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Killing zombies in VR is the new laser tag, but at your movie theater - CNET

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June 11, 2018 9:00 AM PDT

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Sandbox VR sticks you in full-body VR with backpacks, guns and hand sensors. I've been down this road before.Scott Stein/CNET

I'm loaded up with a rifle, headset and backpack. In a crumbling mansion, zombies are everywhere, jumping on me from behind, dropping from the ceiling. Infected rats scramble over the floor. I last as long as I can, until I go gray. My partner next to me revives me with his hand on my shoulder. 

We have 20 minutes to go, and my finger's already tired.

Multiplayer VR arcades are a hot trend. Dave & Buster's has VR games using HTC Vives. There's Star Wars VR at Disney, and Ghostbusters VR at Madame Tussaud's, and VR shoot-em-ups in Vegas. Sandbox VR, a company that started with multiplayer VR centers in Hong Kong and Singapore, just opened its first US location in San Mateo.

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Gear is lined up on the walls: At the pop-up, four people at a time.Scott Stein/CNET

The setup, similar to what The Void has used in its location-based VR centers, has HTC Vive Pro headsets, backpack PCs and haptic vests for up to six-player games in open spaces. The company's also launching smaller pop-up centers, starting with Imax VR locations in New York, Los Angeles and Bangkok.

I tried Sandbox's pop-up experience at the Regal Cinemas on 42nd Street in Times Square, New York. The green-walled space lives off the lobby near the concession stands, looking like a mysterious green closet. Inside, a wall of backpack PCs, modded Oculus Rift headsets and gaming rifles are set up for four people to play at a time. Tickets will cost around $25 a person.

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I played with a Sandbox VR rep who at least knew how to survive better than I did.Scott Stein/CNET

Sandbox VR is using these pop-up experiences to buy time until more custom-build locations can arrive in the US and elsewhere. The roughly 30-minute game felt like an old arcade shooter in VR, like Sega's House of the Dead. The plot was ridiculous, the graphics a little muddy, but the feeling of being stuck in an old, evil house was strong. Occasional wind effects from installed fans really helped.

A captured video of your green-screened action is sent to players as a souvenir. You can see mine in the video above, minus the enemies I fought: The fancier San Mateo location blends the real world and game world into a better mixed-reality video, but my location did not.

It's definitely not for little kids or those afraid of jump scares. It might be worth one try if you've never experienced VR before... or, you might want to hold out for the next VR arcade that could pop up any day now.

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

Virtual reality 101: Your guide to VR.

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