Vader Immortal brought me face to face with the Dark Lord
I met Darth Vader on Thursday. Turns out he's pretty imposing in person.
The encounter happened in Vader Immortal, a VR experience from Lucasfilm interactive entertainment branch ILMxLab, at Star Wars Celebration Chicago. Coming off the noisy show floor into the booth, I was pretty skeptical as an Oculus Quest headset and set of headphones were placed on my head, and controllers thrust into my hands.
This was when the din of the fan convention slipped away and I found myself immersed in a galaxy far, far away.
More precisely, I was in a cell in Darth Vader's castle on Mustafar (briefly seen in Rogue One). Apparently I'm a smuggler who's been pulled out of hyperspace and dragged off to meet the Dark Lord of the Sith (played by Scott Lawrence, who recently played Yeager in Star Wars Resistance).
Vader strides in and demands that I open some kind of an artifact, which requires me to test out my basic hand movements to push a switch. It activates and Vader declares that I'm the one they've been looking for.
Uh oh, I'm pretty sure he's about to end me. Vader is magnificently terrifying, towering over me and forcing me to look up at him.
I then appear in a training arena and find a lightsaber -- the hilt isn't one I recognize from the movies or CGI animated series -- sitting on a pedestal beside me, picking it up eagerly. Is this Star Wars heaven? Or am I about to face off against Vader?
Not quite, the Sith Lord is nowhere to be seen. A training remote (like the ball Luke Skywalker faces off against in A New Hope) pops out of the floor and blasts at me. Like the Jedi I've fantasized about being, I easily block its shots.
Turns out this Force thing isn't so hard after all. I'm scored remaining health (I didn't take any hits) and on the time taken to complete the stage (a little slower than the fastest time).
Things get a little tougher when I'm faced with some lightsaber wielding training droids and have to anticipate the angle of their attacks to block them, so they'll be left open to my retaliatory strikes.
It's still not very difficult, but I realize I can switch from holding the lightsaber in a two-handed grip to a Count Dooku single-handed fending style, making things more fun as I discover an increased range of movement.
And this immediately proves useful when multiple droids and training remotes appear, attacking in quick succession and forcing me to move (and think) very quickly indeed.
"Feel, don't think. Use your instincts." Qui-Gon Jinn's wise words certainly applied here.
I managed to take them all out, but actually took some hits this time and didn't finish as quickly as I could have. Boo, more training do I require.
Then I'm whisked into the darkness and Vader essentially offers to train me and my demo ends.
But wait, I want more! I arrived into this experience a VR skeptic, and left it very much a believer -- this really made me feel like I'd been transported in the Star Wars galaxy and was looking up at the cold, dark eyes of Darth Vader's helmet.
I assumed this was the whole first episode, but ILMxLab told me afterward the narrative storyline of episode one has a running time of 45 to 60 minutes. There's also an extended, open-ended Lightsaber Dojo, so I can hone my combat skills and be ready to face Vader (since a battle seems kinda inevitable).
Friday's Vader Immortal panel also revealed Maya Rudolph had joined the cast, playing droid co-pilot ZOE3.
The VR game will be a launch title for the Oculus Quest headset, which is launching this spring ($400 or 64GB), the company said Friday. And it'll also be coming to the Oculus Rift family of headsets, including the upcoming Rift S.
The demo I tried is available at the Oculus and ILMxLAB booth (#4823) on the show floor at Star Wars Celebration Chicago, which runs until Sunday.
They would be honored if you joined them.