2016 marks Halloween Horror Nights’ first foray into the increasingly popular realm of virtual reality (“VR”). The Repository is a brand-new interactive experience accessible through a premium add-on ticket marked at $50.00. The ticket can only be purchased by calling a phone number provided on the Halloween Horror Nights website speaking to a representative that will assist you in booking your reservation. Please note that you must also purchase a Halloween Horror Nights event ticket to participate in this unique experience.
Ever since The Repository was first announced back in August, there’s been much controversy surrounding the new experience. Most of the controversy is in regards to the steep price point. With the prices of general admission tickets and Express Passes already at an all-time high, is it worth shelling out an extra $50 for what is essentially one more haunted house? Personally, the idea seemed intriguing, I’ve never had any kind of VR interaction beyond a View Master, and in order to celebrate my 10th HHN anniversary, I figured I’d “reward” myself with something special. So, I was all in. But, like many others, I was still concerned with whether or not the money would be worth it. For $50, how long will this house be? And how exactly does the virtual reality work? When I called in mid-September to make my reservation, I asked the customer service agent these questions and was told to set aside 90 minutes altogether for the event: 30 minutes for the initial preparation including signing of safety waivers, and 60 minutes for the actual experience.
Fast-forward to 6:00pm on Friday, October 21st. My buddy and I picked up our tickets at a Will-Call kiosk and were instructed to head over to the Blue Man Group area to check-in. After having our tickets scanned, we entered a large waiting room filled with maybe a dozen round tables where groups of eight were assigned to sit and wait. There was a bar off in the corner, a server going around the room taking drink orders, and on each table were waivers for everyone to sign and one folder containing multiple printed documents. The documents ranged from textbook pages to an article on the Philosopher’s Stone to an eBay auction for a camera that was used to photograph the dead. After approximately half an hour of signing our waivers, ordering some drinks, and chatting with the fantastic people we had the pleasure of sharing this experience with, everyone in our eight-person group was handed a lanyard (4 red and 4 yellow), and split into two groups of four based on our lanyard colors. One of the employees emphasized to make sure to pay attention to details and be very observant of our surroundings as anything could be a clue that would be crucial to solving the event’s final puzzle. My group of four (red lanyards) was summoned we were instructed to head over to an exit. And thus began our journey into The Repository…
Our fearful foursome was led into a dimly lit room filled wall-to-wall wooden shelves stocked with ancient artifacts. Think the haunted artifact room from The Conjuring series mixed with the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. A soldier in black riot gear stood in the corner of the room next to a podium and telephone. Then, from the darkness appeared our first scareactor. He was a professor of sorts and in a very convincing performance explained the general story, which involved keys and portals to other dimensions. I will say right off the bat that the best aspect of the entire experience was the interaction with the scareactors. Each performer stayed in character at all times and always had some kind of improvised response to any question or action I or any of my groupmates would make. Unlike the regular houses, the actors in The Repository are allowed to touch you and they used this freedom to great effect while never being invasive or crossing any inappropriate lines. At one point, the professor moved to one side of the room, looking away from us, and as I examined the contents of the table in front of us, my friend picked up a hand bell and rang it. The professor responded by yelling “Don’t ring the bells!” and came running back to chastise us for setting some kind of evil free. He grabbed my lanyard in frustration when suddenly a phone rang and the soldier answered the call.
Our group was hurried into a small room made to look like an asylum cell. The guard told us to stay in the room, warned us not to touch anything, and assured us he’d be right back. He left the room, but not before noticing that the young woman in our group was crossing her arms because she was cold. “Rub your chest,” he said. “Your arms will take care of the rest.” He was clearly as big a fan of Batman Begins as I was.
From behind a pillar appeared another actor dressed in a hospital gown. He had long and greasy blond hair and spoke in whispers with the occasional outburst, which included a loud “Look at me!” clearly inspired by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. The inmate led us into another asylum room with writing covering the walls, a safe in the corner, and a locked wooden crate atop a table. He whispered something that only the girl in our group could hear and then came over to me and whispered, “Do her a favor and give her those numbers on the wall right over there.” He was pointing to a specific piece of the wall that read something along the lines of L50R70. I realized that it was a locker combination meaning I had to turn the dial left to one number and then right to another. After the first try, the locker opened revealing a small box containing a key. Using the key we opened the crate, revealing four cubes, each emitting a different colored light: red, blue, green, and yellow.
Cubes in hand, our group was quickly shuffled away to another room designed to look like a high-tech laboratory. Our new chaperone was a no-nonsense woman who instructed us to gather around a metal table while she stood on the other side of it and tried to bring her lifeless colleague back to life. She explained the significance of the cubes, but not before yelling at us and telling my friend to spit out of his gum. Her colleague jolted to life for a second and fell on the floor. As she continued speaking to us, I experienced my one and only scare in The Repository when the presumed dead body grabbed me by the ankle and screamed in agony.
