This review was originally created in October 2018 for HTC, targeted to their Vive/Vive Pro (VIVEPORT). It is reproduced here without alteration.
Even back before virtual reality was a thing, one of the more obvious uses for first person perspective experiences with computer graphics was simulating a roller coaster ride. In fact, as far back as 1983, with the unique, vector-based, and sadly short-lived, GCE Vectrex home console, there was a game called 3D Crazy Coaster. That obscure title made use of the Vectrex’s 3-D Imager, which was a headset somewhat similar to today’s virtual reality headsets, but without any type of tracking or head movement capabilities. The object of 3D Crazy Coaster was simple, try to stay on the roller coaster without falling out. Unfortunately, as far ahead of its time as it was, the actual implementation and fun factor left much to be desired, which is probably part of the reason why it’s so little-known today.
So, with countless technological advances behind us, and with our powerful Vive or Vive Pro headsets in hand, can we finally fulfill the promise of an amazing virtual roller coaster experience in our homes? Coaster attempts to answer that question in the positive.
Coaster presents four unique, and fantastic, roller coaster experiences: Space Coaster, Picnic Coaster, Moon Coaster, and Room Coaster. In Space Coaster, you’re on a wild ride through asteroid-laden space. In Picnic Coaster, you’re on an ant-sized ride through a fancy picnic blanket feast. In Moon Coaster, you’re taken through a neglected moon base mining colony. In Room Coaster, you’re again shrunken down and taken on a ride through an upscale suburban home.
Personally, I’ve ridden maybe four or five intense roller coasters in my entire life, and, as I’ve aged, my desire to ride any more has dropped to zero. In fact, in a recent visit to a local amusement park with my family, I got a bit nauseous on the spinning tea cups. So naturally, I’m going into this experience with something of a unique outlook, one where I’m curious both how well I’ll physically react to what’s presented to me, as well as if I can get some vicarious virtual thrills for rides I no longer feel comfortable riding in the real world.
As expected for a roller coaster simulator, Coaster is a seated experience that works within any size room. While there’s obviously no way to physically simulate motion like with the servos and environmental cabinets found at arcades and amusement parks, I still found the immersive properties of the Coaster experience quite impressive at times, particularly if I physically leaned in my chair left or right during turns or forward during drops. In fact, I felt a similar type of adrenaline rush and fright that I usually feel with many of the virtual turns and drops, just without the physical sensation of my stomach dropping.
One area that did feel a bit too much like the real deal, unfortunately, was the nausea—this is definitely a tough game for those prone to virtual reality motion sickness. If you’re even a little bit sensitive to it, make sure you have some good ginger candy at the ready for this one. I found that the Space Coaster option was easiest on my stomach, but was also the least immersive, so take that for what you will.
The graphics are clean, bright, and at times, downright beautiful, with well-rendered objects, and, most importantly, smooth motion. The sound design, which includes atmospheric music, does a good job of selling the experience. Control-wise, there’s nothing to do except select between one of the four coaster experiences. Just sit back and enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts—or your stomach holds out.
So does Coaster deliver an amazing home-based roller coaster experience? No, but it’s pretty close. Even with the lack of servos and an environmental cabinet, you really do get the feeling you’re on a roller coaster in fantastic settings, at least in most of the scenarios. Coaster‘s only real failing is that once you get used to the four tracks, the thrill starts to wear off. And since there’s nothing else to do but sit back and ride, once that rush is gone, Coaster‘s ultimate value will probably end up as a virtual reality showpiece for friends and family. Before that happens, though, you’ll likely have gotten your money’s worth, particularly since the cost of entry is less than a single ride on a simulator, let alone the cost of entry to the arcade or amusement park that hosts such machines in the first place.
Score: 3 out of 5 stars.
Coaster is available on Viveport or with a Viveport Subscription.
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