When we approached the unspectacular looking office building and saw the darkened windows were sure that this must be the place. To get into the mood we tried to sneak onto the terrace on the first floor and sneak around unnoticed… as even though we were still unarmed, this is what it would soon be all about. Scouting the enemies and profiting from the element of surprise to take them out.
H.E.L Shooter is the real life version of famous tactical squad based shooter games such as Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six.
After a short welcome chat we were handed a ‘one-day’ members forms for a shooting sport club as soft-air as a personal hobby is illegal in the Netherlands. Additionally we had to confirm that we are here entirely for fun and aren’t members of an organization with extremist violent world-views. Former special force member Marc Pollen elaborates that he is less worried of encountering stereotypical religious fundamentalist from the middle east, but doesn’t want militaristic right-wing neo nazi groups to use his experience as training grounds. After reaffirming our identity as harmless geeks we were handed our gear. Protective gloves, a cool vest and a face mask that forces you to recognize your friends by body shape or the sounds it makes when they shriek out in pain… because the enemy also holds what might be the most important part, the very realistic looking fully automatic soft-air gun. After some practice shots and a simple briefing, basically – ‘go! get the bad guys dead or alive’, we storm the first hallway where we are welcomed by rapid gunfire. The first encounter left me with a head shot and the realization that this plastic bullets will probably leave a marks. From then on it’s pure adrenaline, opening each door is another kick as you don’t know how and where the enemy will wait for you. We keep on shooting and after the first painful encounters we become more careful, but also more courageous as we tasted our first blood.
Still one starts to imagine how scary it must be to be in an actual firefight. Fortunately we don’t have to worry for our lives as we are only punished by the slightly painful shock of being hit. The enemy on the other hand, when being hit, drops dead. We fought ourselves all the way to the top, encountered an infiltrator, chased the evil mastermind and sometimes I stop and investigate with surprise how much marks and damage soft-air bullets left to the interior of the building.
The ending came a bit as a surprise and as usual with experiences like this, the time felt way too short. For around one hour I was fully focused thinking of anything else but rushing around, sneaking towards the enemy and enjoying the guilty pleasure of taking them out.
Afterwards we were sitting with Marc Pollen and his partner Thijs Huijsman, reflecting on the most exciting moments of the game, fantasizing about future possibilities. Turns out that some people in our team very much enjoyed the thrill of the action while others would have preferred some more theatrical story elements. While we agreed that there is always room for improvement we all had to admit that even this early version of H.E.L Shooter was a unique experience and it is truly impressive what these guys realized.
Especially these days we see more and more virtual reality action experiences in the making, however I find it difficult to imagine that a VR game can compete with the immersiveness of storming an actual building and having firefights with real people. For instance the encounter with an unarmed supporter of the enemies who we had to threaten and interrogate to receive information was one of my favorite moments and can not be compared to anything I have experienced in a video game.
Anyway, I am looking forward to see more of these experiences and to all the VR-game designers out there, I encourage you to convince me of the opposite 😉
BTW. You can meet Marc Pollen and Thijs Huijsman when they present the H.E.L Shooter at Up The Game this April in Amsterdam.
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