Adam Hendricks enthusiastically dives in at Vrbar. | Stefano Giovannini
No, you’re not dreaming. In the era of virtual reality, you can zip through space, survive zombie-infested streets or bust a ghost — all while wide awake.
It might feel like VR has been promised to us for as long as hoverboards and tourist rockets to Mars, but this past year has brought the first boom of real VR to New York City. While you can experience VR at home right from your smartphone with a cheap Google Cardboard viewer, a number of dedicated new venues around the city allow you to experience a more immersive VR for the price of a movie ticket.
“Finally, it’s here, and it’s accessible to almost everyone,” says Mehow Skalski, one of the founders of Jump Into the Light, a new VR cinema and arcade on the Bowery.
Here’s where to ditch this reality and escape into a virtual one.
Writer Tim Donnelly gets ready to take on some ghosts.Stefano Giovannini
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more awesome and intense VR experience this side of “The Matrix” than the “Ghostbusters: Dimension” game at Madame Tussauds. Unlike other stand-still VR, this cutting-edge tech outfits you with a proton pack (a backpack and vest that rumbles when you get hit by debris) and lets you loose on a virtual ghost hunt through a building.
The actual space is about 1,000 square feet, but the magic of VR makes you feel like you’re exploring multiple floors of an apartment building, where everything around you — from the dials on the TV to the moose head on the wall — is interactive.
The gun in your hand lets you blast ghosts just like in the movies, and the action leads you onto a rickety platform outside a window overlooking the Manhattan skyline, with real-feeling wind blowing through your hair (don’t worry — you’re still in the room the whole time). Once you get off the platform, you have to defeat the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man to escape, and, no, you’re not imagining that: It really does smell like marshmallows in there. $55 (includes museum admission and a souvenir wax hand). Madame Tussauds, 234 W. 42nd St., between Seventh and Eighth avenues;Ghostbusters.MadameTussauds.com
A free taste of the future
Samsung’s flagship isn’t so much a store as it is a showcase for all its tech, complete with DJ and upstairs cafe. But the real treat is the free VR tunnel on the ground floor: A seated demo version of Samsung’s Gear VR headset sends you through a tour of short videos, where you go face to face with a dinosaur and then on the court with LeBron James. The more intense stand-up version puts you on a touch-sensitive vibrating board as you get immersed in a bloody terrorist raid pulled from the new “24: Legacy” series, starring Corey Hawkins. Watch out for incoming missiles! Free. 837 Washington St. at 13th Street; Samsung.com/us/837
While kids of the ’80s flocked to Coney Island to pump quarters into video games, Brooklyn kids today go to Park Slope to try out the latest video-game tech. Vrbar opened as the borough’s first virtual-reality arcade in late October, with three stations offering a selection of the best virtual-reality experiences on the market. Cofounder Kishore Doddi chose the prime Park Slope location to appeal to kids, who love games like “Tilt Brush,” the 3D-painting game from Google in which two controllers in your hands become physics-defying art tools, and “Gnomes and Goblins,” an enchanted-forest puzzle-solving game from “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau.
On a recent Saturday, the place was packed with kids and their parents who had ducked in from the snow to try out “Sweet Escape,” a game in which you use handheld controllers to climb humongous piles of candy.
But such flights of fancy don’t compete with the real world. The bar’s most popular virtual-reality game is “Job Simulator,” where kids immerse themselves in real-world jobs such as mechanic, office worker or store clerk (it’s way more fun that it sounds — photocopy your head, and brains come out of the machine, for instance).
“It’s amazing,” Doddi says. “Anyone who hasn’t actually had a job loves simulating being in a job.” $10 for 10 minutes. 808B Union St. at Seventh Avenue, Park Slope; Vrbar.nyc
Watch the Instagram video here.
Jump Into the Light, the city’s first virtual-reality cinema, arcade and photo lab opened last year in a sliver of a space, but don’t let the size fool you: The technology inside is powerful enough to send you soaring over Manhattan, immerse you in the surreal landscape of a Dalí painting or let you manipulate 3D objects — and gravity itself — with your bare hands.
In the cinema, you plop down in a swivel chair, strap on a Samsung Gear headset and headphones, and tour a series of short films that send you face to face with aliens; get you up close and personal with the Large Hadron Collider; and take you inside a spooky tent in haunted woods in the middle of a trippy, physics-defying music video. It feels so real, you might experience a little motion sickness, about the same as trying to read your smartphone while riding in a cab.
Head to the arcade in the back, where you can choose from a variety of immersive games. You’ll get a headset and two paddle controllers that turn into graffiti cans as you paint 3D art in Google’s “Tilt Brush,” or a knife and a gun in “The Brookhaven Experiment,” a heart-stoppingly fun zombie-attack game (watch out — they’re behind you!). You can even get a 3D selfie made, too. $45 to $95. 355A Bowery, between E. 3rd and E. 4th streets; JumpIntoTheLight.com