I’m sitting in an underwater pod observing some beautiful, prehistoric giant turtles swim around. Suddenly, a pliosaurus — a lizard-like monster — arrives and starts eating the turtles, spluttering blood everywhere. That’s one of the first things you experience when playing the VR game Time Machine. It’s a pretty gruesome start, but also what makes this game worth it. It’s like visiting Jurassic Park in virtual reality.
Unlike the movie, there’s no walking around and petting brachiosauruses. But there’s the thrill. You’re underwater and you have a mission to accomplish. The year is 2033 and a weird virus that was once trapped beneath the ice is now infecting and killing half of the world (not even virtual reality can escape global warming). Monda Museo, a corporation with a real purpose that is a bit of a mystery, has picked you to use a time machine and go back to the year 155 million BCE. Your job is to scan some dinosaurs, and hopefully in the process you’ll gather knowledge that will stop the virus and save the world. The virus is lamely dubbed the Jurassic flu.
Several hours in, it's still unclear how scanning dinosaurs will help me find a cure, but honestly the plot is almost superfluous to the experience of getting a close encounter with all sorts of wild creatures with names like pliosaurus, ophthalmosaurus, and dakosaurus. I was surprised to Google the names of these animals after playing Time Machine and discover how similar the in-game creatures were to what scientists think they looked like. Apart from the fact that some of the dinosaurs are trying to eat you, they’re amazing to observe. I spent a minute or so following a titanite around, just to see its shell and tentacles up close.
Maneuvering the pod underwater is not always easy. I found it hard to steer where I wanted to go, constantly fighting my craft’s momentum when turning. To make the task slightly easier, and a bit less terrifying, you can press a button and magically freeze time for a short period. That gives you enough time to go inside a giant fish's mouth and scan its gill rakers, for example, before being swallowed to your death. But all the maneuvering made me queasy. I know that’s a problem that a lot of people have when they’re new to VR. In Time Machine, it doesn’t help that you’re looking at creatures that are swishing around and you often have to move away fast to avoid becoming a dinosaur's snack. To make things even worse, bright hexagons flash in front of you every time you’re going back in time. That was painful, and unnecessary.
It’s also fairly easy to get lost. You’re underwater and everything is murky. To help with that, your trainer, Rob, tells you what to do and the dinosaurs you have to scan light up to get your attention. There are also some sparkly orange arrows that sometimes direct you to the right spot, taking away from the immersive experience. Despite that, I got lost twice in the open ocean and Rob reprimanded me for getting too far from our research area. Sorry, Rob.
Time Machine can get slightly boring or frustrating at times. It took me a good 15 minutes to scan the small eyes of some fish, for example. But if you stick with it, you also get to observe a decomposing dinosaur that dakosauruses are feeding on. And you’re there with them floating around some prehistoric ocean. It makes the queasiness quite worth it.