REVIEW: Star Wars – Secrets of the Empire @ The VOID, London

I’m not sure how exactly to review the ultimate “you had to be there” activity, but I emerged from The VOID’s fully immersive Star Wars VR experience with a burning desire to scream about it from the rooftops, so here we go. 

For those who are unaware (entirely forgivable, as they only set up shop in the UK about six months ago), The VOID is a Utah-based company that specialises in “hyper-reality” experiences. They’re up and running in a number of US cities, as well as London and Dubai, and currently offer two different experiences – one Ghostbusters-themed, the other Star Wars-themed.

So what is “hyper-reality”? It’s hard to describe just how far removed this kind of experience is from sitting on your sofa wearing a cheap VR headset. Players wear a bespoke VOID helmet that shuts out all real-world sights and sounds, and a vest with impressive haptic feedback that lets you feel every bumpy spaceship landing and blaster shot to the chest.

By blending virtual reality with a physical environment, even one the size of a small portacabin, players can be transported to any city, planet, or galaxy far, far away, with all five senses in tow. The engineering on The VOID’s stages are remarkable. If you put out your hand, you’ll actually touch the bulkhead in front of you. Crossing a lava planet? You’ll feel real heat, and smell the sulphur rising around you.

I didn’t know any of this before experiencing it for myself. I was dragged along by my husband and his friend, dedicated Star Wars enthusiasts (their words) and massive nerds (my words). But even to the amateur, it becomes apparent very quickly that The VOID and Star Wars universe are made for each other.

Secrets of the Empire is a new short story that takes place just before the events of Rogue One. We began our adventure with a frantic briefing from Captain Cassian Andor of the Rebel Alliance (Diego Luna, reprising his role) before being dropped from a ship manned by K2-SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk, as he was in the film) on to a lava planet under the control of the Empire. Disguised as Stormtroopers and armed with blasters, we battled our way through an Imperial base and escaped at the last minute, our mission complete.

The sensation of emerging wide-eyed, with hearts racing, into the real world is indescribable. I shook like a leaf for another half an hour. The VOID have managed to create a genuine out-of-this-world experience. And it has to be seen – and felt and smelt – to be believed. What I saw that day was a new kind of immersive story-telling that should shut up anyone willing to dismiss VR as a fad. Hyper-reality experiences have the potential to change the future of the entertainment industry forever, and god, I can’t wait.

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After an initial run at Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush, The VOID is now open at the Westfield in Stratford until mid-June. Tickets are £30 each, although keep an eye out for “off-peak” times when the price drops to £20 per person. To buy tickets and for more information, visit https://www.thevoid.com/locations/londonstratford

You can watch a trailer for the experience here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oad_t6k3w5c