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WARNING - This review has very STRONG spoilers Choo Choo... No this isn't Runaway Mine Train, this is MY Ghost Train (Well actually it's Derren's, but I got to experience it last weekend). Delayed for two months, a hype built higher than Kingda Ka and being the largest investment in Merlin HISTORY! I, of course, had low expectations. EXTERIOR I'll begin my review on the outside, we were greeted by a 90 minute queue in the baking heat, so I had lots of time to sink in the exterior, unfortunately, most of the poster theming had been destroyed by the guests'. Apart from the huge red shed that Thorpe has proudly placed at the front of the area, the actual building itself is well themed and the music was loud, maybe a little too loud (is that possible?). Apart from the AWFUL photo spots, the queue itself wasn’t that bad, the baggage room was well themed and the batching area kept the hype going… now it was time to go through to the pre-show. INTERIOR The pre-show started, with the worlds lamest ‘jump scare’, Derren waffled on about fear (I did pay attention, honest!) and another lame jump scare, although I did appreciate the special effects, this pre show felt like it was actually him talking to me, not just a video. We move onto the main room and I was taken aback, the train looked incredible and really looked like it was hanging! I have no idea how it’s done, the way the trains are hidden is actually the most mind bending thing about this attraction. The VR headsets come on and the story begins, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6... The scares begin and I was already screaming before the video started, the whole first VR section felt so realistic and I was immersed in what they was saying, I had the young man, old lady and old man so I got to experience a difference in the stories, my 3rd ride on DBGT 1st VR experience was the best VR I have ever experience, so crisp and clear. So after my knees were attacked by Thorpe’s ride host, we moved into the second part of the attraction, after a lot of shouting and confusion, this huge train comes swinging towards us, the effect would work well if they had more smoke and less lights but I still jumped back in time. Onto the second train and off we went, this time the story got confusing for me… why the explosions? Where’s Derren gone? Is Derren a member of the Green Party? But the demons did scare me, but the extremely long gas section made me loose interest and I could feel myself wanting to remove my headset, next thing I know, we’re falling to my second home, 5,4,3,2… an abrupt ending and back to reality. We exit into the highly themed shop and I had experienced the ghost train. Pros – - The physically train and underground theming. - The first VR experience nearly made me fall off my seat - The ride system works SO WELL. Cons – - The whole ‘sub core’ story comes out of nowhere, it feels like they’re two different plot lines happening throughout the whole attraction, Derren Brown & Sub Core. - Second VR section comes across very out there, making me confused to what was actually happening. - Making me change my pants because it scared me THAT much. Overall Review: The newest major UK theme park attraction, was certainly an experienced I’ve never had before, the plot line and lack of physically theming let it down for me, but it did what it was created for, to scare you. I’m unsure how this will keep up in a few years’ time, the technology is far too underdeveloped for how much it gets used and was already straining when I visited, I have a strong opinion that VR is NOT the future of theme parks, but that’s a debate for another day. Trolley Dolly 7/10
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. 2) Pre-show 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. 7) Conclusion 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.
Captain Obvious Alert - This blog may contain spoilers. So on Sunday, I did Containment, the new escape experience at Thorpe. I've never done one of these escape room things, and I've always been a bit sceptical about the idea - so many things can go wrong which can ruin the experience. But nonetheless, I was still excited to try it out... One thing which is worth noting was our group was made up of only 6 people (4 TPMers and 2 randomers), rather than the full 10. This was at the 4pm slot, so it makes me wonder if not enough are keen to spend the money on another attraction / there's not enough advertising going into it? Anyways, review time... The pre-show video was nice, and did seem to nod to Experiment 10? The trouble was, it was very difficult to hear (not helped by the nearby leaf blower and Swarm's roar). Whether this was intentional (to draw people in closer to the screen to help with scares) or not is hard to tell, but it does just need to be easier to hear. Big thumbs up need to go to the actor here though; really did a great job at creating a funny, but also slightly eerie, feel. The first room I assume is meant to play on the fear of darkness. It was a bit disorientating, but not scary or challenging really. I guess it's a nice way to introduce you to the concept and get you rolling. The second room was a lot more challenging. The actor in here gave us a great jump scare and then started acting very crazy and creepy. Constantly going 'tick tock, tick tock' and 'clock clock clock' to try and give us a hint to the situation. I'm not entirely sure how we cracked the code, but I believe we did just in time? Not really sure. So we moved onto the third room, where a lovely female actor started to cough all over me. She appeared to be dying and was in desperate need of the much sought-after antidote. Wasn't she taught about 'Catch it, Bin it, Kill it'? Anyways, this room was a bit tricky, in that it was relatively easy to figure out what we needed to do, but it was just doing it which was the problem. After a while, and following some general interaction from the actor, we eventually got it done. The final room awaited... Final room is a weird one. The lights went out very quickly and we were left really unsure what to do. The actor shone a UV light to reveal the hidden message of 'Find antidote' on the wall. After some general walking around in the darkness and trying anything and everything to get closer to figuring out what we needed to do, eventually the actor shone a torch in the general direction of a massive clue to help work out the final code. Once the code was worked out, it was just a case putting it in - in very little light - before we had escaped. And that's how it ended. We pressed a button and after a few seconds, the actor opened the door to let us out. It had all ended so...confusingly. We had cracked the final code, and got let out. The story has disappeared and it just leaves you feeling so uncertain. I had to ask the actor if we had completed the task because it just felt like the end wasn't there. Being lead outside and asked by an ordinary member of staff if we had completed it (to hence be given our wristband) feels like a missed opportunity too. Despite the sudden ending, and perhaps my less-than-excited sounding review, I really did enjoy Containment. It's a fun experience and something very different to what the park has ever offered. It needs some more work, but on the whole, it's a neat thing. So - what could be improved? 1) The preshow. Having the preshow inside would be best, as it would make it far easier to hear. Alternatively, just not have a video and let an actor give it. I appreciate space is the issue here though. 2) The scare rating. This was rated 5/5 stars, and yet was not really scary. Yes, there was a couple of jump scares and a couple of dark scenes, but not enough to warrant a 5 star rating. Arguably, this isn't scarier than Blair Witch, and so isn't even worthy of a 2 star rating. That's not to say it's not a good attraction and not something that doesn't deserve its place at Fright Nights. Either the park need to make it scarier / more intense. Make you have to work against the actors, with them deliberately trying to sabotage you, rather than have them being generic scary people who eventually point you in the right direction. Or, lower the scare rating. Given what they've tried to do, and that I assume more people will be 'got' by the scenes, a 3 star rating might have been more suitable. I guess giving it a low scare rating would make it harder to sell tickets though. Speaking of which... 3) The cost. Given the restricted numbers and the popularity of the attractions at Thorpe, I think a charge is a sensible idea. But a £10 charge is a lot. And perhaps too much - if they're not filling out the groups and have already stopped offering timed tickets online (instead giving you a time on collection I believe?), then maybe the demand for such a high-cost attraction isn't there. Lower the cost, reduce the group size or push the experience more. 4) The ending. There needs to be more of an ending. I think scene which shows you which rooms you solved and ones you didn't (say by a green / red light on a screen), along with a corresponding message, actor interaction to give you a wristband, plus a scare to get people out would really help the attraction feel complete. So - is it worth it? In a nutshell, yes. It's a steep charge for what they are offering, but I genuinely think it's a neat attraction which can only grow if they continue to offer such an experience. Let's hope it does return next year; though with new / updated puzzles and scenes!