For what seemed like forever, I would see these promotional 'coming soon' signs for "The Void" virtual reality experience on the third floor of the Mall of America. While VR is interesting to me in the first place, they specifically promoted a Star Wars experience that looked really interesting. Well, The Void is now open, and I had the chance to check it out.

Before I entered the VR Star Wars Universe, I had a great conversation with staff about the company and what to expect. The MOA location is one of 11 currently open in the United States, and 16 overall around the world. They describe these experiences as "the most immersive virtual reality destination ever" on their website. I pressed the staff on how immersive, and they said they would put every one of my senses beside taste to use.

Most VR experiences require gloves or some kind of hand gear, along with other things to "immerse" yourself in the experience. The Void immerses you in rooms with only a headset (for visuals and sound) and chest pack for body sensations. No gloves, no boots, or other equipment required. The ideas is that you your body is sensed using the cutting edge equipment they use, so your hands, feet, and the rest of your body (along with the bodies of the people with you) are sensed and show up in the experience without wearing or holding a lot of obtrusive gear.

The MOA location was offering two experiences at the time I was there; Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, and Ralph Breaks VR, based the 'Ralph Breaks...' movie franchise.  Well, my friends and I obviously opted for the Star Wars experience. Here's a teaser video for the experience.

Suiting up is pretty simple. First, slide on the chest pack; which is kind of like a vest (only a little bulkier). It fits snugly and does have some weight to it, but it isn't uncomfortable to wear. They are designed to fit most people, and are adjustable. The other part of the gear is the helmet with the visual/audio components. This seemed pretty similar to other VR headwear I've worn. It was light, comfortable, and offered high quality and immersive visuals and sound.

After a briefing on your mission, you head into the VR world. It is amazingly realistic. As you can see from the video, a part of your mission is on the volcano planet Mustafar. You experience heat (don't worry, it's definitely bearable heat), the smells you'd expect, and even the sensation of a rocking ship or blaster fire. Built into the headsets are microphones so you can also talk to your teammates on your mission.

The overall experience is crazy realistic. It is very easy to get lost in the world around you. The visuals, sounds, smells, and everything is realistic and well-timed, and even the timing and accuracy of something like aiming and pulling the trigger on a blaster is spot-on. You actually hold a real "blaster" prop in your hand, just for reference. While every movement and every experience was generally as accurate as real life, there was one moment where I was supposed to complete a task with my hands where the experience fell slightly short.

Remember, you wear nothing on your hands, so sensors detect where your hands are in this virtual world, and something was slightly off between what my hands were actually doing and what they were doing in the VR world during this task, which slightly impacted the experience. Even with that slight glitch, the overall experience was still incredible. This slight inaccuracy was definitely an anomaly among all of the elements of the experience, and I can't overstate that.

You spend about 15 or so minutes immersed in the VR world, which moves by pretty quickly. Time flies when you're having fun. It was definitely a well-spent 15 minutes.

So, how much does this experience cost? For the Star Wars experience at the MOA location, it cost each of us $34.95 (plus taxes and fees), putting us around something like $37 or $38. That may seem a little steep for 15 minutes to some, but it is still pretty darn cool.

Is it worth it? Overall, absolutely. If you can match yourself with a storyline/world you're interested in, it is super cool. For me and my friends, the Star Wars universe was an awesome place to visit, and everything was very realistic (even considering the accuracy blip I mentioned). The only thing my group discussed as something to change is that there are a few periods of time where you're just "in the world".

This is obviously going to vary from story to story; but for the Star Wars one, there are a few moments you're just there. Most of the time, you're walking, shooting, or doing something exciting. Those few moments you're either just aboard a ship or something, some people might find that underwhelming when you only have about 15 minutes of time in the VR world. I found the time to be interesting to just look around and explore, but one of my friends commented that he thought those moments (though very limited) didn't bombard the senses in the way the majority of the experience does.

If you're thinking about checking out The Void for yourself, they do recommend making reservations. You can make your booking through their website for groups up to 4. The Void in the Mall of America is located on the third floor, right across from Culinary on North, the newest food court on the north end of the building. You can see a map here.

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