REVIEW: War Remains (2021)

An Immersive VR experience at the National WWI Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, MO

Occasionally I am on the look out for experiences that go above and beyond the normal events going on around tow at ay given time. Limited time engagements like my recent trip to Union Station for an Auschwitz Exhibit are things I try to always do. I recently visited the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, MO and noticed an ad for a thing called War Remains. It was apparently a virtual reality experience, which in itself isn’t that impressive – you can buy a VR headset for a relatively small sum of money and do many things that used to cost an arm and a leg at the mall in the comfort of your own home. I’m not even sure I can do a lot of VR stuff, honestly due to the fact that I get car sick really easily and have become ill on one of those fake roller coaster simulators. War Remains is different – instead of just sitting around and moving around with a controller, the company that created the experience has built a 20×20 or so room that has bits and pieces of trenchworks simulated creating a augmented reality VR combination that I have never come across before. Having the images of what has got to be one of histories darkest times interlaced with the visceral feelings of being there, being able to touch and interact with items is a class above all else. Produced by legendary history podcaster Dan Carlin, War Remains is something any history buff near Kansas City needs to experience at least once.

“This is not a game. This is History. Live through the war to end all wars unlike ever before. Presented by legendary “Hardcore History” podcaster Dan Carlin, War Remains is an immersive VR experience that transports viewers to the Western Front of the First World War. Witness history unfold from a soldier’s point of view in this thought-provoking, visceral encounter.

Carlin’s iconic voice leads audiences into the trenches as an active battle scene rages on. Through stunning visual effects, powerfully designed sound and a custom set that allows you to feel the trench and experience the vibration of the floor as explosions surround you, audiences will undergo the annihilation of innocence caused by the First World War and bear witness to the emergence of modern warfare. Experience War Remains in the Museum and Memorial’s Memory Hall.

War Remains is a solitary experience, allowing one user through approximately every 15 minutes. VR headsets and equipment are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between users. “

For around 25 dollars, patrons are treated to what basically amounts to a 15 or so minute short film that can be viewed from various angles and interacted with as if one is actually in the trenches of France during a German shelling at the peak of the war. The story is broken into five segments including an introduction, a narrated view of a barrage balloon high above the ground being attacked by enemy planes in the distance, a walk through a trench during a battle, taking cover in a bunker during shelling, and finally surviving a German tank raid on the very trench you were just taking refuge in only to witness mustard gas rolling in. In total you likely only walk like 20 feet in the entire thing, but you are tricked, via the vastness of the simulation, into believing you are in a wide open area full of nightmares at every turn. There are fans in front of you at various times giving the illusion of choppy wind and other sensory gimmicks that really added to the experience. being able to feel and touch things was amazing.

Perhaps touching things was the only problematic part of the experience, only because the technology is not quite perfect for immersion as of yet. For example, even though you feel things around you, one cannot see hands which causes a bit of a disconnect at times. I found it better to get really close to the walls and not look down while feeling thigs to trick my brain a bit more. perhaps future versions can add some sort of hand tracking technology, assuming they ever decide to upgrade it. There are also a few times where one reaches out to touch something, but a previous attendee that was perhaps overzealous slightly moved it at some point – this also broke the illusion a bit. That said, what was there was 1000% cooler than any VR I have ever done in the past, and I would gladly pay to do it again.

I’m on a big WWI kick right now, and as you can imagine, this absolutely fueled it that much more. Hearing Dan Carlin navigate you through the horrors of war was an experience I will never forget, and I hope more museums get attractions like this in the future. I was told that due to great ticket sales, this may end up becoming semi-permanent attraction at the museum, but they are trying to figure out a better place to put it rather than their Memorial Hall, which usually houses artefacts that have been somewhat pushed aside to make way for this. National World War I Museum and Memorial now owns War Remains, so I hope it becomes a fixture of the museum. Stay tuned for another entry about my trip to this museum, as I went to a handful of other exhibits during my visit.

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