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A haunted house where you can fight back? It's Universal Studios Japan's 'Biohazard - The Real'

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Published: August 5, 2013 at 10:35 AM

Doors slam. Girls shriek. Something not too far away unleashes a guttural roar. The sounds are familiar to anyone who's waited to enter a haunted house attraction. The difference this time is that you have a gun in hand, and are ready to defend yourself from any attacking creatures.

A haunted house in which you get to fight back is the basic concept behind Biohazard — The Real, the new walkthrough attraction at Universal Studios Japan. My wife and I were fortunate to be visiting the Osaka theme park in late July, just a few days after this live-action video game had opened. In fact, there was no mention of it on the park's English language map or website (it still isn't on there). I had been tipped off to look for Biohazard — The Real by some chatter on theme park message boards.

Bioharzard The Real entrance

Biohazard — The Real is based on the 'Resident Evil' video game franchise, which is known as 'Biohazard' in Japan. The attraction, like many of the games, takes place in Raccoon City, where mutated creatures and zombie-like humans have been on a kill-crazy rampage. Guests who "enlist" are joining the games' S.T.A.R.S. force that's responsible for putting down as many of these nasties as possible.

Before coming to Universal Japan, I had read that Biohazard — The Real was set up in the Palace Hotel in the New York section of the park. Sure enough, there was Biohazard signage and a small queue in front of the theater. Before making our way into the roped-off area, we were intercepted by a friendly attraction worker in a red military beret who helped us understand what to do.

Between her excellent hand gestures and a map that she could point to, we learned that we had to walk back to the Hollywood portion of Universal in order to get our tickets for Biohazard. This, as we found, was a somewhat common practice for some of the most in-demand attractions at Universal Japan. For instance, for the backdrop version of Hollywood Dream — The Ride, we waited in a separate line to get tickets for a specific hour later in the day. So it's basically Universal Japan's version of a Fastpass. We watched 'Biohazard' game trailers as we waited for 10 minutes in an air-conditioned theater until we got our tickets, which would be valid about four hours later. Simple enough.

Queue worker

Just following our entrance time, we lined up with a few dozen folks outside the Palace Theater, which was advertising the Raccoon City Film Festival. After about 15 minutes, we entered the lobby, where newscasts of Raccoon City's calamities played out on TV screens before us, occasionally interrupted by commercials for the military force we were set to join. Although nearly everything on the screens was spoken in Japanese, we were handed a laminated info sheet that let us know what to expect: we'd be given a pistol and an arm band that would show our level of "infection." Green meant good, yellow meant not-so-good and red meant zombie meat.

Eventually, we were allowed upstairs into a hallway made up to look like an alley and then into a gun shop. The line was split into groups of eight and we were briefed by a fast-talking man behind a counter — all in Japanese, of course. After handing us our pistols (each loaded with 30 rounds) and arm bands (all glowing green), the man looked at us and, making sure we knew what was about to happen, said, "You. Shoot. Zombie." We smiled, gave him the OK sign and all was well… except for, you know, the whole about-to-enter-a-zombie-apocalypse thing.

The door opened and off we went into the dank, dark streets of Raccoon City, littered with the dead and, in some surprises, the not-so-dead. The people at the front of our group began popping off shots almost immediately, while we back-of-the-liners had to watch out behind us for any late-comers. And , yes, there were plenty of hungry zombies, stumbling their way after us. Much of the attraction is a bit of a blur, but I can tell you that the scares came at a furious pace, the actors were all fantastic and the seven-foot-tall Tyrant (which was part of Universal Japan's Raccoon City display for Halloween Horror Nights) was more than a little menacing.

I wasn't sure if this was going to be like laser tag or Buzz Lightyear's Zombie Blasters, and as it turned out, it wasn't really like either. There's no laser target projecting from your weapon and no real way to "kill" the creatures you see; it's just point and shoot. The live zombie actors are coached to recoil or slump against a wall when they hear the muffled pop of the guns. So, it's essentially a souped-up version of cops and zombies. Bang, bang. You're dead. And that's still pretty awesome.

I also wasn't sure how the "life meter" would work. As it turns out, it didn't seem to be a real factor. Everyone in the group was blinking red after the second room (of, maybe, nine or 10 total), and we were all still blinking red when we came to the reload station before the final push. Our fellow officers checked our life meters before the last section to make sure we weren't on solid red, but it wasn't clear if this was just for show or if they'd actually pull you out at that point. I doubt it.

The last section was rife with bloodthirsty baddies coming at us from every angle and (SPOILER ALERT) we all died — complete with a "You are Dead" kill screen projected on the wall in front of us. Wah-wah...

As we handed in our equipment and thanked the uniformed officers for their help, a woman from our group who had ended up right behind me began apologizing for clinging to my backpack during some of the scariest parts. I laughed and told her it wasn't any problem, doing my best to make myself understood that I wasn't upset in the least and that I had just as much fun as she seemed to have. If we had spoken the same language, I would have told her that I'm used to having my wife cling to my back in these sorts of things. I guess giving her a gun changed all that!

Biohazard — The Real was a blast with a great twist on the standard haunted house routine — and every member of our group seemed to agree. I'm sure a Resident Evil — The Real would be the must-see attraction at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal's U.S. parks. That said, I would love to visit a more intricate version of this concept, perhaps with guns that display laser targets and require accuracy and life meters that are actually tied to what happens on the streets of Raccoon City. Then again, maybe I've played too many video games.

