Coaster Kingdom
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Oblivion (Alton Towers)

Following Nemesis, Alton Towers had a long, long way to go to even equal what was one of the most well received coasters the world had ever seen. The problem was, Nemesis was a surprise, and nobody was expecting it. Following that though, the park had almost a cult following of enthusiasts, and they were watching every move the park were making.

The first digger arrived, and began to dig what started off as a shallow trench behind the Black Hole. As the season advanced though, the trench got deeper, and deeper, and upon reaching 90ft below the ground level, people really started getting excited.

In a twist of irony, the park seemed to prove everybody wrong. Whilst carefully cropped pictures of the cars were appearing, strange and unrevealing pictures of the track were published, people were speculating about spinning cars, linear induction motors and launches.

When the ride was finally disclosed in early March though, it surprised everyone: Not by the awe-inspiring grandeur of it, but more by the mere simplicity of it. Whilst what the ride does had never been attempted before, many people were shocked that their theories of corkscrewing drops and underground loops were nothing but wishful thinking, and that the finished product was basically a face first freefall.

It seems that to a certain extent, the cagey marketing behind Oblivion backfired. It did well to build excitement and anticipation, but perhaps to the extent that people were expecting far too much. If people look at the ride though, and not the hype that went with it, theyíll see a novel concept that Alton Towers had the guts to take on.

Alton Towers got a lot of things wrong with the marketing of the ride. By keeping mum until the last minute, they did surprise many, but probably shot themselves in the foot, as many more were left disappointed. Itís the first step in vertical drop coasters, itís a prototype, a ride that they said they would never get, so it obviously represents a pretty risky move.

On reflection though, the ride was marketed for the average visitor to the park, not the coaster enthusiast, and with that in mind, it probably worked a treat to have the area cordoned off with rather non-descript signs and hints near-by.

Now that the ride has opened, and settled in, now that the technical difficulties have been ironed out, it seems Alton Towers have a winner on their hands. It is still one of the parks largest rides, and will remain so for several more years yet, and it's still pulling in the crowds.

Oblivion comes as part of a new look for the parks ageing Fantasy World. As a result, the name was changed to the rather lame X Sector. Rides were hastily drafted in from Festival Park (now the equally poorly named Ug Land), given a new paint job, and the outside of the tatty tent that houses the Black Hole was painted a dark shade of blue.

As you enter, try to ignore the Black Hole, it kills the effect, and instead, home in on Oblivion's first drop. Thereíll probably be a car perched on the edge of the drop, and after a few seconds, it will curl over the top, plunging down towards the ground, disappearing in a puff of smoke, literally.

Hang a right past this steaming orifice, and youíre in the centre of the ride. In front, the station, then, turning anti- clockwise, you can follow the lift hill, into the turn around, that feeds the cars onto the vertical drop. Turning further, after a short absence, the track re-appears flipping cars onto their side, making a sweeping turn behind the Enterprise and jumping onto the brake run behind Submission.

Here, you can see what the areaís all about. Itís nothing. Itís a small collection of rides, painted black. It's quite atmospheric, but required no thought at all on the part of the park, just lots of black paint. Apparently itís themed with a sense of the unknown. It might tickle your fancy, but it doesnít do much for me.

Anyway, as you ogle at Oblivion, you can lick your lips, rub your hands, but donít stand around waiting, either get your ticket to ride, or get straight into the queue. The queue splits into two immediately, and spirals its way up a hill, passing through and under the station. Brainwashing videos try to mess with your mind, with a panicky person fretting over why its called Oblivion. He's soon re-assured by a slightly calmer person, and so it continues. First time, its passable, then on it gets on your nerves.

The queue continues. It gets to a sputnik from where you cross a bridge into the station. The queue is split further so that four rows wait per shuttle, with two being let on at a time. The station is huge, the space isnít used too well though, and it seems quite claustrophobic.

A half decent dance track quietly plays, and monitors above play more hype. Once your shuttle arrives, the gates open, and you start the long walk across the length of the car. Bear in mind, each car is little under half as wide as a Top Spin, and once you find your seat, sit down, pull down the chunky (yet typically comfortable) restraint, and clip in the seat belt.

Once youíre squashed into your seats by the seemingly efficient staff, the shuttle departs. Although the seats are reclined, this really canít be appreciated until you start the lift. Why it's so steep is unknown, what is known though, is that it feels vertical, and itís a mighty strange feeling.

The lift is quite unpleasant at the far sides of the car, the vibrations seem to be amplified here, but you will reap the benefits of sitting on the edge soon. The lift is of a normal speed, and at the top, the pace slows, as you turn around, past the Towers.

The view is great, and you have plenty of time to admire, as at this point, the car is veritably crawling. Itís a simple trick, and it works. I must admit, it was at this point that my heart was doing twice as much work than it needed to.

Soon, the track disappears, before in no time, you tip forward, your whole weight falling squarely on the restraint, and as the track re-appears, you stop, looking down at the ground, at the people below, and, at the track fading out into a sea of mist.

And then, you drop.

The roar of the train, of the people screaming, the feeling as you float down in a stomach quenching moment is surreal. It takes no time, yet you have time to absorb many thoughts, and in a flash of white, you burst through the mist and into the dark tunnel.

All of a sudden, you seem very enclosed, everything seems very quiet, and as you begin to slump in your chair, you are heading skywards, before in a near blinding moment, you pop out into daylight, are thrown onto your side, as you make an elegant turn behind the two spin rides, dipping past the cameras, before you climb up and hit the brake run.

On the brake run, youíll do the usual euphoric things, youíll rhapsodise over the ride, over the drop, over one of the biggest rushes youíll have experienced on a coaster for, aw, ever. The tunnel and the turn are only there to get you back to the station. The drop is the only element left, so yes, itís a one trick ride, itís a good trick though, and as it stands, probably one of the best elements you can ask for on a coaster.

Oblivion to me, is like a Skycoaster from the comfort of a coaster train. It has the build up, this time in the form of a lift hill, an agonisingly slow turnaround, and the moments of torture on the edge. The rush is over in a second, and then there is the calm after the storm, in which you have time to reflect, and little else.

It works for me, and it works for many. I have seen some people really freak out just before we drop. In the end though, they love it, and will probably beat me back to the queue.

Although itís a great trick it uses for its one trick, the novelty will soon wear off. The drop comes as a huge surprise if you havenít ridden it before, after even a few goes, it still fails to un-impress. After a while though, youíll know what to expect, you will learn when youíre going to drop, and you will probably become blasť.

There is a moral to this story. Donít expect too much, it wonít deliver it. Itís a six second ride, nothing more. Donít queue for more than fifteen minutes for it. Itís not worth it for a ride that short, however good it may promise to be. Go on with an open frame of mind and it will blow you away.

4/5 Marcus Sheen


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