Google Earth VR is an inspirational tour guide through a horrifying mirror world

Wonder isn’t dead. Despite having easy access to infinite knowledge from a dirty phone whose battery life is never enough, PCs capable of rendering individual hair follicles on brainless space marines, and the frozen treats section at Trader Joe's, I can still get all teary-eyed over a nice view. Set some moving synth music to it, and phew, you got me. 

Google Earth VR is Inspirational Crane Shot: The Game, where you’re given free reign of Google’s global imaging data across a simulated Earth, and set loose. Most impressive is how Google uses terrain and imaging data in coordination with some magic Silicon Valley math to render mountains, valleys, and even individual trees and buildings—to magic math’s best ability, that is. 

From a bird’s eye view, seeing four walls and roof on every house in San Francisco or London is pretty astounding. I feel like Superman, peering down at a real place, even if it’s not exactly to scale until you’re right on the street.

Down and dirty

And street level is where things get wack. Every object looks like it was rendered circa 1995, and then corrupted by a maniacal AI bent on eliminating the human race by luring them into a venus fly trap recreation of our reality. Everything is normal here, in low-res San Francisco where no people live and the cars are fused with the ground. Trees billow like toxic clouds, buildings sport messy polygonal appendages, and Google’s Magic math turns power lines and shadows into abstract sculptures. It’s not exactly pretty, but it’s still just familiar enough to tap into your memories of a place, like a dream you’re trying to remember. And in that way, Google Earth VR is powerful, especially given the implication that their data and algorithms will improve, and VR headsets will someday become advanced enough to mirror our eyes’ ability to see . 

As of now, only major cities and a few national parks have been given the 3D treatment, but in time we could all be esteemed world travelers, minus the whole human cultural experience. 

The better VR games, like Chronos and Hover Junkers, have come and gone before the platform has even found its footing. I can always go back, but they're beginning to feel dated. Google Earth VR, as awful as it can look now, is built to grow with the platform. It's only going to get better, which isn't something we can always say of videogames, let alone the real world. For that alone, it would hold my interest for years to come, but it's already intensely strange and curious. 

Dibs on VR Everest, by the way. Canada, too. And wherever they filmed Jaws. Nice beach. 

James Davenport

James is stuck in an endless loop, playing the Dark Souls games on repeat until Elden Ring and Silksong set him free. He's a truffle pig for indie horror and weird FPS games too, seeking out games that actively hurt to play. Otherwise he's wandering Austin, identifying mushrooms and doodling grackles.