I won’t dispute the importance of this documentary. Filmed back in 2014, David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef VR Experience documents the first time a submersible vehicle had been allowed to roam Australia’s famous coral reef. The intention of the documentaVRy is to bring attention to the landmark and the aquatic occupants that call it home as they come under greater threat from climate change. Since originally airing at the National History Museum in London in 2015, the VR experience has toured world museums including Norway and Australia. Now, the VR experience has released for home VR devices for the first time. What is debatable about this experience however, is the visual quality.
David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef VR Experience begins and ends with its most impressive moments – a view from orbit which closes on the reef as its visible from space. From here, we’re treated to a number of video clips on the creation of the reef shown on a number of 2D screens ahead of you. This is where the science of the barrier reef is explained by Attenborough in his usual soothing voice. Eventually, we get to the actual VR experience of getting into a Triton submarine and descending into the water. Here, we’re shown footage from 3 different 360 degree camera’s – One from inside the Sub, one attached to the sub and one from a diver swimming alongside the sub.
VR has come a long way in the few short years since 2014. It’s evident that this experience is a product of those early forays in the resurgence of VR tech from the early 20teens. More 360 degree video than Virtual reality, this experience lacks any kind of 3D effect. Instead, it’s like being wrapped in a 2D video produced by piecing together the multiple camera angles of GoPro’s stuck together to create a 360 degree view. What’s more, you can plainly see the seams of where each piece of video starts and ends. Some quadrants of your view are slightly lighter than others too, indicating that the light from the surface was hitting that camera at a different angle to the others. What’s more, the quality of the video is poor. It’s blurry, especially from the camera inside the submarine when combined with the “screen door” effect on the PSVR. As a VR experience in 2019, this is a poor one.
There are a handful of moments in David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef VR Experience 20 minute length when everything does comes together. One section, when a school of fish surrounds the submarine, is lovely, as is a section when some food is placed on the reef floor which attracts a plethora of fish and a shark. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between.
It’s the charm and obvious awe of David Attenborough that carries this experience. The naturalist and national treasure is genuinely enthused by everything he sees while aboard the submarine, sometimes breaking from his usual mellifluous calm to point something out with blatant excitement. There’s also a moment when Attenborough almost sits on the submarine pilot which was enough to raise a smile on my face.
As a VR experience, this is a subpar one and as a documentary, it’s too short and shallow. The few moments when the camera isn’t distractingly overlapping or blurry are hardly worth sitting through the other 18 minutes of video for. If you’re a fan of Attenborough though, his soothing vocals are ever present here which almost makes it worthwhile. Ultimately though, there’s a 3 part documentary series on the Great Barrier reef by the BBC that does everything this VR experience does and does it better, for 6 times as long. Just sit right in front of the TV.
David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef VR Experience is available now on PSVR (review version) via PS4, The Samsung Gear VR and the Oculus Go.
Developer: Alchemy VR Ltd.
Publisher: Alchemy VR Ltd.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the VR experience on PSVR. Please see our review policy for more information.