The virtual-reality company that transported us to Darth Vader’s base in Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire and let us ghost-trap our way through a New York City high rise in Ghostbusters: Dimensions is back with another immersive experience—but this time, it’s you who’s being hunted.
In the VOID’s latest, Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment, you can strap on your virtual reality helmet, pick a Victorian-attired avatar and transport yourself and up to three friends back to 1894. Your mission? Investigate the mysterious (fictitious) disappearances that occurred at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, famously known as the Chicago World’s Fair, where an (also fictitious) exhibit featuring a bolt-shooting electro-spiritualism machine made contact with another realm of existence. Guests began vanishing and it’s up to you to figure out why—and how to stop it.
Brought to us by the VOID and the U.K.’s Ninja Theory—the award-winning video game studio behind Hellblade and Heavenly Sword—the new experience combines the curiosities and clues of an escape room with the jump scares and lurking monsters of horror games like Silent Hill.
Your VR travels begin at the Moveable Walkway, a mechanical platform on tracks slowly wheeling you past exhibit tableaus that become more foreboding as your trip continues. A tinny voice echoes from the gramophone hung over your car: “Welcome, friend, to the amazing Moveable Walkway! Leave 1893 in the past as this modern wonder takes you into the world of tomorrow.”
Something is very, very wrong. The Chicago World’s Fair, famously nicknamed the White City for its gleaming metropolis of buildings constructed to impress and amaze, is now tarnished, dark and decaying. Flowers wilt in one tableau. Posters and banners are torn, as if something has slashed through them. And because this is completely immersive—with sights, sounds, and physical rumbling thanks to the VR pack strapped to your back—it’s wholly terrifying.
Think of it more as a tour of the decrepit fairgrounds, and less as a video game, which differentiates it from the VOID’s Star Wars and Ghostbusters shoot-’em-up adventures. There are no guns here, no proton packs; only mysteries and clues, and even a supplemental, forthcoming novella—which, if followed correctly, can lead to an alternate ending.
As you leave the walkway-on-wheels behind and move from room to room, you find yourself completing puzzles, exploring the intricate world Ninja Theory brought to life, and looking for glimpses of—and trying not to get attacked by—the hairless, claw-handed Nicodemus as you go. The Fair’s displays form more of a maze than a straightforward procession, which is the design: The VOID utilizes redirected walking, a familiar device in VR that controls and guides the footpath of unwitting participants, fooling their minds into believing the space is much larger or different than it actually is. It’s one of CCO Curtis Hickman’s favorite touches, a fun trick from a decade-plus professional magician with a lifelong interest in illusion.
Curtis, who operates the VOID alongside his father, Tracy Hickman, cites his interest in magic and Victorian spiritual movements as major inspiration for his company’s latest installment—and first original concept. “There are some really interesting corners and places where magic touches that I’ve always been fascinated with, and one of those has to do with scrying and spiritualism—both debunking and also creating it,” he says, adding that Nicodemus is where his love of these and the Chicago World’s Fair finally overlap. “I mean, what an amazing setting for a ghost story to occur.”
In one room, a wrought-iron cage wheels you through a decaying arboretum and pool, its garden statues bleeding black muck from their eyes. In another, the Floral Society of Chicago and its wax figures—not to spoil the surprises—are certainly not the way they must have originally been posed, and are certainly not the same each time you look at them. The automata exhibit whirs to life at the touch of your hand, and mechanical, demonic monkeys with cymbals and knives clatter away, some even attacking you. (And yes, if you get too scared, you can always opt out at any point.)
This fall, the VOID will release a supplemental novella, written by the father-and-son team, providing a bit of backstory to the game’s plot—and pointing you to easter eggs. In the origin story, a silver-backed mirror interacts with magnets around the frame to create a portal; when you walk through the experience, you enter the room featuring the “electro-medium” contraption that summoned the demon—and these mirrors can be found on the wall to present “visions.” And, just as in the story, a look into them reveals something terrifying.
Brave participants may also want to keep an eye out for chalk scribblings as they journey from room to room. These are notes and clues left by a fictional professor, Milton Edwards, who entered the Fair’s ruins in search of his disappeared son. By following his instructions, you can theoretically, find that elusive alternate ending, as well as the definitive ending to the novella, which was intentionally left ambiguous—until you can unlock it in the VR realm, that is.
Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment is available at The VOID in Glendale Galleria; tickets are now on sale, and cost $29.95 per person.