As someone who gets winded just walking up a flight of stairs, I know I will never ever climb Mt. Everest in real life. Which is why I’m glad I got to check out Everest VR for the HTC Vive, which kind of, sort of, but not really simulates what it would be like to climb the great mountain. And while it succeeds in some respects, and fails in others, it’s still an interesting experience.
Using the basic kinds of virtual reality controls, Everest VR tries to recreate what it would be like to climb the titular mountain…if you did it in minutes as opposed to days, and didn’t have to deal with carrying anything heavy (well, save for a VR set-up), the extreme cold (well, unless you really crank up the air conditioning), and the constant threat of death (well, unless you play this near a real cliff).
After going through a brief rundown of the controls, Everest VR sets you off onto the mountain, where you spend half your time learning about the history of people who’ve really climbed the mountain, and the other half simulating what they went through.
Not surprisingly, some of the controls and visual aspects in Everest VR work really well. There are times when you’ll fly over the mountain, and you really will feel like you could fall to your death. You’ll also feel this way when you’re on the mountain and peer over an edge, or in one part where you have to walk across a ladder that’s precariously perched over a small ravine since, for this bit, you actually have to walk in real life. It’s times like this that you truly understand how immersive and virtually realistic VR can be.
But there are times in Everest VR when you won’t feel like you’ve left your house. Using a ladder or some ropes to make a vertical climb, which you do by moving your hands up and down, just makes you feel like like you’re moving your hands up and down. The same goes for most of the times that you’re walking around, since instead of really walking, you have to aim the controller and hit a button like you’re playing a point & click adventure game.
The feeling of being somewhere else is also broken in Everest VR when you get too close to the edge of the playable space, or the edge of the room you’re playing in, since it’s then that the game throws up a wall of red lines, which makes you feel like you’re on the holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Which might seem like fun, but only if you think Everest VR is supposed to a simulation of a holodeck program, not a simulation of a mountain expedition.
Everest VR also has the same control problem that plagues any virtual reality game that makes you “physically” grab stuff: it’s kind of inexact. Picking objects up — which you do my moving the controller onto its image until the controller vibrates, and then pressing the trigger button to actually grab it — never works as well in practice as it should. Instead, you end up groping for objects over and over until you eventually, by sheer luck it seems, hit the sweet spot and are able to grab whatever it was you were reaching for. Though, admittedly, this is as much of a problem, if not more, with the HTC Vive and virtual reality controls in general than Everest VR itself.
The visuals are also sometimes a problem in Everest VR. When looking at something close-up, it’s obvious that this is a computer simulation. But when you’re looking at something far away — such as the mountain itself when you’re flying over it, or the world around you when you get to the top — then Everest VR actually has a rather photorealistic fidelity that might make you feel like you’re really on the top of the world. This is due, in no small part, to the fact that the makers of Everest VR smartly teamed with the people who shot the recent movie Everest, and actually use some of the same visual assets.
Some might also lament that Everest VR is so short. My entire trip took about forty-five minutes, though some of that was spent admiring the scenery. You also don’t do a whole hell of a lot; the control I used the most was the one that moved me from one point to another. There’s also no real incentive to play it again; once you’ve hit the top of the mountain and looked around, there’s no reason to go back. Especially since there’s no Pokémon up there. Which kind of makes Everest VR‘s $24.99 price tag seem way too steep.
Still, even with its problems, short run time, and being over-priced, Everest VR is still rather interesting. Sure, I wouldn’t use it as a training program — maybe as a training program for a training program — but for a few minutes, Everest VR dive give me a sense of what it’s like to climb the tallest mountain on the planet…and why I should never ever try to do it in real life.