In a meeting earlier this week (that I was not able to attend) a question was asked: what is the next big thing in digital health? The answer was virtual reality. The answer was specifically geared toward mental health but it tied in perfectly with a discussion I had the week prior about how our generation has had a literal “game changer” since the advent of computer games and virtual reality and how this might impact this current generation and all subsequent ones. The old age homes of our grandparents may become a distant memory and future ones will become far more digital by the time we’re looking to take up residence in one. This means I had better get comfortable in some of those VR locales!
It got me thinking, I haven’t done a VR review in a while and since I went semi-aquatic two weeks ago with Call of Cthulhu and we were fully aquatic last week with the superb Subnautica, maybe I should take a dive into one more underwater habitat. I researched a handful and settled on The Blu. To be fair, The Blu isn’t a game; it’s a VR experience. There are three environments to explore but I use that word loosely. You don’t “explore” at all; you stand there and experience three underwater settings.
The first setting is called Whale Encounter, set on an undersea shipwreck. As you stand on the deck of the ship, an enormous blue whale passes by. Good lord, it’s impressive. The creatures eye can’t be more than 4 feet from you. As it passes, it swishes its tail in a huge arc, seemingly missing the viewer by a narrow margin. You can almost feel the water current blasting you. The entire experience is over in less than 3 minutes but it’s awe-inspiring.
The second, set in clear blue waters, is Reef Migration. Fish and turtles swim around you. It’s idyllic. With the Vive controller, one can reach out and interact with the fish; they swim too fast to touch, but they are beautiful and they will try to get away if you get too close. Then, jelly fish begin to appear. Eventually colossal ones start coming. They are everywhere. Again, using the Vive controller, you can reach out and touch them. I bumped one right up to my face; they are glorious! Sure, we may be improving technology, but this is one area I’m glad we’re still behind on, or I’d be treating far too many stings for my liking! Again, the entire experience is under 5 minutes.
The final setting is in the deepest, darkest water. This is Luminous Abyss, the longest of the three experiences and by far, the most unnerving. The Vive controller becomes a flashlight and with it, one can spot angler fish moving just outside of our reach. Turn off the light and their illumination gives that spectral glow to these dark environs. As you look around, you realize you are standing in the skeletal frame of a whale or some other giant of the deep. There are crabs by your feet, as curious about us as we are about them. Then jellyfish come. Once again, a tactile response from the controller as one bumps off my hand. They are luminous and beautiful. This experience goes on for the longest time closing in on 10 minutes, but just watching those alien looking lifeforms floating by is breathtaking. Then, there is a sound, like something vast moving in the water. The fish suddenly take off and above you, a nightmare appears. A massive array of tentacles extend out, fanning above you, angry at the intrusion. It’s terrifying and amazing. After a moment, it speeds away. No, I wouldn’t spoil that one with a picture, but check out where we are before the arrival of the nightmare…
And that’s it… that is the extent of this game. But take these items into account. First, it’s fully immersive, and while you’re looking around, this is a full 3D experience. That’s never more unnerving than when you are exploring the Luminous Deep. And while I wanted something more interactive, I only payed $8 for this. I’ve played the whole thing through in one sitting at least a few times but so has my mother, my sister, both nephews, my wife and kids and many friends have all tried it because, simply put, it is amazing. Look, we’d pay far more than that for an IMAX experience! Imagine paying for yourself and 7 friends to go to an IMAX; you’d pay a heck of a lot more than that. So while the individual replay value may be limited, the ability to show off a great experience when friends come over, does make it a great value.
For those who like taking even more time admiring the creatures of the deep, there is an “ambient mode” that allows you to slow time and get very close to the denizens of the deep. It doesn’t add much, but it is a fascinating experience.
Supposedly, technology doubles every 18 months, by the time I’m in need of an old age home, I may not even know I’m in one, considering I can be deep underwater, or in an alien environment. Once we’re able to share that experience and have others join our VR “games”, we can be wherever we want, from the comfort of our own old age homes. It’s an idea that might dawn on you too, out of the blu…. ML