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Mission: Impossible is coming to VR

It’s coming to a retail space and sofa near you -- if you choose to accept it.


Startups like Nomadic ask you to put on a VR headset and then roam around a playhouse of sensors and props for a more immersive experience.

James Martin/CNET

I'm no Tom Cruise.

That's honestly the first thing I thought when Doug Griffin, the CEO of Nomadic, told me he'd struck a deal with Paramount and developer VRWERX to create a Mission: Impossible-inspired VR experience. Of course, the best part of virtual reality is you don't have to be an action star like Mission: Impossible's leading man to have a thrilling time.

"It's going to be about the adventure," Griffin told me. While many of Nomadic's experiences so far have been about zombies or stopping a drone invasion, the Mission: Impossible experience, which is still in development, won't be as focused on shooting enemies. "We want people to walk away and say, 'That was absolutely amazing.'"

For years, VR makers have promised to transport us to fantastical computer-generated worlds, from epic spaceship battles to massive movie theaters on the moon to scuba diving with a giant blue whale. All you have to do, they say, is put on a headset that straps a screen so close to your eyes that your brain is tricked into thinking you're in the game world.

So far, it's been bumpy. VR sales haven't lived up to the hype.  VR gear is still a little pricey. Facebook's $399 Oculus Rift and HTC's $499 Vive still requires a high-end computer to play, pushing the costs beyond most casual players. And app developers are anxious that no one's found the must-have "killer" app that will convince you, me and everyone else to buy in.  

That's where Nomadic and competitors like The Void come in. They're part of a growing list of companies creating experiences you can't have at home, outfitting retail-store-size spaces with fans, heaters and all sorts of props to give us a level of immersion we wouldn't otherwise get.

The result is I could walk around with a headset on and think I'm in the game world. I could stick my head outside a train in the game world and feel wind on my face in the real world. It's the most immersive experience I've had yet.

Some of the companies that have already partnered with these new breed of VR companies include Lucasfilm, which created an approximately 10-minute-long Star Wars VR experience with The Void called Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire. In that game, you play a spy dressed as a stormtrooper to infiltrate an enemy castle. When I played in September, I was surprised by how immersive and fun the experience was.

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Griffin and his team think Mission: Impossible will be a winner for those same reasons.

"Mission: Impossible, if you know the franchise, it's not about shooting and killing. It's about teamwork, and rising to the occasion and saving the world," said Russell Naftal, co-managing partner at VRWERX, which previously made games like Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul, made for Sony's PlayStation VR, as well as the Rift and Vive. He said the Mission: Impossible game will be inspired by the movies, but it will not directly lift big moments we already know, like the hero hanging outside an airplane door or climbing the outside of the world's tallest building.

"We want people to feel like they are who they are and they're working for the Impossible Mission Force," Naftal said. "And they'll either do the job in a stellar fashion or they'll be sloppy."

So far, Nomadic's opened one location in Orlando, Florida, and is planning others in Los Angeles and Las Vegas in the coming year. The company charges $25 apiece to go through its its experiences. The Mission: Impossible game will be available in the late spring, with a version for home devices like the Rift, Vive, PlayStation VR in the months after.

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