On the 1st July 2016, Derren Brown's Ghost Train officially opened to the public for technical rehearsals and I was one of the lucky few to be able to experience it before it's official opening. What follows is an extremely long review and walkthrough of the attraction which will be summarised by bullet points in addition to long paragraphs to make it easier to read.
(I uploaded a previous review yesterday regarding the experience which some of you may have read. I deleted it because after reading it back, I thought I could re-write it a lot better so this is more of an updated review than a new one.)
PLEASE NOTE: There will be some spoilers ahead in this review with detailed explanations of what happens, so unless you would like to know what happens, please don't read ahead. I didn't need to sign an NDA or form when I rode this 3 times.
So to begin the review, I'll start with the exterior and queue-line:
1) Queue-line and exterior
The queue itself has two photo booths which you pass through before you begin your experience. The first one involves you looking through a glass window and focusing your eyes upon a red dot on a TV monitor screen which displays certain images related to the theme of the ghost train. During this stage, the dot moves up until it turns green telling you the picture is taken. You are given a "one way ticket" with a barcode which you must scan on the reader in both photo booths in order to get both types go photo at the end.
About 20 minutes down the queue later, you approach the second photo booth and there are signs giving the symptoms of an infected person such as white, bloodshot or dilated pupils which all relates to the vague fracking theme of the attraction. In this booth, using the tickets you were given earlier, you then individually place your heads onto these stands and look straight into a screen to align your eyes with the camera. Once it's aligned, 3 cameras (one at the front and two on each side) scan your head using LED's to light your face up from all angles which I presume is for a 3D rendered head in a jar souvenir you can buy at the end of the ride, as well as a regular additional on-ride photo with your head in a green jar. After you've been "disinfected", you proceed to the last section of the queue which is roughly another 20-30 minute wait if the line is full.
As for the queue speakers, the audio kept on cutting in and out constantly on an average time of 15 seconds and it happened all day through all the speakers. Not sure why this was happening but I can only guess it's a glitch with the audio system in the queue as they were testing the exterior audio all morning it seemed. Sure it will be fixed very soon, but the audio itself really did build up tension whilst waiting in the queue!
Lastly, you are then grouped together with about 55-60 other people outside the baggage booth. Here, you just simply wait outside whilst dropping off your bags until the green curtain slides back and you are then welcomed inside the building. Unlike the other indoor mazes which involve a staff member telling you all the safety instructions before you go inside, this didn't happen. Derren himself tells you this inside the building which leads to the next part of the experience.
After passing through the green curtain, you enter this very dark room which has a stand for you step up onto and you look upon a scene which involves a vacant empty chair under a spotlight, and a black chalkboard behind. Above you are a series of about 10-12 differently styled light bulbs all lit up dimly, all with an old-fashioned look and feel to them all. Above the scene in front of you are two projectors displaying text on the walls which are used for directional purposes to lead the audience in and out of the room before and after the show has finished.
When the show begins, Derren appears in front sitting in the chair and he discusses about what the meaning of fear is, how it links to enjoyment and what awaits ahead inside the Ghost Train. Amongst his speech, he subtly goes through the safety and recommendations for those who might find it a bit too much to handle. Before long, he finishes with "I'll see you on the other side" before disappearing from the room promoting you to proceed to the next star of your journey.
I found this pre-show very entertaining to watch as it was very well executed and convincing for the audience, plus it built up more tension for the other guests I noticed! So for the pre-show, great intro and build-up for what's to come!
3) The Ghost Train (Part 1)
As you leave the pre-show room, you are led up a few stairs round the back of the building and you then enter the warehouse with the victorian train carriage suspended by chains in the air. From first impressions, the carriage is a lot larger and longer in length than I was expecting and the platform you walk along is quite high up. Whilst you wait in the warehouse on the suspended platform for the next train, you can hear various sound effects coming from all angles inside the warehouse, such as bats flying above you, screams from the ghost train, and the sound of trains moving along the rails below the suspended carriage. I must admit, the sounds coming underneath the carriage on the gravel floor sounded identical to the real London Underground trains when they move along the rails so it was a very realistic sound effect also coupled with an echo effect just to make it more realistic.
Before long, the carriage doors open and the previous guests from the train carriage leave the platform and exit through another door whilst your group proceeds to board the train through the other set of doors. The train conductor and actors are there shouting "All aboard!" dressed in uniform and directing you inside the carriage. Once inside however, the atmosphere changes entirely. Gone is the dark, old-fashioned sound and feel to the red carriage you just boarded and instead, you are greeted by two London Underground staff instead inside a perfectly identical replica of a London Underground train (more specifically the ones used on the Northern and Jubilee lines). The detail inside is so close to the real ones that I begin to wonder if the creative team had the designers from the real tube train involved with this project. There isn't a seating arrangement or plan once inside, you just take any seat you can find and get your headsets ready.
TIP - even though there were a couple of headsets that weren't working, make sure the headset you put on has a green LED light lit up and NOT a red one, otherwise the content won't work. They don't make this obvious but please bear that in mind when you board.
