Review: Australia’s First Virtual Reality Rollercoaster Is Weird (But Awesome)

Image: Warner Bros Movie World

Arkham Asylum was already one of Movie World’s most thrilling rollercoasters, and just over a year ago, a new virtual reality experience was developed for the ride. Somehow, I overcame my fear of high-speed theme park attractions and recently got up to the Gold Coast to give it a try.

Arkham Asylum is a ‘suspended looping coaster’, which basically means you strap into a harness that comes down over your shoulders, leaving your feet and arms dangling free. Achieving speeds of up to 85km and a heavy 4.2G’s, the ride is about as physically challenging as any ride you’ll find up at the theme parks on the Gold Coast.

I was initially hesitant to try the coaster with a VR headset on because I hadn’t ridden it since I was much younger and I felt that the VR might take away from the experience of the coaster a little. After all, some of the appeal of riding Arkham Asylum is that unusual feeling in your stomach that arises because you know what’s coming next – you can see the twists and turns of the track which allows for that split second processing ‘Oh shit!’ moment.

With a VR headset on, I thought you might lose some of that appeal. The VR headset for Arkham Asylum is a simple Gear VR, specially designed for use on the coaster, and is an entirely optional addition to the ride. It costs an additional $5 and needs to be purchased from the booth just before you jump on. It has an adjustable headstrap which is controlled by a dial at the back of your head, ensuring that it doesn’t fly off during the ride.

The headset isn’t particularly heavy and it sat snugly on my head, tight, without feeling uncomfortable. I was most worried about that extra weight on the ride – Arkham Asylum is a relatively ‘bumpy’ ride where your body gets tossed around a bit and I thought that the extra weight (and the inability to predict what was happening next) might cause some distress, but was relieved to find that I mostly forgot I was wearing the headset at all.

The technology itself is impressive. The headset was synced perfectly to the twists and turns of the ride, so there wasn't any dissonance between my stomach and my brain, which would likely contribute to the contents of the former coming out of my mouth. However, it's disappointing that there is no sound to match the experience. The headset doesn't include an earpiece, so you're stuck listening to the screaming of children (and adults!) seated around you.

The vision inside the headset is interesting and plays into the Arkham Asylum setting well. Using the same character models as Rocksteady’s Batman series, you start in a small room, strapped to a chair. The Joker appears and gasses you, which begins a hallucinatory sequence that aligns with the rides twists and turns. As you ascend the first steep hill on the ride, you’re watching yourself slowly rising through various levels of an unknown facility, before you reach the roof.

Then the ride begins.

Joker throws you off the top of the building and you’re suddenly flying through the air in virtual reality and in reality reality. It’s a weirdly disorienting experience because in the headset, you’re not on any predetermined track, you’re merely floating through largely empty spaces encountering numerous villains from Batman’s Rogues Gallery. While your body physically reacts to the coaster your brain is trying to process what's happening in front of you:

'Oh god! There's Killer Croc! What is that... oh, Mr. Freeze? AM I UPSIDE DOWN NOW? WHERE AM I?'

Because of the speed of the ride, there isn't a huge issue with the image quality. Virtual reality still suffers a bit with the inability to clearly render images, but because of the pace with which you move through the virtual world, there isn't much time to take stock and examine the surroundings.

Once the ride comes to a stop, you watch as Batman takes care of the Joker and drags him out of the room. As I stepped off the ride, this weird wave rolled over me and the world seemed slightly out of focus. My partner immediately decided she needed to eat something. I was a little wobbly.

But that's exactly how I wanted to feel coming off a thrill ride.

There are a number of VR rollercoasters scattered across the globe, but as the only VR coaster in the southern hemisphere, it’s well worth paying the extra fiver to get a taste of this glance into the future of theme park attractions. However, I suspect the new Movie World DC Rivals hypercoaster might be attracting the longest lines when it opens in the near future.

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