As VR games go, Richie’s Plank Experience is probably one of the most recognisable even if you don’t know it by name; it’s the source of hundreds, if not thousands, of YouTube videos in which relatives – often elderly – are given their first taste of VR…and usually freak out spectacularly.
So what’s it all about then? At its simplest, it really is just a way to show off the potential of VR to take you somewhere unexpected, as well as testing your tolerance and courage. You start on the street and walk into a lift (or elevator, for my readers across the pond), which takes you to the top floor of a skyscraper – when the doors open, all that’s there is a long, thin wooden plank. Are you brave enough to step out onto it, so high above ground level? How about stepping off the plank and falling to your death?
And that’s it, really. Or at least that’s the basic experience (it’s cool that there’s the option to calibrate the game and use a real plank to play too). You can see what’s so appealing about using it to introduce VR to friends and family; it’s immediate, it’s short and the sense of scale and immersion is pretty impressive, even if the visuals are a tad dated in comparison to more recent Oculus Quest 2 titles – and there’s a lack of accessibility options, including recentering, available in-game without heading to the pause menu, which makes things a bit fiddly at times; especially as quite a bit of space is needed for the experience to work properly.
Since launch, however, the experience has been added to with a number of fun, sometimes very scary, extras. Hero Academy adds three flight-based, time trial modes to the game – a firefighting race against time, a checkpoint race and lastly, a sort of superpowered take on Missile Command. Though all of these are fairly barebones, they’re really fun to play and again, great for VR newbies.
The plank experience itself can be slightly enhanced too, with objects placed at the end of it – a plate of cake or donuts – which can be eaten. Arachnophobes will want to steer very clear of the ‘Spider Cake’ option though, as will players of a more nervous disposition – though I’m not someone who’s scared of spiders, even I found the giant arachnids that scuttle directly at you incredibly terrifying. There’s a laidback, relaxing mode in which you can paint the sky with your jet’s trail as you fly across the city too.
Lastly, there’s a hidden horror experience that goes out of its way to freak you out. I won’t spoil it, but there’s more reason for arachnophobes to steer clear among other disturbingly creepy scenes.
It’s a great little package if you have the space and particularly if you intend to introduce VR to lots of new people, but Richie’s Plank Experience is a bit basic and won’t hold your attention for very long if it’s just you that’ll be making use of it. To the credit of the game’s publisher, they do at least warn potential purchasers that this is the intended purpose of the game – it’s a sort of psychological test for your friends and family, with a few extra bits of content added in for extra value. Essential if you’ll be showing off your new headset, but a bit hit and miss if you’re solo or even if you have a lack of decent floor space.
Richie’s Plank Experience is available on Oculus Quest, PSVR and PC.
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