It also became obvious why the number of seats recently went from 60 to 58. In each carriage(s) , two seats next to each other were stripped back room for wheelchair users, so there's no need for disabled passengers to leave their wheelchair, which also helps with the throughput.
TIP - when you put on your headset, the best and more comfortable way of doing it is to place in on the top of your head then before you place the goggles over your eyes, pull down the two speakers for the headphones instead. They are ergonomically shaped to fit your ears so you'll know if they are fitted on correctly. Once they're set, just pull down the headset and adjust the tightness of the headset with the velcro straps just like Galactica. Even though my vision was fine all 3 tries, I couldn't work out how to focus the image through a mechanical dial like Galactica has. Maybe I'm being stupid and missing it, but I couldn't feel or see anywhere to adjust it. Not that I needed to, but maybe someone else will.
I won't go into too much detail about what happens inside, but rest assured, there's a lot more to this ride than you would be lead to expect and it certainly makes the experience very thrilling and engaging. The first half is by far the best part of the entire experience!
On e this section is over and you've got off the train (as it does physically move into another section of the building) the next part of the journey begins.
4) The Evacuation
As the underground staff guide you out of the train, they lead you through to a room which stinks of this gas they mentioned telling you to cover your mouths. Once you've evacuated the station, you find yourselves inside the underground tunnels itself with various other underground trains parked stationary. There is also a giant leaking pipe which the construction workers inside are trying to fix. The whole feeling and atmosphere here made me quite nervous as it was very loud with the noises of train passing through the tunnels and the stench coming from the gas leak.
Here as a group, various effects happen which include of a moving train, shadow, light and sound effects and acting from the underground staff. Again, I won't say much here, but it certainly surprised me the first time!
I must say, some of the effects used in this section really had me for a few moments. This coupled with the smells and nosies really made this section a thrilling yet mildly scary section of the experience.
5) The Ghost Train (Part 2)
As before, you take your seats in the underground carriage with the VR headsets on (don't forget to find one with a green LED light on it) and the final section of the experience continues here. The underground train through the headset is empty again and the train moves virtually and physically again for a quick moment here. Then, out of nowhere, one of the creatures rips apart the entire side of the carriage you are sat in and you can see outside a street in London with lots of cars and vehicles congested and abandoned whilst your carriage is held upon a bridge.
What happens next is rather not say but it does involve more visual effects with the headsets as well as more physical movement from the train carriage, including a brief sensation of falling.
After this, the ride experience is over and you exit the carriage from where you started through the victorian carriage, you are then lead down some stairs to the baggage hold area and finally through the ride's shop.
Now, I'd like to quickly talk about the VR headsets as that had quite an important role in this experience.
6) VR Quality
Compared to Galactica's headsets, I can assure you that these ones used on Ghost Train are of far higher quality for the following reasons:
• Everything was much higher definition with more pixels and a wider viewing angle.
• Unlike Galactica, the VR content was a smooth 60fps film from start to finish making the quality much nicer.
• The headsets I find are much more comfy to wear and the speakers are louder than that of Galactica's.
• The headsets used two images for each eye but at slightly different perspectives. What this resulted in was all of the content being rendered in 3D making the experience even more immersive.
Overall, I would say that this is a solid investment for Thorpe and it certainly delivered in many areas I was hoping it would, some of which exceeded my expectations. The VR quality was great, the build-up worked effectively, the theming is some of the best we've seen yet at any theme park in the UK and it thrilled me with fear and excitement which is what the ride is designed to do.
The best thing about the experience is how all of the technology, mechanics, engineering and theatrical elements all bind together to create this very unique experience. If Thorpe can keep them all in sync together as it currently is and enhance the experience a little more with some slight alterations, this can in my opinion be one of the best ride experiences out there currently that I know of.
However, due to the fact it was a technical preview, there were a few bugs I experience the 2nd and 3rd time I rode it. At one point, the headset I wore in the final section forgot which direction I was looking and very quickly zoomed to the left, and the other bug was when I looked to far down the carriage on the left the 2nd go, the graphics seemed to shake and wobble slightly. But thankfully, for both of these glitches, they automatically fixed themselves both in less than a second after I noticed them, so the system involved detected the glitch and fixed them almost immediately.
Another little disappointment I had was the entire experience wasn't as scary as I was expecting it to be. Don't get me wrong, it still made me pretty nervous in some areas, but not terrifyingly so. Mind you, a lot of the other guests seemed pretty scared as a lot of them were screaming inside the carriage, so it might just be me being used to scares delivered at theme parks probably.
So even though there were a couple of downs, the rest of the experience was superb in my opinion and I will happily give it a high recommendation to any park guest to try and do. Bear in mind it was a rehearsal, so it wasn't 100% delivering, but as it stood when I rode it, it's fantastic and is in the top 3 rides for me at the park now.
Derren Brown's Ghost Train - 8/10
To finish, below are a series of images taken from the day in addition to the on-ride photos you get which are both included in the DigiPass. Enjoy!
Also, if you would like to ask me any questions about the experience, please feel free to ask.