Six Flags’ virtual reality coaster unleashes gargoyles for Fright Fest

Name three frightening things you wouldn’t want to see just before boarding a roller coaster. How about an all-you-can-eat chili dog bar … neck braces in the gift shop? A hearse would definitely haunt the top of my list.

Just after noticing the near-vertical, 95-foot hill belonging to Dare Devil Dive, one of Six Flags Over Georgia’s popular thrill rides, I see something parked in front of the coaster’s queue. Ouch, it’s a hearse.

It’s just a prop becomes my pre-ride mantra. In fact, the entire park has a layer of boo-laden bling for Fright Fest, Six Flags’ annual PG-13, Halloween-themed celebration. Copious decor, including decomposing skeletons flanked by vultures, and eerily dressed actors — Yikes! Creepy clown sighting! — cover the park. But Dare Devil Dive may win the costume contest.

The makers of Fright Fest give Dare Devil Dive a high-tech overlay for the occasion. As if the coaster weren’t scary enough — with 90-degree drops and corkscrew twists along 2,100 feet of track — guests can opt for a virtual reality element. Dubbing the experience Rage of the Gargoyles at Dare Devil Dive, Six Flags invites riders to slip on headsets for one of the world’s first fully interactive virtual reality roller coasters.

This isn’t the first time Six Flags has given Dare Devil Dive digital embellishment. Beginning last spring, visitors could wear the same headsets and ride the coaster while immersing into a computerized virtual reality world of soaring jets amid an alien attack.

Rage of the Gargoyles, however, proves to be more in step with the season of the witch. Sliding in the coaster car, I receive a headset from the attendant. Imagine a scuba mask with blacked-out glass. Moments after I put it on, an array of straps keeping it cozily in place on my noggin, a screen comes to life in front of my eyes. Here come the creatures.

The coaster itself begins moving and so does the computer animation. I find myself with the POV of a helicopter pilot flying through a demolished cityscape overrun with gargoyles. The real-time movement of the coaster, including speeds of 50 mph and those gut-scrambling drops, syncs perfectly with the flight of my personal chopper and the over-the-top, monstrous action around me. It soon becomes clear, Rage of the Gargoyles physically drops me in the middle of a video game like never before.

A 360-degree view in high resolution provides a serious suspension of disbelief. Buildings go ablaze and crumble all around me, and flocks of gargoyles swarm from above, some even landing on my helicopter.

Oh, for the love of Tron, a bridge is out!

Tapping the side of my headset, I’m able to fire missiles at the monsters, racking up points with each hit. Blood splatters and creatures wail.

My own scream rivals that of the gargoyles. I’m not sure if it’s the coaster’s real-life corkscrew twist, the sight of a Godzilla-size gargoyle or a combination of both that causes the reaction.

Catching my breath as the coaster returns to the loading area, my final score pops up in front of my peepers. The headset now off, I see the attendant and those standing at the loading area laughing at my frazzled state.

“We could hear you scream,” someone says.

“Me?” I reply jokingly. “That was the other guy.”

Exiting the ride, I gain my composure before finding myself back in front of that same hearse. Thankfully I don’t need it, but I know some gargoyles that do.

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