Dan Carlin’s War Remains VR experience transports you into the Western Front of World War I, where you will hear the sounds of war, feel the wind on your face, and see bombs dropping all around you. There’s a good reason why this World War I exhibit is so popular. Carlin and his team have created an experience so immersive, you’ll feel like you really were dropped into the middle of a harrowing World War I battle. It’s an experience everyone should have. If you’re in Austin, Texas, you have a few more weeks to experience War Remains.
The team behind War Remains offered Heavy tickets to experience the immersive world ourselves. It was terrifying and awe-inspiring.
There are moments when you really do get a feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach. Whether you are gazing down from above as the wind beats against your face or walking in a trench as bombs shake the floor, War Remains is a whirlwind of synthetic experiences that incorporate more of your senses than standard VR.
The experience is best if you’re not spoiled on what to expect. But if you’ve already been there, you might want to relive your experience. So the first part of this review will be essentially spoiler-free. The second part will have spoilers, but we’ll warn you before we get to that section.
War Remains Review – No Spoilers
Dan Carlin created the War Remains experience with the help of a team from Flight School, MWM Interactive, Skywalker Sound, and Built by Bender. The VR experience is currently in Austin, Texas, but I’ve been told it might move to other locations in the future.
(This part of the review has no spoilers for the VR experience itself, but does describe what happens when you first walk into the admission room.)
Just stepping up to the building that houses War Remains gave me a sense of going back in time.
From outside the venue, you can see QR codes and parental advisories which are made to look as if they’re from an earlier time period. As you approach, you can hear big band music playing which reminded me of the Fallout soundtrack. But the real immersion takes place inside.
As you enter, a Victrola softly plays a grainy recording of Dan Carlin, describing the situation during World War I. You are seated in a time-period-appropriate waiting area with war propaganda posters all around. The chairs are wooden. An old-timey scale stands prominently in the corner. It feels quite like a WWI recruitment center.
An employee confirmed my appointment from behind a large typewriter and I was handed a medical clipboard to confirm my details (and sign a waiver).
A few minutes later, I was being led past a curtain and instructed on how to navigate the War Remains experience with a virtual reality headset on my head and a battery pack strapped to my side.
At War Remains, only one person can go through the VR experience at a time. They monitor you throughout the experience, so you’re perfectly safe. But believe me, sometimes you won’t feel like you are.
The runtime takes about 12 minutes, but overall I’d say to put aside 45 minutes for the experience (especially if you’re there with another person.)
The VR headset was truly immersive: I couldn’t hear or see anything outside of the experience itself. And from the moment the experience started, I was mesmerized.
When you step into the world, there’s a strong wind on your face and rocking at your feet. You actually feel bombs dropping around you and feel the shaking as the floor rumbles to the sound of an artillery barrage. At times you feel disoriented, not sure where to look or where to go next. But that disorientation is part of the experience and it’s there on purpose.
Don’t rush through the experience. It’s best to look everywhere. I missed an entire scene because I didn’t look to my right side at one point; I was so focused on stepping forward. Some parts were so realistic that I thought I’d trip on something that wasn’t even there.
You can also touch anything you want. Some of the things you’ll see on the screen have real-world counterparts, so you’ll think you’re touching them in real life. Don’t be afraid to look at every detail – but don’t kick down any doors. You’ll be warned about that and wonder why you’d want to. Believe me, there will be a point when you’ll understand why you were given that warning.
Allow yourself to be swept away by each and every moment, each and every scene. It’s well worth the lessons you’ll walk out with.
War Remains Review – Some Spoilers
Below is the section of the review where I’ll share some spoilers about what happened.
When I first stepped into the VR world, I was on a Zeppelin going to the front lines, while bombs were dropping all around me. I could cling to the cage as I dangled over the edge, and I could feel the strong wind on my face as the Zeppelin rocked me from side to side. It was a breathtaking moment.
Next my journey took me to an underground bunker with bombs going off all around me. The floor shook, mimicking the feeling of artillery.
Here’s what it looks like to any outsider if they are watching someone walk through War Remains. They have so many “real-life” versions of what you see on the VR that it really feeds the immersion.
In fact, much of what you see in the official video below is actually in the VR experience. It’s breathtaking.
When I walked from the Zeppelin scene to the bunker scene, I missed an entire storyline happening to my right, where soldiers were fighting and dying. I was focused on my feet because my brain kept tricking me into thinking that I was going to take a misstep on the planks that didn’t really exist.
I saw some rats scurrying at my feet when I walked into the bunker. Interestingly, when my husband went through the VR Experience before me, he missed the rats.
The War Remains facilitator who was helping oversee the experience on the day that I visited told me that men tend to miss the rats and women tend to see them. He said that’s because men who go through the experience tend to look straight ahead, while the women tend to look at their feet. Isn’t that interesting?
At one point while I was in the bunker, I thought I was stuck. I couldn’t get the door open and I couldn’t move forward. It lasted just a “shade” too long and made me wonder if I was doing something wrong. Then I remembered the facilitator’s warning not to kick down any doors. Oh, so this was the moment when some people did that.
That’s when Carlin calmly explained through the voiceover that this moment was designed to give me just the slightest taste of what soldiers felt like when they were cooped up in the trenches endlessly. It was brilliant.
Some of this experience takes place in the trenches. At one point, I had to walk over some planks that looked like they were about to break. I found myself hesitating to do it, and I had to remind myself that this was not real. The War Remains facilitator later told me that some visitors literally stopped at this point and had a tough time moving forward over the broken ground. He said one visitor needed an escort because the experience felt so real to them.
After the VR experience ended, we were led to a room where we could leave a note for Dan Carlin and read notes left from other visitors.
Overall, the entire experience was mesmerizing. It really gave me some perspective on World War I, and I think that it’s 100 percent worthwhile. It’s also a great way to introduce people to VR who aren’t familiar with the concept. The War Remains facilitator told me that he’s seen people who aren’t up-to-date on technology fall in love with tech while going through this experience. It opens people’s eyes to the possibilities of what we can experience through VR, while also educating us about the real horrors of war.
War Remains was created by Dan Carlin and directed by Brandon Oldenburg. Gigi Pritzker, Ethan Stearns, and Clint Kisker are the executive producers. Brandon Padveen and Jen Cadic are the producers. They did an amazing job.
You can buy tickets here.