Vancouver's first virtual-reality escape room launched at SmartyPantz

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      Escape rooms have a tough business model. Due to cramped Vancouver real estate, they often have to operate in close quarters, and are only able to accommodate a few separate experiences. Add to that the expense of setting up rooms with movie-grade props, and the fact that customers might only play the puzzle once, and it turns into a very costly operation.

      Gastown’s SmartyPantz is the first to try a fresh take on the typical escape room model. Following the success of its Hospital of Horrors VR experience at Halloween—a two-player interaction where users navigated multiple levels of a creepy asylum—the venue has taken the concept one step further. True to its reputation for innovation, SmartyPantz has installed the lower mainland’s first full-length, fully interactive virtual reality escape room.

      The game, named Space Station Tiberia, is a challenging set of puzzles. Combining mental and physical tests in a crisp VR environment—the visuals are so clear that players can read off a laptop screen—the experience allows up to four individuals to work as a team to solve complex problems. Placed on Space Station Tiberia, a floating room in danger of being hit by an ever-encroaching burning meteor, users must reactivate the station’s power and somehow destroy the incoming rock.

      Be warned: it’s not easy. Likely SmartyPantz’s most challenging escape room, Space Station Tiberia requires players to avoid booby traps, decipher red herrings, and dodge pieces of burning rubble in order to save Earth. Think Armageddon meets The Martian, and no less perilous.

      Unlike most VR lounges that have popped up around Richmond and Vancouver, SmartyPantz pairs the world-class HTC Vive console with an adjustable backpack, allowing players to wander freely around the virtual environment. That means that individuals need not rely on their controllers to teleport around the space station, and can easily interact with each other—a particular boon, given that teamwork is absolutely required to beat the game.

      While four individuals are recommended for the experience, it’s possible to play with three, or two at a pinch—though it’s significantly more difficult for a pair to conquer the station’s zero gravity challenges. Trust us: you’ll be much happier seeing three other astronaut helmets bobbing around beside you, not least because, if we haven't mentioned already, it's really fucking difficult.

      Space Station Tiberia is a permanent room that primarily runs in the evenings. Groups of two are required to book in advance, though organizers advise all players to reserve a spot to avoid disappointment.

      Check out SmartyPantz’s website for more details, and to book a session.

      Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays