In some ways, hyper-realistic firearms training has been the holy grail of the defensive, police, and military shooting worlds. While there’s a lot you can do on the range, there are still some steep downsides to being limited to live fire.
The biggest one is cost, especially for those of us who can’t print money or take a cut of every transaction in town. People often have enough trouble coming up with ammo to learn the basics and take their first shooting class. Getting really good at basic marksmanship and then moving on to intermediate and advanced classes often just doesn’t happen due to constraints on time and money.
The other limitation to range shooting is that there are things you just can’t do, like practice fighting against real humans. Workarounds, like airsoft, simunitions, training simulators that have a big projection on multiple walls, and simply setting up targets to simulate a few seconds of various defensive scenarios all have one thing in common: they remove the danger and legal issues. But, they fall short of what would be the perfect training experience (that would probably look something like this).
One thing that’s been almost completely worthless in the past has been video games. Learning to get really good at moving joysticks, mice and WASD keys around can be a lot of fun, but you don’t learn any of the actual physical skills involved.
But, that’s been changing in recent years. As I pointed out in November, VR technology has come a long way toward actual realism. With 3D vision, a 360-degree environment and motion tracking, it’s possible to feel like you’re actually there. When I first played Star Wars: Tales From Galaxy’s Edge in 2021, I found that the real-world tactics for best use of cover and concealment I’ve learned over the years actually worked. But, when I raised the controller to fire, a lot of the realism was lost when there was no recoil and only a spongy trigger button.
Various solutions are in development, with some that look promising to solve that last realism gap, but what I didn’t know a few weeks ago was that a company called AceXR basically had it solved and they were about to go to market.
Instead of trying to use the Meta Quest 2 or 3 controller as its own gun, they designed a realistic-feeling pistol with a slot on top for the controller to ride in. They call this a “handset.” It’s weighted and has the feel of a real pistol, has a realistic self-resetting trigger and has a magazine-release button. The software is calibrated for the controller to be pointed in a completely different direction, and everything lines up like it should in software.
The end result is a training experience that my brother says feels a lot like going to the range with a Ruger Mark IV 22/45 with a heavy barrel. Like shooting a heavy .22, there’s no recoil, but every other part of the experience is right. Here’s a video of the target practice and sight alignment untimed drill:
The Ace XR is pretty decent so far. Videos don’t really do justice to the experience, unfortunately. 🧵 pic.twitter.com/y9WUPslz0B
— Civil Defense League (@CvlDfnseLeague) December 28, 2023
The app already has dozens of experiences, including common IPSC stages, free ranges and custom drills made by the company. You can choose different guns, put different sights and optics on them (including the Holosun 507c ACSS Vulcan I typically use) and build a custom avatar for multi-player experiences with friends.
While Meta is hesitant to allow force-on-force training, there are still several nice experiences that aren’t possible on a real shooting range. One of them is the “360 Drone” drill, where drones come flying over the berms carrying steel targets. You have to shoot them before they get too close, and you’re aiming to hold out for as long as possible.
What really sucks about sharing video from VR experiences is that it’s 2D and you don’t get a sense of what it’s like for the image to perfectly follow your movements. It’s a LOT more realistic than it looks (and challenging).
It uses a realistic controller, too. pic.twitter.com/t8kIva2mrW
— Civil Defense League (@CvlDfnseLeague) January 16, 2024
Not only would this be dangerous (shooting in all directions and over the berm), but it’s a federal felony to shoot a drone down, because it’s still considered an aircraft. But, these aren’t real drones and they’re not coming at you on a real range. So, you can make like a Russian soldier and try to see how long you survive against the drones.
Another very cool 360 experience is the “Zombie 360”, where you defend a shack with holes and gaps in it against invading zombies until one gets too close.
Getting Into This Is Pretty Affordable
Obviously, getting into AceXR will require picking up a Meta Quest VR headset. But, the prices for those have come down quite a bit in the last few years. You can pick up a Quest 2 (that’s the one I use) for $250 now. The better and sharper Quest 3 starts at $500, but you’d probably want to get the 512 GB version for $650. I wouldn’t recommend the Quest Pro, as most apps cannot use its advanced features and the newer Quest 3 is generally better.
The AceXR software and “handset” gun controller will set you back about $250. This gets you a year of membership to all of the app’s features plus shipping for the free handset. So, all-in-all, you’re in for about $500 to get this all set up.
While you’re at it, it’s also worth considering getting some other VR shooter games to practice in nonrange scenarios (the AceXR gun doesn’t work for most other games, but some might have settings you can tinker with to get it working). One great one I’ll be writing about next week is Ghosts of Tabor, but I have another rifle stock on the way to test with that.