Duel: The Haunted House Strikes Back! (Alton Towers)
The following review will go into explicit detail regarding the attraction and the surprises it may conceal. If you choose to read on, be warned that it may detract from your first ride on the attraction.
investment has been heavy of late, overlooking the Corkscrew, Tussauds are
clearly careful not to let older rides be swept under the carpet of
obscurity. Rides that have become stale are normally either removed (especially
if it’s a hand-me-down from John Broome) or revamped and advertised as new.
have shown they’re more than competent running theme parks, and even in the
case of Port Aventura building them from scratch. They can also knock up a
pretty good ride when forced to.
alarm bells ring when it comes to refurbishing rides. Spectacular failures
include the Vampire, Toadie’s Crazy Cars and worst of all, Rumba Rapids. It
seems quite remarkable that following even the most minimal of investment, the
finished ride is actually worse than what it was before.
struck gold with Tomb Blaster, replacing the amateurish Terror Tomb in the
loosest sense. The budget was clearly enough for even a primary schoolchild to
fund with enough money left over to buy a Curly Whirly, consisting of several
thousand LEDs and the trains retrofitted with arcade-style laser guns.
would have thought that such a haphazard bodge would become the dictionary
definition of re-ridable? Not me. Such has been Tomb Blaster’s success, Alton
Towers’ Haunted House received the same treatment for the 2003 season and
advertised as new.
Tomb Blaster, the changes are subtle. Cars have been retrofitted with guns and
score displays (forfeiting a single seat per car), the ride interior with
several thousand multi-colour LED lights, with the final portion of the ride
taking on a completely different style.
can be found in Gloomy Wood, down a wooded path from Forbidden Valley (home of
Nemesis) and Katanga Canyon (home of Congo River Rapids). The simple
architecture of the decaying mansion consists of a timber-framed gable-end with
ivy crawling up the cracked plaster. A conical slate roof sits atop a red brick
tower to the side.
contrasting styles as an art-form, the crisp and colourful bluey-green, yellow
and red Duel logo sits upon a grey, weathered obelisk aside a tomb.
the cracked lid of the tomb, a decaying zombie holds a flashing laser gun. His
ugly head, a pale shade of white with just a few random tufts of hair shudders
from left to right with the finesse of a windscreen wiper. A truly
music draws you in to the ride with its solemn melody overlaid with a true
Doctor Who style lasergun sound effect whilst at the entrance to a house, a
colourful sign briefly explains the concept of the ride and the idea of the
inside, you pass through a dark hallway with portraits of Adam’s Family style
residents hung around a dust-covered table beneath the flickering chandelier
next hall sends your senses a-kilter as it has sunken dramatically into a
sideways slant. As you weave from side-to-side through this crooked room a
pre-ride video introduces Duel to you.
O’Conner of ATNC reports on the disappearance of a leading surgeon
experimenting with the re-animation of the dead. O’Connor adheres to every
roving reporter stereotype in the book down to the receding hairline and beige
The film then cuts to a reasonably attention-grabbing video with more than just a passing similarity to Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, with un-dead zombies clawing their way from the ground in a desolated graveyard.
the cosy station, burgundy wallpaper peeling from the walls, busts along the
back wall caked with dust. The five-seater cars slowly parade the length of the
station seating three riders in the front, two in the back which is slightly
tiered above the front.
the length of the station, announcements warn you not to ‘touch your
blaster’ until the bar has lowered ‘auta-mat-i-cal-lee’ (typed as
announced) which briefly interrupts the grim atmosphere with a true Carry On
moment, albeit accidentally.
four-wheeled motorised coffin is immediately plunged into darkness and tightly
dodges an approaching wall. Alive with the twinkle of hundreds of green targets,
there are no shortages of targets to shoot at.
amount of targets is more apparent on Duel, perhaps, due to the fact that the
several thousand targets are shared among only four, maybe five riders, whereas
on Tomb Blaster you are fighting against nearly thirty other riders.
