This review was originally created in October 2018 for HTC, targeted to their original Vive/Vive Pro (VIVEPORT). It is reproduced here without alteration.
The Amazon is the earth’s largest tropical rainforest, covering more than 2.1 million square miles, including territory belonging to nine different countries. More than 400 indigenous Amerindian tribes call the Amazon home, some of which have never had contact with the outside world. There are more than 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 430 different mammals, and 2.5 million different insects that also call the Amazon home. In short, whether it’s the fact that it represents over half of the earth’s rapidly vanishing rainforests, produces more than 20% of the earth’s oxygen, or any number of its other oversized attributes, there’s a lot to both appreciate and learn about this remarkable ecosystem.
Since it would be impractical to create a virtual reality experience that explores the entirety of the Amazon, Amazon Odyssey tries to distill many of its key highlights into what they call an “interactive eco-tour.” And unlike many other educational experiences like this, they really do mean interactive. This is a standing, room-scale experience that requires you to perform various reaching, turning, pushing, and pulling actions with your Vive controllers. Fortunately, thanks to the ability to warp to most game areas, your room size doesn’t have to be particularly large to get the most out of this experience.
First, you guide your parachute thousands of feet above the rainforest canopy, which gives you a nice sense of the immense scope of the rainforest. After you land at your campsite, you practice taking photos with the “eco-tablet” and build a fire to stay warm as the iconic rains fall. After nightfall, you then navigate a boat down an Amazonian river, where you take lots of photos. Finally, you control a paraglider over cataracts, or large waterfalls, formed by centuries of erosion.
The lengthiest part of the game is navigating your boat down the river and taking photos. At various points in this river adventure, you’ll encounter animals from more than a dozen species, which you’re encouraged to photograph in the most pleasing manner for the highest star ranking (don’t forget to feed the piranha!). The feeling of freedom and relative challenge you experience when using the “eco-tablet” to capture these visual highlights and lightly control the boat’s heading and speed is a nice contrast to the more pedestrian, and generally only lightly interactive, nature of the other actions you perform in-game. For example, both the parachute and paraglider offer little in the way of control and really are just ways for you to look around from up high until you automatically land.
Visually, Amazon Odyssey is about middle-of-the-road for this type of experience, with decent models, textures, and animation, but nothing particularly impressive. There’s also a good deal of graphical pop-in, particularly on the river adventure, where distant objects will noticeably show up or disappear without warning. Audio-wise, the experience fares a bit better, with good environmental sounds and a professional narrator providing contextual information as you advance in your journey.
As is typical for a virtual reality experience like this one, most of the interactive parts are challenge-free, and are just there to provide something to do in-between what are essentially educational information dumps. In Amazon Odyssey‘s favor in this area is its photography challenges, which helps to keep you on your toes and does help to gamify this type of experience more than usual. Unfortunately, by contrast, the visuals in Amazon Odyssey are something of a disappointment, so if you’re coming into this experience expecting to be wowed by a realistic representation of the beauty of the rainforest, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Overall, though, despite the uninspired visuals and sometimes pedestrian activities common to these types of games, if you have an interest in learning more about one of earth’s great treasures in a way that only virtual reality can deliver, you can do a lot worse than Amazon Odyssey.
Score: 3 out of 5 stars.
Amazon Odyssey is available on Viveport or with a Viveport Subscription.