Mixed reality experiences are becoming more and more popular, with companies like The Void (Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment) and Pure Imagination (Alien: Descent) immersing guests more fully than even virtual reality previously could. Hollow Zone Immersive takes cues from those companies and provides an eerie mystery with Wax House: The Legend of Jack the Ripper.
Located in the corner of a noisy arcade at Mountasia Family Fun Center in Santa Clarita, Wax House is unmistakable, as a life-size figure of the Ripper himself brandishes a knife out front. The detail of the decor is impressive, even from a distance; grisly Victorian newspaper headlines are plastered onto brick walls as a full moon hangs large in the sky.
Once inside, guests are treated to a pre-show, as more newspapers come to life, with different players in the story giving their accounts of the “Autumn of Terror” within the confines of a dim, claustrophobic hallway. Once this is finished, would-be sleuths are then fitted with headsets, vests and controllers, and are set upon the task of discovering the true identity of Jack the Ripper.
As a virtual reality experience, Wax House does a fantastic job of setting a suitably creepy mood. Inside a virtual house of wax inspired by the killings of Jack the Ripper, the uncanny valley is larger than ever, as there would theoretically be no difference between digitized versions of wax sculptures and those of “real” people.
The multi-sensory effects of the experience are similarly superb. Guests must board a small elevator in between the floors of the titular wax house, and the rumbling beneath their feet lends itself wholly to the feeling. On one floor, a mannequin dangles beneath a skylight, and as guests inch closer to the skylight, a slight breeze enhances the immersion.
Where Wax House falters, however, is in its gameplay elements. Being a sort of “virtual escape room,” guests will need to pay attention to their surroundings in order to properly deduce which of a litany of suspects is the real Jack the Ripper. Nearly everything that isn’t bolted down can be picked up and examined, but this introduces an overwhelming array of red herrings, with nothing of vital importance being hinted at or highlighted in any way. Meanwhile, guests only have so long on each floor before being hurried back to the elevator by the game’s narrator. While “winning” the game isn’t necessarily the point, it’s not unheard of for an unsuccessful ending to sour, even slightly, an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Wax House is undoubtedly a step in the right direction in regards to mixed reality. It sets exactly the tone that it seeks to set, and uses a variety of sensory elements to flesh out the world in which its guests are immersed. While it’s hampered a bit by the puzzles it presents, the fact remains that it’s a chilling Halloween experience.
Wax House: The Legend of Jack the Ripper runs on select dates through Halloween at Mountasia Family Fun Center in Santa Clarita. For more information, visit www.hollowzone.com.