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Readers' Opinions

From Andy Milito on August 5, 2013 at 10:57 AM
As a video game fan, that sounds really cool. I smell a potential HHN maze!
From 129.188.33.26 on August 5, 2013 at 12:32 PM
Apparently, if you get too close to the zombies, the sensor catches and your infection level goes up. Those who hid the sensor (behind their bags) are reporting their level remained "Green". Also, I read that zombies have sensors to let them know when to drop on the floor.
So far, more than 50,000 guests (including the repeaters) tried the attraction in the last 2 weeks and there has been 0 survivor. The attraction is limited time only until November 10th.
From Robert Niles on August 5, 2013 at 2:00 PM
Isn't the gun ownership rate in Japan minuscule? I mean, to the point of nonexistence? That would seem to make this a unique, almost forbidden, experience for Japanese visitors - the chance to hold and use a gun, even if it is in a pretend environment.

Mix that with Japan's obsession with cosplay (and role-playing), and I can see the unique appeal here. That said, I think that a truly interactive house (Fight back? Heck, yeah!) could be a huge, huge hit in the United States, too, though I agree that the quality and technology of game play would have increase. After all, we, uh, are used to shooting each other over here. :^/

From James Trexen on August 5, 2013 at 4:20 PM
Robert brings up exactly why this will never come to America. Society has become pretty sensitive to these kind of things (Hey, when was the last time you've seen Elmer Fudd with his shotgun?) and would call for it's immediate removal.
From 167.167.40.2 on August 5, 2013 at 5:17 PM
Both James & Robert make good points.

I think here, the weapons would be presented as "lasers" & I could even see the zombies being robot or machine based zombies, as that would draw fewer issues.

But back to the original attraction, it sounds like a cool, scary version of a haunted house.

From Bryan Wawzenek on August 5, 2013 at 5:55 PM
Yes, Robert, handguns are completely banned in Japan. So, the chance to hold a real-looking pistol might be pretty exciting for Japanese fans raised on Hollywood movies and shoot-em-up video games. Of course, Japan's many arcades are stocked with plenty of first-person shooters, too.

In regards to 129..., that could be true about the life meter. It just seemed awful convenient that everyone in my group went from green to red at the exact same time, whether they had been close to zombies or not.

From 1.73.232.127 on August 5, 2013 at 6:54 PM
Being huge fans of Biohazard we went to USJ last week to check this out. The line was HUGE and they were doing some sort of crazy reservation system that only seemed to make sense to locals. In typical Japanese style they had created a buracrazy that had us running around trying to get a slot but the reservations were not being taken at the Biohazard location it was far away in another building. Total nightmare. When we finally figured it out we were told that all reservations for the day were gone! My son was not happy. I am glad you all enjoyed it, but they need to do something about the time waste system.
From Robert Niles on August 5, 2013 at 10:51 PM
Another reasons for the lasers is the gameplay. A laser (or IR beam), allows the game to record hits accurately.

Basically, for live shooter games, your options are laser tag and paintball. And paintball's a mess, not to mention potentially painful if players aren't geared up right.

By the way, the phrase "Buzz Lightyear's Zombie Blasters" wins the Internet today.

From Tony Duda on August 5, 2013 at 11:19 PM
A laser game would be great, the zombies all wear some kind of target hood so that only head shots count. A big red flash can come off the hood so that you know when you had a good hit. If the zombie comes too close, your sensor would drain faster. This way you can get through the game if you position yourself so that your fellow gamers get infected instead of you.

Ooops, maybe I should copyright that scenario. Or did I just do that by inference?

From Rod Whitenack on August 6, 2013 at 6:41 AM
I had a friend that was studying Japanese culture years ago and spent several college semesters living there. The Japanese don't really celebrate Halloween like we do or associate the spooky season with the Fall. He told me that haunted attractions just like this often pop up in the Summer. I'd never had anyone explain this to me this way, but he told me that the Japanese like haunted houses in the Summer because it's believed that the "chills" you get from being scared actually cool you down.

Obviously, I don't think they believe this in any kind of literal way, but it's an interesting cultural concept.

From Anon Mouse on August 6, 2013 at 12:13 PM
Why would having a fake gun be such a forbidden fruit that people would want to play with it? It doesn't make sense to me. I own one and it is nothing to be excited about. I was not interesting in buying one to hold it and point and shoot things. I was more interested in self-defense.

To me, the allure of killing zombies is the attraction, not the guns itself. In The Walking Dead, the survivors are specifically asked to refrain from using guns if possible to ensure zombies are NOT attracted to the noise. Noise is a negative. A survivor is better off using a knife or prop.

From Brandon Mendoza on August 6, 2013 at 12:30 PM
The idea of being able to use a gun when you normally can't is like being able to shoot a M249 SAW... most people can't afford it, let alone find one available for civilian ownership. Plus some states don't allow civilians to own machine guns. It's why some people like going to Las Vegas to shoot guns, yet aren't willing to even try to own the guns they shoot over there.

It's like how some people are attracted to what they're not supposed to have. This "game" allows people to do that, along with simulating reality just like some video games do.

I don't see this flying in the US because all it would take is one idiot to ruin it for everyone by physically attacking an actor.

It's different than regular horror/ scare trails and hotels/ haunted houses. The visitors don't do anything... in this Biohazard one, you fight back with laser guns.

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