Alton Towers yesterday opened its gates for the 2012 season, and unleashed its new dark ride Nemesis Sub-Terra.
Heading straight to its Forbidden Valley site, we were greeted by a queue that extended beyond the original Nemesis rollercoaster’s entrance all the way to the fish and chip shop.
Once the official queue line was open and the pens filled, the LED sign on the entrance indicated that the wait was 120 minutes, but we waited for little more than half that before we were ordered into the building by the uniformed staff members.
The outdoor queue section contains a number of video screens relaying information in the style of a military/scientific briefing.
It effectively creates anticipation of what is going to happen inside the green corrugated Sub-Terra building. What happens inside is about to be explained, so take this as a spoiler alert.
What lies beneath
As we approach the entrance, one of the well-dressed security guards – or Phalanx operatives – shout orders Full Metal Jacket-style and and order you into the batching area in a group of 40 in front of the entrance to two lifts.
As you enter the elevator, it is explained that it is travelling down an underground shaft, and lighting effects just about pull of the illusion of travel.
The door opens to reveal an underground cavern, or catacomb, just ahead of the main ride chamber – which remains sealed at this point.
Unfortunately the faux rock effect plastered on the walls is not particularly realistic and fails to create an immerse underground atmosphere.
As the main ride chamber opens, an egg can be seen with several classic sci-fi-style zappers pointing at it.
The egg is too small and extremely underwhelming when you see it, but the room is dark and dingy and it is moderately well themed.
Four rows of ten seats face the egg centrepiece and we are ushered into the seats and told to pull down the lap bar, which has remnants of water spray on it.
Audio and video plays explaining the loading procedure, but it is out of sync as we are already secured.
Details of the discovery of the alien egg are then played and we are told that it has been displaying signs of life.
The lights dim and loud sound effects play for a few seconds before the ride freefalls around 10 feet – the smallest drop of any such ride I’ve ever been on, it feels effectively pointless.
The four units are drop towers from ABC Engineering, they are similar to the Extremis rides at the various Dungeon attractions in the UK.
There is little force that accompanies the drop, unlike the London Dungeon example which is twice the weight and drops further.
We have fallen to the lower section were water is sprayed at us, as well as more loud sound effects.
We understand that leg and back tickler effects were not working when we rode and these were sorely missed as it never felt like something could be running around amongst us.
The top-loading nature of the towers will also catch a few people by surprise and provide a good thrill, but Alton Towers incorporated that idea into a rollercoaster two years ago – this feels like a bizarre choice of ride so soon after Thirteen.
We are hoisted by the noisy whir of the ride system back up to the original observation level, where the egg can been seen to have hatched.
Emergency sirens and warning messages blast out through the sound system and security personal usher us into the escape lifts with fairly well acted out urgency.
Inside the lift, the Phalanx operative looks extremely concerned as it begins to shake and bang violently.
A roof panel becomes dislodged and the wall panels move, attempting to simulate the alien creature attacking the lift and attempting to gain access.
It’s this final section that could frighten anyone under the age of 12, and is probably the reasoning for the ride’s recent classification in that age rating and also its 1.4-metre height restriction.
As the doors open, we are shouted at and told to run towards the safety of daylight and our group shuffle-walks out.
The ride feels slightly rushed and is ultimately disappointing on the whole, and that is excluding the actual drop towers as they were just as what was widely expected for many months.
Alton Towers have missed the opportunity to make the experience more immersive and on opening day the ride appears to have been presented to us not firing on all cylinders.
There is no excuse for ‘opening day blues’ or ‘teething problems’ as the ride should have been properly tested and prepared before being unveiled to the public.
What was presented on opening day was substandard. It left you feeling confused and when you thought back to it later in the day, laughing with disbelief.
It isn’t clear whether or not all the effects working would have made much difference or not, but as stated above, it never realistically felt like there was something in the room with you at any point.
Some of the staff are also excessive and irritating in their shouting of orders, the silent ones staring at you through sunglasses are far more effective.
It’s debatable whether or not they will remain as part of the attraction in the long term, particularly in their dozen or so numbers at present.
Many guests have not been impressed by the £4 million attraction, with a number making negative comments both upon exiting the ride and on social media yesterday.
An opportunity has been missed to create a lasting and quality dark ride experience based on a fantastic and absorbing storyline.
Elaborate and extravagant ride systems are not always critical in the creation of such things, as Alton Towers itself proved with Hex twelve years ago.