Virry VR: Wild Encounters isn’t a game, it’s an experience which is acted out in VR in order to create awareness whilst allowing you to see various animals up close like never before. Even if you have been fortunate enough to go on a safari in Africa, you won’t have been as close to any of the animals which you will see within this experience. You will have minimal interactions with the animals as you feed them and then proceed to watch some 360 degrees recorded videos up close, all recorded in full 4k. The questions are, is the experience worth the price they are asking for it and how much content do you actually get?
**Update: I’ve changed the review content as “Feel the Wild” has different videos to “Wild Encounters”, yet I originally stated they were the same. This was an error on my side as I don’t own “Feel the Wild” and resorted to looking at videos based on it, videos which were mislabelled. I changed the overall score from a 5 to a 6 as I still believe the £7.99 product offers a better value for money, but I do recommend picking up both titles due to the different content.**
**All images are captured off the PSVR system – quality is much better while wearing the headset**
First things first, The team over at Fountain Digital Labs have done a great job in acquiring this footage – which they captured when they went over to Kenya back in 2016 with their custom-built 4k recording rig. Their main goal, to create an awareness of the various species and their current endangerments via a ‘Zoo 2.0’ style approach where you have the means to be up close with the animals you wish to look at. They are also catering for people like myself and my parents who have mobility issues and can’t even dream of going places like Africa in order to see these creatures out in the wild.
The experience is also to be used as a relaxation tool and a place where urban inhabitants can don their VR headset and instantly be whisked away to a place of serenity and calming nature in order to relax and meditate. As I said in my intro, this isn’t a game, you don’t move around or solve puzzles, you just spend time with the wildlife.
Virry VR: Wild Encounters was a little disappointing to me if I’m being brutally honest. I understand where the team are coming from in terms of creating awareness and allowing us to experience something we may not have done before, or ever will. But for the asking price, I didn’t feel we got enough content as there is another rival product already out there which seems to have a similar amount of content and is priced much cheaper. That product is Virry VR: Feel the Wild. That’s right, the developers have another product out there already which appears to have roughly the same, if not a little less, content and is priced at a third of what Virry VR: Wild Encounters is.
When questioned, it appears there isn’t a pricing error and the prices were decided upon intentionally. I understand that the cameras, the setup costs, the development and the overall maintenance costs of the gear and the live cameras are expensive, but I personally feel it’s too steep of a jump for a product with very little differences other than the videos. That being said, let’s jump in and see what the experience has to offer.
Upon loading up the experience, you are greeted with the main menu, which is presented as a floating radial menu. If you look around here, you are sat on the side of a mountain overlooking a magnificent sight. A sight which is ruined by the floating menu! There is a relaxation mode within the game, which I’ll come to later, but I prefer sitting here but there is no way to turn off the UI and experience this view. Regardless, the menu rotates to allow you to pick an animal you wish to go and watch and also access to a few settings, which I’ll also come to in a minute.
Once you pick an animal you will instantly be taken to the 360-degree video where you are viewing the scene from their custom built 4k camera setup. This is where the experience shines as the quality is really good, the seams aren’t that obvious and everything remains in focus, even when an animal bites the camera or throws it from a tree! Throughout the video clips, which are usually around 5-10 minutes each, you will feed the animals by shaking your controller and occasionally be given some trivial questions whilst a narrator gives you facts about the animals. The narration and trivia can be disabled though if you wish to just load up the video and experience it without anything but the sounds of nature.
As this is a pre-recorded video, there is no interaction, other than feeding the animal (which has been done by the developers cleverly stopping the video and then resuming them throwing in the food as you shake the controller – very imaginative and works really well). The experience is all about looking around and seeing whats going on, which in most cases was primarily in front of you. However, some animals, like the elephants, are all around you and some even reach over you – which can be a bit shocking at first!
The other video experience Virry VR offers is a Rope Bridge relaxation experience. In this, you are situated high above as you stand upon a rope bridge overlooking the dense forest. In this mode, you can select various waypoints and move along the bridge and even stand at the end if you have an issue with heights (although heights isn’t really an issue within the experience due to it being a Video and not full-VR). This section has been described as a place you can come and unwind after a busy day at the office or in the town, reconnect with nature, meditate, and wind down whilst you overlook the beautiful views from high within the forest.
The issue I have with this isn’t the rope bridge itself, as I found that to be enjoyable and it was nice just sitting there and ignoring everything around me, but it was the fact that the lower priced Virry products appear to have different experiences in this part and they looked a bit more relaxing based on the footage I’d seen online. For example, this one has the rope bridge yet Virry VR: Feel the Wild has a majestic waterfall and pool you can sit near and relax to as you hear the water splashing around. I would have liked a few different areas we could pick between, with the one on the menu screen being one of them.
