Six Flags' 4-D Shooter Ride is Super, Man
Six Flags knows coasters and thrill rides. Sophisticated, media-based, 4-D, story-driven dark rides? That's more the province of the destination Universal and Disney parks, and to a lesser extent parks such as SeaWorld Orlando and Legoland Florida. Yet, Justice League: Battle for Metropolis brings a Universal-style attraction to Six Flags parks. The ride is super, man. Is it Universal-level quality? Almost.
- Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!,10=Yikes!): 3.5. Includes spinning ride vehicles, dark scenes, gun blasts, and simulated loops and inversions.
- Attraction type: 4-D interactive dark ride
- Height restriction to ride: 42 inches
- Six Flags parks that offer the ride: Six Flags Over Texas, Six Flags St. Louis, Six Flags Great America, Six Flags Over Georgia, Six Flags Great Adventure (in New Jersey), and Six Flags Mexico. Six Flags Magic Mountain in California has a souped-up version of the ride with an extra scene, an additional animatrionic character, and other additional features.
- TripSavvy attraction rating: 4.25 stars
Riders enter the Hall of Justice, the lair of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and their DC Comics superhero buddies. While in the queue, guests encounter lesser-known do-gooder Cyborg, a nicely designed animatronic character. He explains the havoc that The Joker and Lex Luthor have caused in Metropolis and recruits citizens (that'd be us park visitors) to help the Justice League set things right. The pre-show is well done and establishes the tone and anticipation for the ride.
Duly informed, the citizen recruits file into six-passenger vehicles, don their 3-D glasses, and prepare to do battle. If the vehicles look familiar, that's because they are similar to the roving motion base vehicles used in attractions such as Universal's Transformers: The Ride 3D and the landmark Spider-Man ride. The same manufacturer, Oceaneering, built the vehicles for the Universal and Six Flags attractions.
As with the Universal rides, the remarkably fluid vehicles have multiple degrees of freedom. In addition to moving forward through the show building, they can spin, tilt, and otherwise move in sync with 3-D footage projected on multiple screens throughout the attraction. Like a fixed-base motion simulator ride such as Star Tours, passengers aboard Justice League: Battle for Metropolis experience a virtual reality-like journey. Unlike Spider-Man and Transformers (but like Men in Black Alien Attack, Toy Story Mania, and other interactive shooter rides), the vehicles include laser "stun guns," and passengers can blast targets.
In this case, the targets are the henchmen of Lex Luthor and The Joker as well as "LexBots," pesky robots programmed to protect the baddies' Lex Corp. headquarters. The goal is to stun and disable the villains so that the captured heroes, Green Lantern, The Flash, and Supergirl, can be freed, and the Justice League can bring down Lex Luthor and The Joker. Like most shooter, video game-style rides, passengers also try to rack up as many points as they can for bragging rights.
The Joker Is a Gas
From the get-go, the Justice League ride immerses passengers in its comic book world. Visitors who have experienced Spider-Man and Transformers will recognize many of the roving motion-base ride tropes in the Six Flags attraction. For example, Superman lands with a thud onto the ride vehicle. A hidden delivery truck suddenly sounds its horn and narrowly avoids colliding with the ride vehicle. A 4-D fire blast raises the air temperature to an alarming degree.
There are also some nice touches not found in the Universal rides, including practical sets with actual props that complement the media. In one of the ride's highlights, a striking animatronic Joker figure aims his laughing gas cannon at riders and shoots them with the green vapor. (Fortunately, Cyborg has inoculated his recruits with anti-laughing gas.) There is also a storage room in which shelves filled with barrels threaten to topple onto passengers.
The toppling barrels gag is a classic dark ride staple. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the dark ride masters at Sally Corporation developed the Justice League attraction in conjunction with Six Flags. Known for more basic shooter rides, such as the Scooby-Doo Ghost Blasters that it built for several parks, Justice League represents a major leap forward in story-based attractions for Sally. Prior to the Six Flags attractions, the designer developed a similar Justice League 4-D ride for Warner Bros. Movie World in Australia.
The interactive gameplay is well done, especially once riders get the hang of the gun and can scope out the targets. Gamers will likely enjoy the interactive aspect and will want to ride multiple times to improve their scores.
Disconnect Between Virtual and Reality
According to Les Hudson, VP of design for Six Flags, the chain had set its sights on bringing motion-based dark rides to its parks soon after the Spider-Man attraction debuted. "It's been in the incubator for about 10 years," he says. "It was only recently that the right players came together along with the technology and more affordable price points."
Since Six Flags is clearly aiming for a Spider-Man-level attraction, it's apt to make comparisons. The quality of the media can be one of the potential downfalls of media-based attractions. When the image suffers, the level of immersion is dialed back.
It appears that instead of the bright, startlingly lifelike 4K (and in some cases, 8K and even 16K) imagery that Disney and Universal have been using for recent media-based attractions such as the Star Tours reboots and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, the Justice League rides use lower resolution media. The imagery is sometimes dark, and the action is a tad blurry. Also, the CGI animation is a little clunky and looks more like something found on cable TV than a Hollywood blockbuster.
The sound quality is a bit murky in some sections. It is occasionally difficult to hear the characters' dialogue and follow the story.
While the ride designers are to be commended for including a sequence that incorporates a holograph of Lex Luthor, the effect is less than optimal. Missteps like these compromise the illusion, call attention to the technology, and take riders out of the experience.
Bringing Justice to Metropolis
One of the ride's best scenes sends passengers racing through downtown Metropolis. During the chase, the ride vehicle navigates a virtual loop. (This is Six Flags, after all. Thrill rides are part of its DNA.)
Since the ride vehicle actually remains right-side-up, while the projected sequence indicates that the vehicle completes a 360-degree inversion, there's a disconnect. In the scene that follows, there is a similar breakdown of virtual and reality. The point-of-view media has the riders' vehicle racing upside down along the top of a tunnel and above a moving subway train. Again, however, the real vehicle stays tethered right-side-up to the ride track.
If that sounds like a lot of complaints, they need to be considered in context. With Justice League, Six Flags aspires to the level of an E-Ticket attraction at the destination parks. In that regard, the ride falls somewhat short (with the emphasis on "somewhat") of the (extremely high) bar that Universal and Disney sets. It is, however, an ambitious and wonderful attraction—especially for regional and seasonal parks.
Hall of Justice
If rides such as Transformers did not exist, and Six Flags was breaking new ground with the concept of a roving motion base dark ride, Justice League would deserve five stars. But it is a solid and wonderful ride that park guests should fully enjoy.
Six Flags should be applauded (as well as rival regional park chain, Cedar Fair, which has been building its own high-end, story-based rides such as Voyage to the Iron Reef at Knott's Berry Farm). The company's diversification into rides such as Justice League is a bold and welcome move. Guests are responding enthusiastically to the rides—as well they should.
Hudson says that based on the success of Justice League, Six Flags is planning to bring additional, similar dark rides to its parks. He also says that he and his league of designers are exploring ways to combine more thrilling coaster-like experiences with story-based ride elements. That sounds like it would do justice to Six Flags' legacy. We can all look forward to seeing that story unfold.