Opening two months later than a launch date that was already later than convention, Thorpe Park had much to prove with Derren Brown’s Ghost Train.
The stakes were also high for Brown himself, after lending his name to a theme park ride for the first time.
He also agreed to issuing statements claiming that the ride represented the future of theme park attractions.
The spin preceding the ride has been approaching that seen in 2010 during the promotion of Alton Towers’ Thirteen rollercoaster.
Merlin Entertainments chief executive Nick Varney has also labelled Derren Brown’s Ghost Train as a “game changer”, while the construction cost has been reported as being £13 million.
Brown has been vocal – and continues to be in the form of a hologram during a pre-show – in his desire that riders keep the attraction’s contents secret, so that others can enjoy it.
Since Thirteen, we at Ride Rater have always encouraged people to resist temptation and not read spoilers before they experience things for themselves.
So thanks for visiting, but please bookmark this page and come back after you’ve been to Thorpe Park for yourself!
While we are in the business of thorough reviews, it is worth noting that we may actually be incapable of revealing many of the ride’s secrets at this stage.
The ride incorporates virtually reality and apparently features 12 possible ‘scenarios’ and two variable endings.
Due to the ride’s huge popularity at present, and we rode just the once – so what we describe may well be quite different from what you experience.
SPOILER ALERT: The Review
The ride is housed within a vast building – half brick effect, half wood – adorned with grafitti and partially ripped posters.
Dramatic film-score-like music plays loudly – at points too loudly – in the queue line.
You pass through an infection-screening booth where your photo is taken. You can buy your photo later by reproducing your ticket, but ours showed a different group of people.
As you enter the main building, you watch a pre-show featuring a holographic Brown, who explains how fear and adrenaline work in humans, virtual blackboard and chalk included.
Merlin’s trademark odour effect, abundant in Thirteen and its Dungeon attractions, is present as you precede into a large open area which features a full-size Victorian-esque railway carriage seemingly suspended by chains in mid air.
We see a preceding group of riders coming off the train, none of them looking particularly terrified or otherwise emotionally affected, even though they have just completed the experience.
As we board the train, which turns out to be a modern London Underground-style train housed within a Victorian shell, we are impressed at the realism and resemblance to the real thing.
After taking your seat, you place a headset incorporating virtual reality eyepieces and earphones over your head.
The sets require a little adjustment to get the right focus on the screen, but this is helped by a technical message which is displayed before anything happens.
As the experience begins, everyone around you has has suddenly disappeared.
It took us a while to think of turning our heads, but when you look toward each end of the train and see it is completely empty, the effect is somewhat effective in messing with your senses.
The train accelerates to the next station, and there is physical movement of the train combined with the visual cues, which is also effective.
A ghostly Victorian-style figure boards the train at the next station, sitting in front of you and talking to you about ”gas down here” while his dog barks anxiously.
He disappears and a demonic girl then lunges at you – clumsily mistimed with leg touches from the staff that have remained on the train with you.
We are soon ushered from the train in a panicky evacuation, being asked to cover our mouths, presumably due to some sort of infection-type back story, or maybe the gas alluded to earlier.
We leave the train and realise that we have moved into a convincing replica tube station, the platform from which you are evacuated and ushered into an underground track junction.
Staff continue to shout as you pass two stationary train fronts in tunnels, while a third tunnel fills with smoke and produces loud sound effects indicating a rapidly approaching train.
Lights of a train move towards you as its horns sound, it almost comes out of the tunnel – of which we are stood in front – and then suddenly disappears, being replaced by monstrous noises which half give the impression of something coming after you.
We are then whisked back into the waiting train at the platform, presumably as some sort of escape effort, refitting our headsets after taking our seats.
The carriage is attacked by the same monster that accompanied Brown in scare-the-public publicity stunts that preceded the ride’s opening.
As the train moves forward within the virtual reality environment, the visuals attempt to show a post-apocalyptic city – presumably London – being attacked and torn down by mutant creatures.
Falling debris hits the train and leaves a gaping hole as a creature boards and lunges at you, while a manhole cover lies at your feet.
There is a oddly long period of greyness where nothing is visible other than two distant lights.
The train rocks and eventually falls from its elevated tracks, into a gaping fissure in the ground below.
The rest is a blur and the experience ends suddenly, leaving us to leave the train and be that same group of somewhat emotionally blunted people we saw disembark just a few minutes before.
The ride is confusing in its story. While not quite to the extent of the Nemesis Sub-Terra, the ending we experienced was a little anti-climatic.
The experience is too reliant on virtual reality technology that is just a little too pixelated and low resolution – the CGI is reminiscent of an average video game.
Physical forces of the ride are sadly minimal, but there are numerous moments where you are left trying to work out where you have moved, how the trains have actually travelled and where about in the building you could possibly be.
The ride clever, high-tech and laden with effort, but unfortunately it is not terribly scary.
Its re-rideability remains to be seen, and possibly the other ending and different scenarios are better.
Brown and Varney were right to say that it is unlike anything else that has happened before, but it would be questionable to say that it represents the likely long-term future of thrill-seeker attractions.
As far as scaring and exciting people goes, physicality will endure long after virtual reality has faded into a distant memory.
If Brown was as heavily involved with the concept as has been claimed, he should admit that while his Ghost Train is a good product, it is hardly the greatest thing he has come up with.