Before and after various viewings, you will be asked what your mood is at the moment. For example, upon turning it on and loading your first video – you will be asked “how do you feel right now” with a list of eight choices. After watching two videos, you will be presented with the same question but based on “how do you feel now, after your session”. Each time, I honestly felt happier after spending 10-15 minutes watching the animals, but who wouldn’t? This is an interesting feature but it doesn’t really do anything other than monitor and record how the experience impacted you. It doesn’t suggest certain videos based on your mood or give you any insight into why you feel better after watching a video, it just collects the data.
Finally, there is another really cool feature which is present in the experience which I really wish would have worked before I wrote this review (I received the experience almost 4 weeks ago now). This feature is the live webcam access. Now, the access isn’t free but you are supposed to get the first 15 minutes at least as a free trial. The problem is, because it never loaded up and worked, I can’t give you a first-hand review of my own personal experience, all I can give you is info on what it’s ‘supposed’ to do. It costs around $1.99 a month (or $3.49 if you want to donate $1.50 to the Lewa Wildlife Conservation in Kenya) and it gives you 24/7 access to the live webcams. I’ve been told these aren’t in VR or 360 degrees, they are flat webcams which appear in VR via the ‘cinema mode’ and they are literally live webcams. This means you could be sat there for hours looking at blades of grass without any signs of wildlife out in the open.
Personally, I would have liked it if they had a motion sensor on the webcams and it recorded when there were signs of life, then presented these back to you as clips you could watch – as well as the live webcams. However, as of today (22nd May), the webcams are still down so you’re not able to watch anything via this feature at the moment. This feature isn’t unique to this version either, it was also in the £7.99 product.
So, after spending quite a few hours with Virry VR and watching the footage multiple times, I’ve had to come to the conclusion that I don’t feel it justifies its price at £23.99. I’ve seen reviews for the much cheaper Virry VR: Feel the Wild and that one seems like it has a similar amount of content, with a few different animals, a few relaxation points and even the ability to access the live webcams, all for a third of the price at £7.99. If you want a dedicated experience app which puts you right in front of the animals and up close as they interact with each other, then grab the £7.99 version. If this version is ever in a sale and it drops to around £5-10 then sure, this one is worth it for the videos and the experience you get. If you already own the cheaper experience, this one does contain some of the same species, but they are different videos.
One other thing which confused me and I’ve been advised that it may be an option which shouldn’t be there, is the ability to go non-VR at any point. Well, any point AFTER loading up the game. The one thing that stops you loading up the game though, is the requirement to have a VR headset connected. It’s a vicious circle which if resolved, could open the application up to millions of new potential buyers. Basically, if you boot up Virry VR with a VR headset, on the menu screen there is an option to disable VR. Once you press that, you will enter ‘cinema mode’ and you can take your headset off. Now, on the TV, you have the full 4k video files running in their full resolution and clarity which you can control with your DS4 controller. Okay, the immersion is lost and the feeling of awe and wonder is no longer there, but you can view everything the experience has to offer on your TV with an increased resolution.
If the developers changed the experience and had it asking you when it booted up if you wanted the VR or Non-VR version to load, then that’s around 75 million more customers right there. Especially if they manage to get the webcams back up and running as they weren’t in VR or 360 degrees anyway, so I can see some people buying one of the products just for that ability. However, the way it was explained to me, I don’t think this ‘what version do you want’ option will ever come and it’s a shame. I like games that give you a choice and I don’t see an issue with giving you one, especially if the game already has that choice but is hiding it behind a barrier you must first overcome.
Even though I am fully behind the message and awareness which Virry VR: Wild Encounters is aiming to deliver, I don’t think this particular experience is the best product for people to begin with. I would personally recommend their previous title, Virry VR: Feel the Wild, because it has a similar amount of content and is a more cost-effective way to experience a selection of animals. Had the live webcams worked then I feel I would have got a lot more out of this experience than I was able too right now as I was limited to the content provided by the application itself. My advice would be to pick up the cheaper version and/or grab this one when it drops to a decent price – either way, grab one of them as the experience in VR is great, even though it is ultimately a 360-degree video and not ‘VR’ as such.
Do I think the experience was bad? No. Do I think its content was bad? No. Do I think it was too expensive? Yes, compared to their other product.
Virry VR: Wild Encounters
- Amazingly close videos which you'll find hard to beat on platforms like YouTube
- Helps raise awareness of the severity of endangerment via the trivia and narration
- Can help you to relax
- Too expensive for the amount of content you receive
- I recommend grabbing "Virry: Feel the Wild" first as it's a lower base price and offers roughly the same amount of content (in terms of length)
- Limited appeal once the 'wow' factor is gone and you've seen all the videos
- The webcams aren't currently working (22nd May 2018)
- No option to boot into non-VR even though once you're in, there is a full non-VR version option