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Wearable Tech

Dave & Buster's Jurassic World VR ride goes for safe thrills

Mini theme park attraction or massive arcade game?

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Scan the raptors!

Nic Henry/CNET

Maybe Dave & Buster's has solved the VR problem: Don't make large-scale expensive experiences, just go for quick, fun rides. And throw in a lot of virtual dinosaurs.

The first thing I noticed when I saw Dave & Buster's new Jurassic World: VR Expedition ride, which opened Thursday, is it looks like all the other crazy games at this arcade chain. Neon blue, a large bouncing row of seats, monitors with videos of dinosaurs... it's flashy, and begs to be ridden.

Some of the recent pop-up location-based VR experiences at movie theaters and elsewhere let players wander around and shoot things with Ready Player One-like haptic vests. Dave & Buster's is going simpler: you can't walk anywhere. This is a ride, several minutes long. And it costs only $5, versus the $20-plus that some of the larger-scale VR experiences ask for. HTC Vive headsets come wired into each seat, ready to put on.

The ride is set between the first Jurassic World movie and the newest sequel, Fallen Kingdom, that's arriving in the US next week.

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I didn't think this is what Dave & Buster's was planning when it announced that VR was coming to all its locations, but a bunch of my colleagues and I tried it out at the Times Square location in New York, before the ride opened to the public. And... it's fun! It's bouncy, realistic and feels like a little mini Disney ride in VR.

The experience, created by Universal and The Virtual Reality Company, is something that's made for fast turnaround, easy use and lots of rides. It feels, in fact, like something you'd ride in a high-tech carnival. 

"A lot of our customers don't know about VR. VR is the thing that makes it possible," explains Kevin Bachus, Dave & Buster's senior vice president of entertainment and games strategy. The company's been working on this ride for years, aimed at something that was easy to try and wouldn't last too long or cost too much. 

Bachus thinks that, regarding the rest of the longer-lasting, more expensive and complicated VR experiences, "most people have it backwards." The company experimented with early Oculus Rift technology years ago, without success. "VR looked like a hassle," he says. This new simulator "is meant to have a air of familiarity around it, be comfortable."

The plan is to add other VR experiences to the simulator hardware in the next year, and eventually add multiple machines in larger locations.

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The four-seat simulator just sits out on the main floor for anyone to see.

Nic Henry/CNET

The ride plays out like an off-road jeep tour, bumping along through the wreckage after the first Jurassic World movie. There's a game, too, involving tagging dinosaurs with a handheld Vive controller like the old N64 game Pokemon Snap (no shooting, just scanning). Velociraptors jump near the off-roading jeep, a T. rex looms overhead and there's a nice open-field ride with a herd of dinos accompanied by realistic breezes from built-in dashboard fans. 

The car parks up and turns into a monorail over the water, leading to a close encounter with a giant mosasaur and a chopper rescue. It has the structure of a theme park ride, not too startling, and extremely well synced to the game's action, with a lot of bumping around. None of us got nauseous.

The ride was a little buggy when we tried it: The operators were still trying to address a quirk where the controllers and other player's headsets overlapped with the game's first-person VR view, and four player riding wasn't functioning yet, but it was still impressive.

It's not laser tag in VR. And it's not trying to be. And maybe, for a few dollars in an arcade, this is exactly where VR needs to be right now.

Oculus Go review: $199 VR, no strings attached.

Virtual reality 101: Your guide to VR.