A haunted house where you can fight back? It's Universal Studios Japan's 'Biohazard - The Real'
Written by Bryan Wawzenek
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.
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.
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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