Astra: Exploring The Solar System From Your Couch In Quest 3 Mixed Reality

Quest 3 has been making waves in the mixed reality space, and recently we had the chance to experience one of its latest mixed reality offerings, Astra, from Atlas V and Albyon.

Astra seamlessly blends physical and virtual worlds to put you in an immersive starship. Players will travel to, and beam down onto, some of the more notable moons in our solar system.

As described on the game’s Meta Store Page:

Embark on a mixed reality journey that transforms your room into a spaceship for a mission to the deepest corners of the cosmos. Following the research of your late astrobiologist mother, travel in space and visit planets and their dark moons in the search for life. You’ll try to uncover the mystery of life in the universe and make sense of your loss and grief. ASTRA blends storytelling, mixed reality and interactive design with stunning environments, guiding you through a deeply personal yet universal adventure.

Directed by the visionary Eliza McNitt behind the acclaimed virtual experience “Spheres”, produced by the creative studio behind the Emmy-winning “Madrid Noir”, and featuring the voice of Taylour Paige, ASTRA will open a breathtaking window to the cosmos right from your own home.

Gameplay

While there is some gamification to this experience, it feels rather light, like something added to keep players engaged in a narrative teaching them about various elements we’ve found on some of the more significant moons in our solar system. The gameplay aspect presents itself as a sequence of beaming down to the surfaces of moons and collecting elements to bring back to the ship for analysis. All of this collection is in pursuit of finding the right combination of elements that would come together to support life. Other than the scanning and collecting, tapping on virtual control panel screens to select the next destination is about as interactive as this experience gets.

So here’s what’s you’ll find:

Transform your living space into a starship to navigate our solar system. Beam down to moons and use hand gestures to scan for elements and collect them.Study and manipulate virtual objects that are built from the elements collected.

Graphics and Sound

Astra’s graphics are the main draw here creating an immersive experience that brings players into a sense of inhabiting these alien worlds. The visuals presented in the game’s full VR sequences are, simply put, stunning. Each one features detailed environments that showcase these moon’s surfaces. In addition to the exploration, there are Astra’s mixed reality sequences, which also look fantastic.

Between each mission, players will return to the bridge of their starship. Once there, they are presented with overlays of viewscreens and windows that peer out into space coupled with good use of 3D models that are clear and bright and pop against the real world backdrop players are seeing through the color passthrough of the Quest 3. Seeing the Rings of Saturn through the viewscreen, that was now part of my main living room wall, took my breath away. When leaving for a new destination, I believed my living room had just gone to warp. For just a split second, I actually felt as if my floor was moving with the turning of the ship and the sense of acceleration while going to warp made me slightly weak in the knees.

Some of the highlights include:

Highly detailed environments that look semi photo-realistic.Mixed reality sequences that blend both physical and virtual worlds to create a sense of presence.Fluid animations that bring environments and objects to life.



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Sound Design

The sound design in Astra is also quite impressive, with rich and immersive audio enhancing the overall experience and helping to deepen the immersion. The relaxing ambient music and believable sound effects blend nicely with the unfolding narrative being voiced by Grammy-nominated singer and actress Taylour Paige, who is best known for her roles in the films, “Zola,” and “The Toxic Avenger”.

Key aspects of the sound design include:

Relaxing ambient musical backtrack.High-quality sound effects that add realism to interactions.Voice acting that brings the characters to life and adds depth to the narrative.

Overall, the visual and audio design come together nicely to give players a well presented way to explore parts of our solar system, and maybe even learn something new right from their own living rooms.

Potential for Education

We’ll be curious to see if this Astra develops further for use in directly educational settings. Even in its current state, there’s a lot of potential to form memories and understanding of the solar system in ways that reading from a static page just can’t achieve.

Conclusion

Overall, Astra is standout experience that showcases the power of mixed reality with the Quest 3. Through it’s engaging narrative, stunning graphics and sound, comfortable design, and potential for education, Astra sets a new standard for mixed reality experiences. Whether you’re a seasoned VR enthusiast or new to the worlds of mixed and virtual reality, Astra is a must-play experience.

Notably, Astra on the Quest store includes a new mixed reality safety risk notice we’ve not seen before: “Mixed reality can feel very real, since it blends the digital and physical worlds together. Some experiences can feature realistic violence or lead to strong emotions or distress. Be mindful of physical obstacles in your space and always play in a safe environment. Younger players should talk to a trusted adult before trying.”

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