The sun beats down as a gaggle of other journalists and I weave our way through Thorpe Park, led by a park rep to a very exciting new attraction. As Tidal Wave whooshes by and we hear screams of delight as Collosus turns another corkscrew, she informs us that visitors are even more excitable than usual today. They’ve heard that celebrity hypnotist and man of magical deception Derren Brown is in town.
Brown is putting the finishing touches to his highly-anticipated Ghost Train, the latest attraction to rollercoaster-packed Thorpe Park, located just 20 miles from London.
With its chilling trailer, extensive promo (Brown sent creepy life-sized Victorian dolls out to wander through London commuters on the Underground) and promise to give riders an experience “like nothing you have ever seen before” that will “derail your mind,” the Ghost Train is the year’s most anticipated attraction. Here are seven things we can expect from the Ghost Train.
1. VR like you’ve never seen before
VR rollercoasters are the ride du jour, but the Ghost Train is more than a mere whiz round the tracks with a headset on. “If we’d have wanted to do a rollercoaster, it would have been a lot easier,” admits Brown, “but there was no template with this. We’re embedding VR within a much more holistic experience, and there’s so much more going on.”
Throw in live scare actors, optical illusions and 4D special effects and the Ghost Train – located in a 2,306 metre square warehouse – and it becomes clear that the Train treads new turf untouched before in the theme park world.
2. Cutting-edge tech
When Brown and Thorpe Park embarked on creating the Train three years ago, VR technology was nowhere close to what it is today. The attraction’s headsets, HTC’s £690-a-pop Vive, send the wearer hurtling into a chillingly realistic VR universe. Perfect (although terrifying) for a good scare.
3. More bang for your buck
“I do like rollercoasters, but I think they’re always over too quickly,” says Derren. Perhaps that’s why each journey lasts 12-15 minutes, although the experience begins the second you step into the queue line.
4. A completely different ride to your neighbour’s
Each seat and headset looks exactly the same, but it’s not as simple as that. “There are 12 different permutation of the experience,” explains Brown, “so there are elements in your VR world that will vary depending on where you sit.”
This was done, in true Brown style, to befuddle riders. “I wanted people to come off and discuss what they’d seen, only to realise they’d experienced totally different characters,” he says.
5. Scarily good fun
“I do love the idea of being really scared of something,” admits Brown, “I think that the idea of getting really scared in a safe environment, there’s something very cathartic about that isn’t there?”
That’s the idea behind the ghost train – to “experience intensity,” without being in any real danger. That said, Brown was careful to keep the ride thrilling, not harrowing.
“I didn’t want people to step off the Ghost Train thinking ‘oh that was horrible, I want to sit down,’ I wanted them to say ‘oh wow that was amazing!’ I had a sense of what it would be emotionally.”
6. A ride that’s really not for the faint-hearted
The ride’s restriction and warning list is the longest in Thorpe Park’s history, and includes warnings that those who suffer from (deep breath); epilepsy, fear of confined spaces or heights, reality perception problems, a nervous disposition, anxiety, panic attacks, motion sickness or dizziness should keep clear.
“I’ve got a very high threshold for finding things scary, and if I went on this I would be scared and thrilled and amazed,” Brown says, “I don’t generally get very scared by horror films. I used myself as a benchmark for that.”
7. A spider-free experience (possibly…)
As for what Brown himself is scared of? The common house spider, apparently. “I don’t like spiders, I couldn’t go to bed if one was on the wall.” Will the Train contain any eight-legged friends? We’ll have to ride through all 12 versions to find out…
This was originally published on the Irish Examiner.