Billed by the park as "your worst nightmare underground" and named after the legendary Nemesis roller coaster, Alton Towers' new ride for the 2012 season has some lofty expectations to live up to. With the park's marketing campaign having pulled in large crowds for its opening day, could Nemesis Sub-Terra possibly deliver, or would it prove to be a disappointment?
Located in the Forbidden Valley area of Alton Towers next to the original Nemesis attraction, Nemesis Sub-Terra is housed entirely indoors. Perhaps surprisingly, the park has done an excellent job of keeping the precise nature of the ride a secret, creating an air of anticipation among those joining the queue.
As with its most recent addition, the Thirteen roller coaster, Alton Towers is promoting Nemesis Sub-Terra as a horror experience. Ultimately, Thirteen turned out to be more suitable for families than for hardcore adrenaline-junkies. We were intrigued to find out whether the park's latest addition would really set pulses racing, or if it would be another case of hype over substance.
SPOILER WARNING: This review contains full details of the Nemesis Sub-Terra ride experience - do not read on if you do not want to know more about the attraction before riding it for yourself.
Extending the Nemesis legend
Nemesis Sub-Terra is situated on the periphery of Forbidden Valley, sandwiched between Nemesis and Alton Towers' monorail. Riders on the monorail hoping to catch a glimpse of the new addition will be disappointed, as not much is visible from the outside. Indeed, little more can be seen from the ride's entrance, other than the large, green, metallic building that houses it.
It's been a while since Alton Towers built a ride with a genuinely interesting waiting area, with the last example probably being Hex: The Legend of the Towers back in 2000. Nemesis Sub-Terra's uncovered queue line snakes backwards and forwards, with few scenery elements on offer to add to the atmosphere. The presence of "Angry Birds" sideshow games close to the queue does little to make guests feel immersed in the experience.
On the positive side, a number of video screens are dotted around the area, playing a series of short clips that fill in Nemesis Sub-Terra's backstory. This is an extension of the original Nemesis storyline, which was based around an alien that had been buried beneath the Earth's surface for 2 million years. A shadowy organisation known as The Phalanx has now taken over the site, and has discovered a further series of caves beneath the alien's subterranean home. Guests are about to enter these, in order to study an egg that has been found within.
Meet the Phalanx
In a neat touch, the Alton Towers staff members that operate Nemesis Sub-Terra are all dressed in black, military-style Phalanx uniforms. While some are simply polite and efficient, others really attempt to act the part, shouting orders at guests in a semi-humourous fashion. It's not often that a ride operator shouts "stop talking and get walking" at a guest, but involving the staff in the storyline is an inspired move by the park.
Guests are allowed onto Nemesis Sub-Terra in batches of 40, and although queues reached lengths of up to 60 minutes on its opening day, we found that they moved reasonably quickly. This was aided by the presence of a single-rider queue, and if you're willing to be separated from the other members of your party then we strongly recommended using this. When the excitement over the new ride dies down, we expect that wait times will be significantly shorter.
Alton Towers is also offering Fastrack tickets for its latest addition, which enable guests to jump straight to the front of the line. We're on record as hating paid-for queue-jumping schemes, and can see little point in wasting money on skipping the queue for Nemesis Sub-Terra.
On reaching the front of the line, guests are asked to leave any loose items in the baggage drop area. They then enter the ride building, being asked to stand on one of 40 circles that are located in front of two "elevators". The ride operators have a bit of fun in this area, barking instructions at guests and picking on those who look particularly scared about what they are about to experience.
Eventually, the elevator doors open and guests are ushered inside. The elevator vibrates to suggest that guests are descending deep underground, and a short video explains that they should proceed into a chamber once they reach the bottom.
The big reveal
On exiting the elevator and navigating a short tunnel, guests finally come face-to-face with the Nemesis Sub-Terra ride itself. As had been widely rumoured, it is a small drop tower manufactured by Swiss firm ABC Rides, and is very similar in design to the Extremis ride at The London Dungeon.
Riders on Extremis face away from each other, and view a "hanging" scene played out by animatronic characters. However, on Nemesis Sub-Terra, the four rows of seats surround a central chamber, with guests' attention being focused on a mysterious egg that sits at its centre. A short video explains that the egg was originally believed to be inert, but is now showing signs of life. Predictably, things then start to go awry, with the video cutting out and the lights in the chamber going out.
We were reasonably impressed by Nemesis Sub-Terra up to this point. The combination of the videos in the queue line, the enthusiastic acting of the ride operators and the elevator's "descent" did a solid job of setting the scene for the ride itself. But was it worth waiting for?
Dropping into the abyss
After a short moment of anticipation, the drop tower plummets a few metres into a second chamber below. For theme park fans accustomed to large-scale drop towers, the free fall section will offer only very limited thrills. We had hoped for a more interesting drop sequence, perhaps involving multiple drops, but the end result is a very similar experience to that offered by Extremis.
This chamber is themed to resemble the alien's lair, and a number of special effects are used to add to the atmosphere. This includes mist and water effects, although riders do not get particularly damp. The main gimmick is a back-poker similar to those seen on many "4-D" attractions, which is designed to make guests feel as though they are being grabbed by the alien's tentacles. Unfortunately, this was out of action on Nemesis Sub-Terra's opening day.
Escaping the scene
After a few moments, the drop tower returns to its starting position. The egg is revealed to have "hatched", and loud announcements instruct guests to "escape" immediately. Staff usher them into a second elevator, which then ascends to the surface. On the way, vibration effects are used to suggest that the alien is attempting to break its way in. Guests are then chased out of the building's exit by members of the Phalanx.
The most common reaction that we heard from other guests after riding Nemesis Sub-Terra was "was that it?". While our expectations were only moderate given the relatively minor nature of the new addition, we couldn't help sharing those feelings. Even allowing for the impact of the missing effects on opening day, this is a hopelessly underwhelming attraction.
Credit where credit's due: Alton Towers deserves praise for attempting to overlay a plot on top of what is basically a small flat ride, and it's great to see Nemesis' neglected backstory being resurrected. The problem is, instead of being the finishing touches to an amazing ride, the elevators and over-the-top acting feel like attempts to compensate for the weak nature of the drop tower itself.
Ultimately, the decision to install a drop tower at all seems like a strange one by Alton Towers. Thirteen, which opened just two years ago, offers a drop tower-like section already, with the added twist of the drop taking place while seated in a roller coaster train. Nemesis Sub-Terra offers very little that differentiates it from this.
The use of the Nemesis storyline may also backfire on the park. While well-informed fans will know not to expect a major new ride, we overheard a number of guests who were fully expecting to ride a new, underground roller coaster - or at the very least, something considerably more ambitious that what is actually on offer.
In its defence, Nemesis Sub-Terra is probably the best miniature drop tower you will ever ride. It's certainly not worth queuing for an hour to ride it, but in years to come it will offer a fun little distraction on the way into or out of Forbidden Valley. Just remember to take Alton Towers' marketing with a hefty pinch of salt.
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