front of a building. There is a wall between you and the enemy team and one of the teams must destroy the wall by shooting and detonating an explosive device. This signals the start of the match, and then it’s game on.
Players can move freely through and around the target building, hiding behind walls and obstacles while locating and shooting enemies. Enemies can be neutralized by three hits to the body or one to the head, but so can you and your allies, so watch out for who you’re shooting and that you don’t get shot yourself. If you are neutralized, you can move to one of the respawn points located throughout the area to return to combat. After respawn, there is a brief window of time in which the player who reentered the game is invincible. Invincible players have a yellow around them, so if you encounter a yellow player, you better run or hide.
While you’re free to move about, and hide, moving too fast will signal enemies to your location. Players who move quickly through the map become visible even through walls and become easy pickings so it’s best to move slow and stealthy.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Ghost in the Shell without the optical camouflage. Players have a gauge on their gun that slowly fills. When full, you can press a button on your gun and you become completely invisible to enemies for about 10 seconds. This is a massive tactical advantage, especially when you aren’t sure what’s hiding around the next corner. Optical camouflage does not protect you from becoming visible when you move too fast, so don’t rely on it too much.
The match lasts about 10 minutes. After about the halfway point, a data cache appears somewhere in the map. Players need to find and access the caches, but cannot move while accessing, making them extremely vulnerable and requiring cover from their allies. Teamwork is key to winning, so you’ll want to make good use of the team voice chat.
After playing the game, your play stats will be uploaded to a dedicated page in the VR ZONE SHINJUKU website. By searching your play date and time, you can see your performance in the match and how well you did comparatively.
All in all, from initial briefing, calibration, and the actual game itself, the whole experience takes about 30 minutes. It cannot be overstated just how much the VR component really makes the experience. Once you become accustomed to your VR surroundings, you really get lost within the game. The motion tracking is also perhaps the best I’ve experienced so far. You are able to make head shots or pin point shots through or between spaces.
As for VR limitations, the game does an excellent job of incorporating any game or safety issues within the rules of the game. Walls can be walked through—since they’re not really there—but doing so will neutralize you. In terms of safety, the game will give you a warning if you go too close to a wall, stray too close to the outer boundaries of the field, or are in proximity/collision distance of another player. To prevent players from running about dangerously, moving too fast penalizes you by making you visible to everyone as well as increasing the time it takes to respawn. Players who have been moving slowly and carefully can respawn immediately, while players who have been moving fast will have a delay depending on how much they’ve been running about.
While the VR game itself feels extremely fine-tuned, the real world operation side still feels in its early stages. Obviously, VR entertainment attractions are a relatively new field and so the developers and operation staff still don’t have a proper model of how new players are likely to act within the game. As more people experience the game and the staff and developers learn to anticipate how players will act, it’s likely that things will become modified to allow for smoother operations.
I’ve dabbled in VR for a while now and while I’m always astounded at how immersive it can be at times, Ghost in the Shell: Arise Stealth Hounds was on a whole different level of immersion. The ability to walk freely throughout the VR space completely changes just how lost in it you can get. That added with the feeling of being in the Ghost in the Shell world makes the experience all the more cooler. It really feels like you’re stepping into the next stage in entertainment technology and the future.
Side note: As amazing and immersive as Ghost in the Shell: Arise Stealth Hounds is to experience first hand, from the outside, it can appear somewhat… awkward.
Near Future War Arena Ghost in the Shell: Arise Stealth Hounds will be available in VR ZONE SHINJUKU beginning December 9, 2017. Check out the official website for more info.