Otherworld is London’s newest virtual reality arcade where you can shoot zombies, soar over the planet in Google Earth, or – if you prefer something less intense – go on adventures with a tiny mouse, paint with light, or even pretend to flip burgers in a job simulator.
This fluorescent, slightly cyberpunk arcade is only a few months young at the time of this review, but it already stands out amongst the handful of VR experiences scattered across London. Thanks to a strong visual concept and the sheer number of game choices on offer, almost anyone will find something to enjoy here.
Then again, it takes some getting used to, especially if you’re considering this as a potential date spot. You’ll be in separate rooms (well, pods), after all, so it’s certainly an unconventional choice.
So is it a good place for a date? Here’s what we found out!
Otherworld is a minute’s walk from Haggerston Station, housed inside an old brick railway arch. We found it pretty quickly, but if you get lost, just look for the giant, glowing O.
Besides the exposed stonework ceiling, I had a slight sense of having just arrived on the deck of a spaceship – perhaps one carrying sleeping passengers to a distant galaxy, thanks to the ‘immersion pods’ that line each wall. Of course, these are not stasis chambers but instead the one-person rooms where all the VR magic happens, but the effect is spooky in a sci-fi sort of way.
Continuing this theme, everything here is white and bathed in shifting neon lights (an echo of things to come in the virtual world). I’m not sure how much of Otherworld’s success is down to their aesthetics, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s made quite a difference. It’s a break from the usual decor of such places (dark colours, masculine art style etc.), probably widening their market and making them memorable.
In the middle is the small cafe/bar area, where you can scroll through the game choices and refuel with beer, coffee and snacks via their tabletop computer screens.
We were meeting one other couple here and although we arrived before they did, the floor staff seemed happy to let us wait in the bar for our friends. It didn’t ever feel like we were being pressured to hurry into starting our session.
When all of us were there and ready to go, we were given a demo of the controllers (trying out the ‘running’ mode – operated by waving your arms in frantic circles like you’re using a skipping rope – is a rather good ice-breaker) and then we entered our separate pods to put the headsets on.
If you’ve used any of the at-home VR sets available (perhaps the Google daydream or Oculus), you’ll know how eerily real it can be, even when you’re just chopping cartoon fruit with a Katana (AKA Fruit Ninja).
Otherworld takes things a step further by using the more advanced VIVE headset, but their USP is those ‘immersion pods’, complete with temperature controls that will kick in when it makes sense (say, flying over a virtual desert, or watching cute penguins waddle around in the snow).
Those headsets are quite elaborate, but whilst at first I was hyper-aware of wearing all this equipment, I soon forgot about this with what happened next. Without spoiling things too much, before entering the main game space, you’ll be (virtually) falling/jumping from a great height to get to where you need to be, and the sensation is quite dizzying.
Still, it’s fun – when it was over, I kind of wished I could do it again (if a skiing game is ever included, I’ll be a fan).
The premise of Otherworld is that you’re transported to a beautiful island – the Otherworld – with four seasons, glowing trees, and paths leading to some strangely familiar-looking cylindrical pods… enter these to start playing your games.
This space is your ‘world between worlds’, designed to give you a more interesting experience of switching between games.
The visuals, whilst obviously stylised, feels incredibly real, if surreal (if you’ve ever played the cerebral puzzle game The Witness, it’s a very similar art style – though entirely different concept).
Whilst you and your companion(s) will be in separate pods, you’ll have a microphone and headphones to speak to and hear them the whole time. You’ll also see them next to you, as ethereal, glowing silhouettes.
This is a nice artistic choice, but with a bit of potential for improvement. Because everyone’s VR self looks like this, you may have to speak up, wave your arms around etc. to reveal your identity – and you’ll soon get mixed up again if you’re all standing in one spot. To make things easier, it’d be fun to be able to choose a quirky item for your character to wear to show who you are (why not give your avatar a top hat, for example, or a cape?). Or, simply having a name hovering above your character might be helpful.
Then again, this is applies only to the island part of your experience. You will either choose other avatars in-game, if needed, or you won’t need to. If there are just two of you, this also won’t be a problem.
If being technically separated by walls feels like an obstacle, don’t worry: it’s the games themselves that are best part about Otherworld’s potential as a date spot.
Not only will shooters like (multiplayer) Arizona Sunshine and Raw Data give you that adrenaline rush and partner-in-crime feeling with your partner, but even the single-player games (the majority of the games are single-player, but that will probably matter less than you think) create new opportunities for communication.
With that in mind, the VR version of Google Earth is not to be missed. Whilst it has no multiplayer function, this isn’t an issue insofar as you can both go to the same virtual place and speak to each other. Visit your favourite places, go to your dream holiday location, or just show each other your childhood neighbourhoods. This was the firm favourite for all four of us and it was quite difficult to leave!
See what happens to the sky when you hold down the buttons on the controllers and cross them over each other. I won’t spoil it, except to say you’ll feel pretty omnipotent.
45 minutes was long enough to try about a quarter of the 12 games on offer, so there’s more than you can possibly do in one session, but this is of course an incentive to come back for more. It’s a pity that we couldn’t have an option to extend our time when we were already in there (I imagine this would be pretty popular – it’s hard to stop once you’ve started!) but since the sessions have to be pre-booked for certain times of day I can see that this might not be practical.
After the games
Once the headsets come off and you’re reunited in the real world, you can grab a bite to eat or a drink at the benches in the middle.
We didn’t eat here this time, but the iced coffee was really good, and the tabletop ordering system is a fun novelty.
Otherworld is a visually impressive, mind-bending experience that will have you forgetting your everyday life for a good hour or so.
If you’ve never used a proper VR set before (like I hadn’t), it’s easy to do and a great way to figure out what kinds of games you’ll enjoy playing in that format.
The small bar area means it probably isn’t for a first date, but you can always meet nearby and head there afterwards. It’d be great for a second date or thereafter, and it works really well for a double date or a meeting-their-friends icebreaker.
💰 £14 – £39 (depending on when you go)