National Geographic Explore VR

5-star rating
Education, Natural History, Travel
Comfortable, Roomscale

National Geographic Explore VR Title including a diagonal splitscreen of Machu Picchu and a mountaineer climbing an icy mountain.

National Geographic Explore VR combines several effective virtual reality techniques to provide an immersive travel experience that both educates and exhilarates in equal measures. Transporting you to the Southern Hemisphere, this Meta Quest app includes a photographic tour of Machu Picchu and an expedition to experience natural wonders in the Antarctic.

Beginning at a base location, you'll be briefly tutored in the ways of the simple user interface and the basics of movement in VR before launching your first expedition. Initially visualized on a globe, your planned destination is also framed in front of you by the iconic yellow rectangle that both brands National Geographic and frames its celebrated magazine. It's used here to ingenious effect as a portal - select your destination and you are projected into frame and beyond.

The Machu Picchu experience comprises three locations rendered with photogrammetry - actual images from the site wrapped around carefully crafted 3D models. The effect is not only immersive but also remarkably accurate, to the extent that each stone from this six-hundred-year citadel appears to be faithful to the real location down to its unique grain and weathered surface. The landscape is augmented by other items that are computer generated but do manage to add to the sense of presence when combined with pleasant ambient sounds. Graphics are realistic enough and drawn so well that it's disappointing to reach the limits of an explorable area when what's beyond looks so good.

Exploration through photo assignments and graphical recreation.
Exploration through photo assignments and graphical recreation.

Your first impressions of Machu Picchu will be from the top of the hill overlooking the site where you are provided with an introduction on how to use the in-game camera, and some historical context about the location's discovery. From this overview position you can also see the other two selected locations that you can visit.

We love the way the photography tasks are used to structure site exploration and keep the audience engaged with fun challenges, all while being informed by an audio narrative that develops as an interplay between the voices of two different guides. Included in the photography tasks are occasions where you need to engage with graphical reconstructions of what an individual building may have looked like, or what it may have contained. Some of the narration did feel a little patronizing however, and the content of the guides' revelations can be somewhat limited at times.

Photogrammetry used to great effect for Machu Picchu.
Photogrammetry used to great effect for Machu Picchu.

It was clear that the Antarctic experience would be very different from Machu Picchu as soon as we climbed into the kayak. Gone is the photogrammetry of ancient ruins, and instead you're invited to paddle into an icy wilderness populated by penguins and other creatures yet to be discovered. Though you can paddle and steer as much as you like, there's no need to work up a sweat as the current guides you in the right direction. The photography tasks are still present here, and capturing images of local wildlife will also trigger snippets of an audio narration.

Once moored up on an ice shelf, you'll next need to tackle an ice wall with a pair of axes. For the more adventurous, there's a challenging circuitous route, but even the simplest route straight up might trigger a sense of vertigo in some people. Simulated wind whips around you and chunks of ice fall off into the water below, providing a sense of peril. Thankfully it is impossible to fall from a ledge or mis-step with the ice axes, but if this segment is too much for you, you can return to the main menu and skip to the next scene. We do recommend working your way through the complete Antarctic experience though, as we were amused and delighted with some of the surprises and the orchestrated spectacular reveals.

National Geographic Explore VR impresses because it combines great variety with an impressive professional polish as it both teaches and entertains. Of course we would have liked to have a third global location or more, but for the price this experience is well worth checking out.

Antartica by kayak and spectacular ice climbing views.
Antarctica by kayak and spectacular ice climbing views.

Frame your travel photography between assignments.
Choose your destination and frame your travel photography.

✅ Variety of experiences and challenges.
✅ Excellent presentation and structured content.
❌ Wish there were more global locations.

• YouTube: Trailer (contains spoilers)
• Languages: English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Spanish
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