You know, I’d actually forgotten that they were making my favorite video game series into an amusement park ride when I suddenly found that Mass Effect: New Earth was opening last month in Santa Clara’s Great America amusement park in my home state of California. My first instinct was to run out my door and drive straight there, forsaking the earthly amenities of job, home, and family for the opportunity to be among the first to experience BioWare’s masterpiece in ride form.
But being the calm, cool, and collected geek I am, I bided my time, let the hype and the crowds die down a bit, and scraped together some cash to do this properly. Hell, I even brought along the wife and kid because why not. The words “Great America” hadn’t really entered my mind since I went as a teenager due largely to the inordinate number of awesome theme parks residing in Cali, but one way or another, I knew I was not getting out of this summer without experiencing firsthand the temple they’d practically built in my backyard paying tribute to my most revered gaming franchise. And last week, experience it I did.
In the month I waited since the ride’s opening, I was careful to avoid any and all articles that may have spoiled the experience. I wanted to go in knowing nothing, and I succeeded. Was there any possibility that this thing was going to live up to the hype I was burdening it with? Fuck no. It’s a five minute amusement park ride. It was never going to encompass the insanely epic trilogy spanning dozens of hours and worlds and hundreds of cosmic possibilities. You can’t even adequately sum up the basic concepts of Mass Effect in five minutes.
And then there’s the fact that Disney’s Star Tours had done the same thing with the Star Wars franchise nearly thirty years ago and many have trod that ground since. Hell, the Minions have their own 3D ride at Universal Studios. So maybe a little underwhelming, then? Yeah, a bit. But still, anything worth doing is worth redoing Mass Effect style. New Earth is a fun little romp through a small section of the Mass Effect universe during the events of the third game that revamps the old concept with some added twists borrowed from other Disney attractions.
When you read that this is a “4D holographic journey” you may wonder what kind of mind-bending astrophysics are implemented to bring this fourth dimension into play in a world that consists of a mere three. All it really is an added immersion factor that stimulates you with various well-timed sensations during the ride. Ever wondered what a rachni’s breath smells like? Well, now I know. That and the temperature of their slobber. So basically, I’m a better fan than you now. Thanks, Great America!
Where Star Tours put you inside of a room that moves in time with the show to give the illusion of movement, New Earth has each individual seat move while blasting you with air and occasionally water as well as some scents, so you see, hear, feel, and smell it all. You can even smell the dust when your ship brushes against a mountain. Along with the live performer acting as your captain and the gigantic screen with 3D effects, it’s a really cool experience.
There’s plenty of fanservice on hand (both times I rode it, fangirls screamed when the captain mentioned that a certain Commander Shepard may have once ridden that very ship) including appearances from the Normandy and some of her crew, but the experience is very friendly for non-gamers as well. A pre-boarding video gives you the basics of Mass Relay travel and you don’t need to know much to enjoy a virtual space ship ride with 3D lasers and monsters and stuff.
All in all, New Earth is a great premise whose only downfalls are that it’s already been done and the experience is all too brief. The games are better, but after I shut them off I don’t have an entire amusement park full of badass thrill coasters, water slides, and churros at my disposal either. Great America was more than worth the cost of its admission (assuming you get the online discount) so the addition of a Mass Effect attraction is just geek-flavored icing on the cake. And the lines weren’t even bad on a Sunday.
Surprisingly, I actually had trouble finding any merchandise for the recently opened ride, unless you count getting my picture taken with a life-size cutout of Urdnot Wrex. I went into most of the shops over the course of the day and found everything from a giant dragon skull replicas to multiple stores dedicated to Peanuts to a t-shirt of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy that was suggestive enough to prompt my wife to photograph it and text it to her lesbian friend, but no Mass Effect gear.
I’ve always wanted a Mass Effect t-shirt, but have only ever run across some pretty bland N7 logos. I was really hoping to go home with a really awesome one, but as we headed for the exit and the park darkened around us, my quest had failed. Ironically, I am irritated when other theme parks dump you from a ride directly into a themed gift shop, but the one time I actually want a whole store dedicated to an attraction, I can’t find anything. But wait! What’s that? The gift shop right at the entrance so you don’t see it coming in, but can’t miss it going out has the shirt I need but never knew I wanted sitting in the window! A killer stylized design of notorious space waifu Tali’Zorah vas Normandy herself stared back at me, beckoning.
If this seems like a fairy tale ending to a quest for merchandise from a man who normally despises souvenirs, it is. That is to say, it didn’t actually work out in real life. The shirt was there on display, but when I ran in to sing “how much is that Tali in the window?” they were sold out. My entire life, in a nutshell, folks.
It was a great day I had prompted by my love of Mass Effect, but I do have to question Great America’s merchandising stratagem. I mean, come on! You just opened this awesome ride based on one of the greatest gaming franchises last month. You knew Biodrones would be coming from near and far to throw their money at you and you drop the ball on stocking t-shirts? Shame!
Still, if you’re in the NorCal neighborhood and looking for a great way to spend your time, you could do a lot worse than stopping by Santa Clara to give Mass Effect: New Earth a go. It’s -as Tali would say- totally worth it. It doesn’t reinvent the Star Tours wheel, but it does give it a nice new video gamey coat of paint (and monster drool). Who’d have thought video game rides would turn out better than video game movies? Admission to the park is about forty dollars a pop if you order online, the crowds were extremely manageable, the roller coasters are top notch, there are carnival games and an in-house water park; there’s literally something for everyone. Just don’t go for the Mass Effect merchandise.