Virtual reality franchise to open its doors in Dublin is a free-roaming gaming experience like no other

Bríd O'Donovan, Joe Leogue and Shane Baker playing a free roam virtual reality game at Zero Latency in Sandyford, Dublin. Photograph Moya Nolan.

As it happens, the end of the world won’t be brought about by global warming, or an orange buffoon with a hot temper and access to nuclear codes.

Apparently, our impending demise has its genesis in the zombie hellmouth that has opened up in a business park in South Dublin.

Zero Latency, a worldwide virtual reality franchise, is opening its Dublin branch next week claiming a free-roaming gaming experience like no other in Ireland.

Ronan Cunningham, who brought ‘footgolf’ to Ireland, tried the game while on honeymoon in Tokyo.

“We came out 20 minutes later, picked our jaws up of the ground and said ‘how do we bring this to Dublin?’” he says at the Sandyford location where I’ve been joined by two friends to give it a go.

As we wait in reception, we hear screams and yells coming from another part of the building. Whatever we’re about to experience, it doesn’t sound boring.

Our turn comes and we enter a briefing room where we don backpacks, virtual reality goggles, headphones, and a gun.

Our gamesmaster, Dave, gives us a briefing on how to play, and the usual disclaimers - no running, jumping etc.

He tells us that radar will appear in our field of vision to warn us if we’re getting too close to other players and that an alarm will sound if we’re approaching a wall - more on that later.

The actual game room resembles an empty, minimalist nightclub. It’s dark and dimly lit. The white lines marking squares on the floor are mirrored by a metal grid suspended from the ceiling that hosts scanners. To the side, the crew congregates at a DJ-style booth that houses the hardware used to run the games.

We put on our goggles.

Joe Leogue and Bríd O'Donovan, playing a free roam virtual reality game at Zero Latency in Sandyford, Dublin. Photograph Moya Nolan.

We are in a city scrapyard in the middle of high-rise buildings, our location is the point where a number of alleys converge. Looking around, I see a man and a woman in combat gear brandishing guns - my teammates, whose names float above their heads.

Given a grace period to acclimatise to our new surroundings, it isn’t long before wave after wave of zombies hurtles towards us down the alleys.

Free to move wherever we please within the confines of the yard, we keep them at bay by shooting to kill while also taking aim at buttons that, when hit, build temporary barricades to slow the horde's progress.

As the game progresses, I hit the button on a lift and go up a level to pick off enemies from a height. I hear my teammates exclaim and question how I got ‘up there’ - in reality, I’m a few feet away on the same level.

It’s frantic, at times startling, and a whole lot of fun.

After 15 minutes or so, a chopper arrives to lift us to safety. As we take to the skies we have a vantage point for a few parting shots before the game ends.

Back to reality, we head to the briefing room to see our scores. I’ve taken out some 160 or so zombies, but not enough to make it to the all-time leaderboard. Dave gives us a quick chat about what’s to come, and we head back into the room for the next game.

A culture-appropriating, topsy-turvy acid trip of a head-wreck fantasy world, Engineerium starts genteel, before seriously playing with our senses.

Initially moving between flat moving stone platforms floating high in a brilliant blue sky as whales inexplicably swim through the air around you, players are eventually led to gravity-defying paths that loop and corkscrew in front of you.

It’s a perfect example of how VR can confound your senses. In my head, I know I’m on a flat, level floor in a large room in Dublin. My eyes and ears, however, are telling me that I’m taunting physics by continuing. Despite my rational brain knowing this is ludicrous, I’m holding my arms aloft for balance, tip-toeing sheepishly along the path.

It’s an incredibly immersive experience.

In fact, it’s so immersive that, fearing the platform I’m standing on is moving from under my feet, I turn and try to catch up with it.

By the time the alarm sounds in my ear and the screen flashes red I’ve built up too much momentum.

First VR Multi-Player Experience in Ireland. Zero Latency on March 4, taking VR to a whole new level.

“We’ve never seen someone go into the wall before,” one of the crew says as I gingerly hand back my gear at the end of the session. I may not have made the all-time leaderboard, but no one is taking that away from me.

As we leave the consensus shared by gamers and the non-gamer in our crew is that Zero Latency is a genuinely captivating and at times exhilarating experience.

The one caveat, however, is the price. It comes in at €39 per person for an hour - and that hour includes the pre and post-game briefing, which means that game time comes in at around half that.

However, the business model is one that is working for the franchise worldwide.

The same experience in Madrid, for example, costs €35 an hour, and Cunningham says Zero Latency is eyeing up opening a second franchise in the Spanish capital alone such is the demand.

Cunningham says the franchise’s worldwide experience to date shows it has proven a hit with office parties.

Joe Leogue wearing the necessary equipment to play a free roam virtual reality game at Zero Latency in Sandyford, Dublin. Photograph Moya Nolan.

The Dublin set up has a conference room overlooking the arena, to host larger groups while members of their party takes turns in teams of eight.

“We're very lucky in that it being a franchise and us being the 27th arena worldwide, we've a really good indication of how the other arenas are performing and what their general market is, particularly in Europe, where most of their customer segment is coming from the corporate side of things; young professionals, stags, hens, that sort of thing.

"So we're very much gearing our operation towards the corporate market too,” he says.

The main reason we're targeting corporates is that it's got this really brilliant element of team building. It's you and seven other people in the one room battling zombies, battling robots in outer space and it requires a lot of teamwork.

"We see this as the ultimate high tech corporate offering and yes, it is it is premium pricing and the reason being is because it's a premium product.

"It's the first of its kind in the country, it's something you're not likely to do anywhere else, and I think once you do it you realise why it's priced the way it is.”

Zero Latency opens to the public from Wednesday.

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