Thanks to a partnership between Six Flags and Samsung Gear VR, thrill rides are getting a little more, well, thrilling.
Roller coasters are scary, thrilling, and, for many enthusiasts, fun. Virtual Reality (VR) is also, depending on the content, scary, thrilling, and fun. Putting the two together into one experience might sound like overkill, enough to make your head explode, but that’s precisely what Six Flags and Samsung are doing by launching America’s first Virtual Reality (VR) coasters at nine of its theme parks across the country. We had a chance to try out the experience first-hand and are happy to report that our heads didn’t explode. We even lived to eat lunch a mere 15 minutes after our third ride in a row.
With all nine coasters, the setup is the same: you put on the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR headsets and then you ride on an actual attraction. What you see in VR is coordinated with the movements along the roller coaster track, all thanks to sensors on the track and Bluetooth in the headset.
At Six Flags Magic Mountain near Los Angeles, VR has been applied to the Revolution roller coaster, a red-white-and-blue classic that opened in 1976, the year of the United States Bicentennial. Redubbed The New Revolution for its VR enhancements, the iconic thrill ride has an intense 45-foot diameter loop and 3,457 feet of tubular steel track.
As soon as we hopped aboard, attendants helped us secure the fit and focus settings on the Samsung Gear VR headset. (Yes, even people with glasses can wear it.) Once you’re wearing the headset, you’re transported into the make-believe cockpit of a fighter jet, rising up an elevator to a lift-off point—the coaster’s initial climb and plummet. Throughout the ride, you fly up and down, in and around buildings, smashing through signs and windows, near-missing underpasses and buildings, shooting baddies until you calmly land on the runway of an aircraft carrier. It’s essentially the ultimate motion simulator ride.
So how does the enhanced ride compare to the old-fashioned experience? Whereas roller coasters are scary in and of themselves—giving riders the unparalleled anticipation of every twist, plummet, and turn ahead—the lack of perspective on the VR experience makes it a little less terrifying. You’re less aware of what’s ahead, so you’re less nervous. Of course, it’s still thrilling, especially when you do hit that loop without warning.
It was hard to decide which version was scarier or more thrilling—the Revolution with VR or without. But in the end, ‘reality’ wins out over ‘virtual reality’ by a very thin margin. The good news: if you’re willing to wait in line twice, you can still try it both ways.
Thomas Wagner, founder of VR Coaster, the German-based developer that created the experience, says that VR gives theme parks more opportunities to reinvent rides, creating entirely new experiences out of old attractions. “VR is opening up more possibilities in terms of theming,” he added, referring to the ability to refashion an existing ride around a new Marvel superhero movie or trending topic. “VR offers theme parks an opportunity for real-world storytelling, iconic characters, even interactive video games.” In other words, the ability to re-skin a roller coaster by just changing the VR channel means that visitors won’t have to wait so long for upgrades in the future.
Ready to try a VR coaster for yourself? The first three—Shock Wave at Six Flags Over Texas, Dare Devil Dive at Six Flags Over Georgia, and The New Revolution—are already open to season pass holders, and will open to the general public later in April. The next wave of openings will bring the trend to Six Flags parks in St. Louis, upstate New York, and New England. And you can also try it out at other parks, such as the Alpenexpress Coastiality at Germany’s Europa Park and the XR Roller Coaster at Universal Studios Japan.