On Tuesday, Google released Google Earth VR, which could be the best illustration of virtual reality’s magical capabilities to date. And it’s free. Already, just a couple hours after the Wednesday announcement, people are losing their minds about it — and that’s not an exaggeration. It’s already convinced at least one intrepid user that our real world is, in fact, fake.
The VR app, available on Steam, enables HTC Vive owners to romp around the Earth, through cities, over mountains. If that’s not exciting enough, users can elect to fly — either over the planet’s surface or into space. It seems designed to fulfill your biggest childhood dreams: Google Earth VR can transform you into a giant, an astronaut, or Superman. Take a walk across the Grand Canyon, through Manhattan’s skyscrapers. Fly over the Matterhorn, under the Golden Gate Bridge. You can even take a detour into the stratosphere and examine Earth from 20 miles out.
Between 2005, when it was first released to the public, and 2011, the original Google Earth application was downloaded over a billion times. Google kept it interesting by adding in Easter eggs, like a hidden flight simulator. The possibilities, even limited to a desktop screen, seemed limitless. But now, with VR, they are actually limitless. (Maybe one day soon Google will add in the ability to explore distant galaxies.)
Reviewers on Steam can’t help but fawn. Here are a few excerpts:
“Pure virtual reality magic… The earth is like a beautiful toy and you’re a god.”
“This is the future people, this is it.”
“You owe it to yourself to try this, the words ‘killer’ and ‘app’ come to mind.”
“About a year ago I was still a bit sceptical about the whole ‘we are living in a simulation’ thing. Then I started with VR- I lost my scepticism. But then - Google Earth VR. This is the definitive proof for the Matrix and that one day not to long from now we will build our own.”
Despite the fact that a sufficiently awestruck user can actually lose his or her mind, we can’t wait to give it a shot. It’s a sure sign that VR games and apps, which have long struggled to capture the general public’s intrigue, are at last breaking into the breathtaking realm. The app’s built-in comfort settings make it so users don’t get nauseous, and the HTC Vive’s controllers make walking, flying, and browsing intuitive. If you’re not yet an HTC Vive owner, don’t fret: At least there’s still Planet Earth II.