Another soldier burst into the lab and rushed us into the next room, grabbing me by the shirt collar so that I’d hurry. The concrete-walled room was empty. We were ordered to stand at different corners with our backs to the wall. A drill instructor explained our mission and prepared us for the VR portion of the experience. Finally! Our group was split into pairs. My partner and I were led to an adjacent square room approximately fifteen feet long on all sides and told to stand in the center back-to-back. We were fitted for our headsets and I will say, as someone who wears glasses, the headset was a bit tight and pressed my glasses into the bridge of my nose. As for our mission in the VR world, we were instructed to look for symbols and colors and remember the order we saw them in. The instructions were very vague and we weren’t exactly sure what kind of symbols to look out for. With my headset on, I was handed a wand and told that my cube was placed on the end of it, an image that was reflected in the VR world. As for the VR world itself, this is where the negatives begin.
After a short countdown, my partner and I were “transported” to a library setting. With Playstation VR and Oculus Rift allowing players to see fully-realized beautifully-rendered environments, I was immediately shocked to see that the level of detail in The Repository’s VR world was no more impressive than the graphics of an early Playstation 2 video game. As you may recall, we were instructed early on to examine everything, as anything around us could be a clue to solve The Repository’s final puzzle. I recall being told specifically to look in books. I walked over to a bookshelf expecting to be able to interact with a book, but as I pointed my wand at it, the wand avatar simply went through the book and the shelf. Why would we be instructed specifically to look through the books, then transport us to a library packed wall-to-wall with books, and then not allow us to interact with anything? I turned to see a ghostly avatar that represented my partner in the room with me. Eventually, I noticed different brightly-colored symbols throughout the room and pointed my wand at them. I tried to remember the look of each symbol, but they were all pretty elaborate designs that looked very similar to each other.
After finding four or five symbols, the setting changed and we were warped onto a stone cliff in the night. Cold wind breezed past us and as my partner and I looked down at the floor and identified the same colorful symbols, pieces of the cliff started breaking away, shrinking our platform smaller and smaller until we were once again back-to-back. This short portion is where the VR was most effective because I clearly felt a sense of vertigo as I looked down over the edge of the cliff.
We were then transported to our third and final dimension: a graveyard. Once again, we looked around at the graves searching for more symbols, with the occasional poorly-rendered grim reaper appearing when I turned. I should’ve been scared, but I couldn’t get past how bad the visuals were. After finding all of the symbols, our headsets were removed and we were whisked away to the final room, rejoining our two other group members.
Let me take this moment to explain that for a house that was billed as a revolutionary VR experience, the entire VR portion lasted no more than five minutes. Not only was it short, but as I said before, the three short environments that we visited were poorly-rendered and offered very limited interaction no more immersive than an old point-and-click computer game. For $50 I was expecting a house set predominantly in a virtual reality landscape. But regardless, even if the philosophy was for the house act as a build-up allow for a short but sweet visit to the VR world, I would expect to be blown out of the water for those five minutes. With the software released for Playstation VR and Oculus Rift, we know the potential is there. This visit was definitely short, but unfortunately, it was anything but sweet, making it the weakest part of the experience as a whole.
The final room was the setting of our final puzzle. Resembling something out of “Legends of the Hidden Temple”, we were told to find the two remaining cubes somewhere in the room and then match the six total cubes to six square pegs. The solution would be based on the colors and symbols we saw in the different dimensions. We were locked in the room and told we had three minutes to solve the puzzle. Needless to say, neither of the four of us had any clue what we were supposed to do. We found the two remaining cubes (purple and orange), but had no idea how to match them. We placed cubes randomly into slots and a trail of light told us if we we’d made the right choice (white light) or a poor choice (red light). With maybe 45 seconds remaining, I realized that we didn’t really need to know what to match, but rather just randomly place the cubes in the pegs until the white light glowed for that particular slot. With that logic, we quickly arranged the cubes until all six emitted a white light, triggering and a plume of fog and a light signaling our victory. Another soldier came into the room to congratulate our team and led us outside to the exit. We were given green stickers to place on our lanyards, signifying that we had made it through The Repository and successfully completed the puzzle at the end. If we’d failed, we would’ve been given a blue sticker. Basically, a participation ribbon.
Outside, there was another bar, some snacks for purchase, and one scareactor dressed as an inmate who hung out with us for a while, congratulated us on our win and eventually escorted us out into Halloween Horror Nights.
And that was the end of The Repository. So was it worth it? I hate to say anything negative about HHN because it’s something so close to my heart and my favorite event to attend all year, but I can’t say in good conscience that The Repository was worth the $50 I paid. When I originally made my reservation, The Repository was inaccurately sold to me as a 60-minute VR house when in reality, the entire experience lasted no more than 25 minutes, with only a fifth of that being dedicated to the use of the virtual reality technology. At the very least, if the VR segment was impressive or more immersive, I might be more forgiving, but when the number one selling point of the house is the use of this new gimmick, then the gimmick needs to be extraordinary and memorable. The interaction with the scareactors was, again, the best aspect of the event, but it was still not enough to warrant such a high price tag.
Would I pay for a follow-up VR experience next year? As it stands, the answer is no. But could I be convinced otherwise? If the price is lowered, the length of the experience expanded, and the VR technology dramatically improved, I could see myself putting the headset back on and taking a trip into another dimension. I’d definitely take my glasses off this time.
Have you or anyone else you know experienced The Repository? If so, please give us your thoughts in the comments. Do you agree with me or am I completely mad?