I've been a roller coaster junkie for well over a decade now. When I go to theme parks it isn't for special events, or for the water parks. Nope, I go to spend a day riding roller coasters. So when I got the chance to take a ride on the new Galactic Attack VR experience at Six Flags America here in Maryland, I jumped at the opportunity.
This wasn't my first ride on a VR coaster so I had a vague idea of what I was getting myself into. The reality, virtually enhanced of course, was so much better than I could have hoped.
It's time to save the world
Sitting in my seat, I can see through my headset to the world around me. There's a Heads-Up Display in yellow spewing stats at the edge of my vision, but I'm waiting for things to really kick off. I know that my mission is up in space, not sitting here as I wait for my craft to launch. Another long moment passes, and I can feel us jump into motion. As the craft picks up speed, I can feel the breeze in my hair, and then we're off and all around me is space.
This experience is actually a kind of game, and that made it even more fantastic.
In front of me, and to the sides, enemy fighters are absolutely everywhere. My side cannon warms up, firing rapidly as I aim with my head at the aliens who have come to invade and destroy the Earth. My ship swings down, funneling between two massive warships as I continue to fire. It's sheer madness, smaller fighter ships swarming around me as I desperately fire trying to avoid being taken down in the fray. One of the larger warships breaks apart into fiery pieces in front of me, and I zoom through the debris and into the guts of another ship.
In front of me, a massive beast rears and I aim firing madly, trying to survive. My ship crests past it, and everything goes quiet. The battle is over. I've survived.
A better experience
This is the second time I've had the chance to ride a Samsung-powered VR Roller Coaster at Six Flags America here in Maryland, and both times it has been supremely exhilarating. This time I got to check out the Galactic Attack experience while riding the Mind Eraser. Six Flags and Samsung have done a great job with their VR coasters and the tweaks and changes that it has made to both the experience within the headset, and the headset itself.
The modified Gear VR headset itself attaches with a harness that fastens onto your head, and two different lanyards to help keep it in place. The fit was comfortable and snug, even when I was being flung through corkscrew turns and loop-de-loops on the Mind Eraser. It was fairly tight against the back of my head, but that's only because I had ratcheted it down a bit tighter than the attendant had. Even so, there was absolutely no strain against my nose, and I never had a problem with the headset moving or trying to escape from my face from the G forces on the coaster.
The Galactic Attack experience itself was also just fantastic. I'm usually a serious screamer when riding roller coasters, but this time I was whooping and hollering instead. The advertisements call this ride "mixed reality" but really it's switching between Augmented and Virtual Reality for different parts of the ride.
The experience started out by using the passthrough camera on the Gear VR to create the Heads-Up Display. This let me look around and get used to the way the headset felt while the operators got everyone settled. It's worth noting things went much faster with getting everyone set up and ready to go this time around, and the headsets themselves seemed to be in much better shape.
The graphics have also gotten a serious boost. Enough that even though I've spent plenty of time in VR they still caught me by surprise. That's because halfway up the first hill the screen rippled and then thrust me directly into a space battle, transitioning from AR to VR flawlessly. At any time I could look in pretty much any direction and find crazy explosions and enemy fighters zipping around me.
I could feel my hands shaking as I held onto the cold metal bars before the ride really got started.
This experience is actually a kind of game, and that made it even more fantastic. It works by using your head tracking and while your weapons will fire automatically, you need to look at the enemy fighter you want to destroy. Every destroyed ship increases your score, and when you get to the end you'll see the final score and a big flash with whether you successfully survived or not.
More than anything, this is the kind of thing that will have people constantly trying to one-up the high score. Where a good coaster will have someone really wanting to ride again in an hour or so, this experience will make you want to jump right back in line.
Better the second time around
When I tried out the Superman coaster it was a warm, sunny, August day perfect for an adrenaline rush. By comparison it was a chilly 40 degree morning when I rode the Mind Eraser clad in double layers of fleece. It could have easily been too cold, or too early to really enjoy either of those things.
I was also absolutely terrified. See, I love riding roller coasters but I am absolutely terrified of heights. I could feel my hands shaking as I held onto the cold metal bars before the ride really got started. The Augmented Reality beginning of the ride keeps maintains the anxiety and excitement associated with that first climb, which really pulls the whole experience together.
This was as awesome as my first ride, and then some. Everything Six Flags has done to improve the experience has worked, and it's worked really well. I cannot emphasize just how much fun this was, and if you have a chance I highly recommend checking out the Samsung Gear VR enhanced roller coasters at Six Flags. I know that I'll be going back to ride again as soon as I can.
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