you slalom across the marbled floor a large ghoul lurches from behind a pillar
littered with targets. A turn away from the main part of the hall surprises you
with another monster, this time bizarrely holding a teacup before like before,
your fibreglass sarcophagus heads towards a small doorway that opens up out of
the way at the last moment, before a turn takes you towards a gaping skeletal
mouth, mirror ball eyes lighting the vault with a rolling red glow.
car slows to a crawl as the motion of the tunnel tries to trick you into
thinking that it is the track that is turning, not the tunnel. But, of course in
this age of interactivity, this trick goes unnoticed as your mind is otherwise
engaged shooting at a flurry of multi-coloured lights.
few turns are taken in complete darkness, only interrupted by the flicker of
targets on the walls and the fracas of bats above. Soon, the pace slows to a
crawl, and you enter a spiders’ lair. Covered in yellow targets, a spider of
titanic proportions straddles the track as you pass beneath the substantial body
of this enraged arachnid.
speed up erratically slaloming through the darkness, before a bull-like
character lurches from the gloom and you enter a dark and macabre garden. Ghosts
escape from the coffin on the back of a horse-drawn hearse as you weave slowly
through a decaying cemetery.
characters jump from darkened corners, pillars transform into monsters and
creatures scurry around in the darkness with the scenery alight with targets.
a rather coarse change from the sombre moonlit garden to the grubby industrial
feel of the surgeons’ house basement, a menagerie of freakish zombies fire
back at you, jumping from ooze-stained oil drums and appearing through hatches
in the wall.
animation of these zombies makes the cow with the swishing tail on Noah’s Ark
looking like an animatronic masterpiece befitting of even the best Disney
attraction. Frankly, I expect better animation from a pop-up book.
zombies aren’t even animatronic at all and stand in a static and stilted
stance leaning over a gantry above clutching a flashing lasergun. The most
animated our decomposing un-dead opponents get is when they vertically rise from
barrels as if they’re from a game of Whack-A-Mole.
so this final scene peters out past a swirling green light as you re-enter the
unload station. Fortunately, the bottleneck caused by the ride-photo counter has
been moved to a more sensible place, although has been re-decorated to be
somewhat sterile and crisp when compared to the softly lit corridors, rotting
dado rails and peeling wallpaper elsewhere.
look back at the failings of the Haunted House and see how Duel compares. The
Haunted House was superficially good, but relied far too heavily on cheap
scares. The element of surprise quickly fades and yields a rather lacklustre
ride with little other than characters jumping out of the dark recesses of the
riders with laserguns, and the entire focus of the ride shifts from an idle
gallery of oversized synthetic monsters to a three-dimensional interactive
arcade. And like Tomb Blaster it works... just not as well.
reflect on the positives, the game is easier to play than Tomb Blaster. Riders
are expected to shoot green targets for 100 points or amber ones for a
favourable bonus with the targets blinking and then turning red when shot.
Tomb Blaster, though, targets litter every available corner and recess with
surprisingly little regard shown to using them in context on characters around
the house. It’s funny to think that during the garden scene in particular when
one character jumps out there are no targets on it what so ever.
game would be better if targets were used sparingly to highlight
‘vulnerable’ parts of the creatures and zombies around the house – their
eyes for example. With the monsters often caked in lights and walls almost
wallpapered in blinking multicoloured bulbs, playing Duel doesn’t require a
masters in firearms.
Blaster has never used darkness as a real effect, nor relied heavily upon
characters jumping out at you. The elaborate sets add depth to the ride whist
being careful not to intrude on the game of the ride. With so little regard
shown for the placement of targets, and without the eye-candy of Terror Tomb,
Duel is a far more vanilla affair than Tomb Blaster which at times could be
likened to driving down Blackpool promenade stealing light bulbs.
encompasses a good soundtrack throughout whilst most of the ghouls do still have
associated groans, screams or cackles as before. Like any good computer game,
your trigger-happy frenzy is accompanied by a fitting soundtrack, sounding not
to far off the Futurama theme. It’s always upbeat, and whilst not as memorable
as the Tomb Blaster theme, really sets the attraction off nicely.
Duel suffers from the same downfalls as the original Haunted House. Off-setting this nicely though, and most importantly, it celebrates the same positives as Tomb Blaster. It’s good, but it could be better.