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Stonehenge VR Sandbox

3-star rating
Casual Gaming, Education, Travel
Comfortable, Roomscale

Stonehenge at dusk

Stonehenge VR Sandbox is a PCVR curiosity that is equal parts museum exhibit and building game. The experience shines greatest as a museum tour, which after a brief introductory locomotion tutorial and useful map animation, transports you onto England's Salisbury Plain for a close encounter with this famous prehistoric monument.

The tour leads you along a prescribed path and a narrative audio guide accompanies you as you use controllers to teleport between locations. The guide illuminates the tour with brief insights into the different stones and suggests prevailing theories about their placement and purpose. The Museum Tour shows off some of the program's great lighting features - repositioning the sun to show what Stonehenge looks like on the summer solstice, at dusk and lit by a firepit at night.

Though it's pleasing to stand within the stone circle where visitors are not usually allowed, our immersion and sense of place was diminished by a lack of faithful modelling and graphical detail. A comparison of the placement of the stones (see image below) shows that care was taken to achieve a level of positional accuracy, but unfortunately this doesn't extend to the stones themselves. Stone model shapes and textures don't match the real thing, and the same computer-generated stones are reused several times to construct the monument. We would have also liked to see photography used to depict the hills and scenery that exist at the site, rather than a generic grass texture and a surrounding land berm to hide the horizon.

View of the stones from within the circle.
Inside the circle. The real stones have a different texture.

The tour is over in around fifteen minutes, but doesn't offer an opportunity for you to roam around the monument. For that you will need to move into the sandbox mode and complete the tutorial. After the tutorial is complete, you may teleport freely around the stones to appreciate them from every angle, changing the time of day or switching to night-time.

The sandbox mode feels out of place - especially since its first action in the tutorial is to demolish Stonehenge! Thankfully you can easily bring it back or load up other creations that people have made in this mode by building three dimensional models with stone blocks. The sandbox mode does extend the functionality of this experience, though it feels somewhat incongruous when offered alongside an educational tour. Introducing multicolored paints to the sarsen standing stones definitely felt wrong, as did knocking over the whole structure with a flick of the wrist.

Sandbox is more Minecraft than museum, but unfortunately the user interface isn't anywhere near as good as Minecraft and we found this to be more frustrating than fun. Aside from a poor use of icons and pointers, we found a lack of rotation options made it difficult to position and balance blocks. Which was important since it didn't take much to accidentally disturb previously placed blocks and there wasn't an undo function that we could find.

Stonehenge VR Sandbox is a capable museum exhibit that offers some learning experience and an element of play, but we can't score higher than three stars because of the lack of immersion caused by the use of generic graphics and modelling to recreate the stones and Salisbury Plain. Also, there was a missed opportunity within the Museum Tour to show how the stone circle would have looked before time and weather took its toll.

Dark silhouettes of the famous stones, with a dark deep blue starry night sky behind.
The tour shows the henge at all times of day with great lighting effects.

The real Stonehenge is on the right.

Multicolored stones arranged into a large jenga stack reaching into the sky.
We weren't expecting to be playing Jenga on Salisbury Plain.

✅ Plenty of sights and details on the museum tour.
✅ Free-roam Stonehenge from the sandbox mode.
✅ Sandbox offers extended content.
❌ Realism suffers due to less than faithful graphics.
❌ Teleport locomotion only and no snap-turning.

• Wikipedia: Stonehenge
• Languages: English, Mandarin
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