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EA Didn't "Kill" Mass Effect! It Still Lives On As An Amusement Park Ride At California's Great America!

Author's Note: I would like to personally thank my close friend, Michael for taking a majority of the pictures in this blog. All pictures that are not watermarked with the EA or Cedar Fair logo are from him and his property.

Why Is There A 4D Mass Effect Ride?

I swear, this is a real thing that exists!
I swear, this is a real thing that exists!

Before we tackle the insanity that is "Mass Effect: New Earth," we must first discuss its host, the amusement park company, Cedar Fair. For those unaware, the amusement park industry is currently in the middle of a "Second Coaster War." In the late 1990s to early 2000s the quest to build the highest or fastest coaster dominated amusements park projects around the world. Now, parks are engaged in a tit for tat conflict in developing new thrilling experiences. Relative industry newcomers like Rocky Mountain Construction have changed the amusement park landscape entirely, whereas veterans like Intamin or Gerstlauer are consistently pushing the limits of traditional coaster design. One of the driving forces for new thrills has been the monolithic Cedar Fair which operates twelve amusement parks in the United States and Canada.

However, we are not going to discuss roller coasters in this blog. Instead, we are here to talk about Cedar Fair's long-forgotten attempt to acquire distinctive intellectual properties. Our story starts in 1993 when Kings Dominion installed the very first "Action Theater." To make a long story short, film studio Paramount had a family of amusement parks intended to compete against the likes of Disney, Universal, Six Flags, and SeaWorld. Upon the split of its parent company, Viacom, in 2006, the Paramount Parks were sold to Cedar Fair. After the first Action Theater proved successful, all of Paramount's amusement parks installed similar attractions. These theaters were motion simulators which, at the time, played a yearly rotation of blockbuster films from Paramount.

Upon Cedar Fair's purchase of Paramount Parks, several rides required immediate re-theming for licensing reasons. Surprisingly, the Action Theaters at California's Great America, Canada's Wonderland, Carowinds, Kings Dominion, and Kings Island were not immediately demolished. Though, in 2013, Kings Island would remove its theater to make way for its "Urgent Scare" Halloween Haunt. At first, Cedar Fair bought pre-existing 3D movies from other companies to keep these theaters operating. For example, there was an awkward period when "The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera," previously a 4D movie at Universal Studios Orlando, was playing at all locations. Around 2013 each theater was re-themed to play one of four possible films with the majority being about dinosaurs.

Nonetheless, each of these themes was intended to be temporary as Cedar Fair explored more permanent solutions. In comes their partnership with EA! The first result of this collaboration occurred at Carowinds, which re-themed its Action Theater to the Plants vs. Zombies franchise. Here, riders take a seat in a themed arena and use a turret to shoot at enemies on a 3D projection screen. Coincidentally, around the time Cedar Fair was working with EA, it was also partnering up with the well-known motion simulator company, TrioTech. As a result of both collaborations, Cedar Fair declared a new initiative that would impact several of its parks.

But Wait, Why Does Mass Effect: New Earth Exist?

Upon partnering with TrioTech, Cedar Fair announced each of their parks would have at least one dark ride. As part of this new agenda, Canada's Wonderland received "Wonder Mountain's Guardian," and Knott's Berry Farm got "Voyage to the Iron Reef." And inevitably, that leads us to the Action Theater at California's Great America. Wanting to test a more "traditional" 4D experience, Cedar Fair contracted EA and 3D Live, a holographic filmmaking studio. Thus began a year-long collaboration between California's Great America, 3D Live, and BioWare. Until the project's completion, BioWare representatives were included on weekly calls to discuss the ride's story, animation, and artwork.

It is worth noting each of these rides, especially Mass Effect: New Earth, showcased an entirely different interpretation of an amusement park "dark ride." Wonder Mountain's Guardian is a roller coaster hybrid that also has a shooting gallery element. Voyage to the Iron Reef is an interactive dark ride where riders travel on a track and shoot at screens to gain points. Mass Effect: New Earth, on the other hand, is a traditional 4D movie where a real actor comments over a two and a half minute film. As such, it is safe to say Cedar Fair was testing four different types of dark rides and seeing which worked the best. However, their dark ride initiative was doomed from the start.

I cannot preface enough how I am maybe one of twelve people in line to ride this thing whenever I go to California's Great America.
I cannot preface enough how I am maybe one of twelve people in line to ride this thing whenever I go to California's Great America.

First, a handful of parks demolished their Action Theaters to make way for more popular attractions. Additionally, many have come to rely on the abandoned theaters when hosting Cedar's "Halloween Haunt." Finally, there's no sign of further research and development for the current "test" attractions. For example, Mass Effect: New Earth has been operating for over three years with the same theme and script. The TrioTech model hasn't fared any better. The experiments at Knott's Berry Farm and Canada's Wonderland have met a mixed reception from amusement park enthusiasts. It is worth noting Cedar Fair has an inconsistent record when it comes to theming. The company also has a notorious history of only partially following through on its promises before moving onto a different corporate agenda. As such, park managers did not enthusiastically sign up for new dark rides when this initiative was announced.

Furthermore, you may have noticed I have not shared concrete dates while discussing Mass Effect: New Earth. There is a reason for this omission. As I will detail shortly, Mass Effect: New Earth bridges the gap between Mass Effect 2 and 3. At the ride's queue, you'll find props and posters showcasing iconic moments from Mass Effect 2. Regardless, and here's where things get weird, Mass Effect 2 released in 2010, and Mass Effect 3, released in 2012. Mass Effect: New Earth, a motion simulator set during the original Mass Effect trilogy, did not open until 2016! That is FOUR YEARS after the release of Mass Effect 3 and one year BEFORE the launch of Mass Effect: Andromeda. To say this holographic 4D motion simulator missed its window is an understatement. THIS THING WAS DEAD ON ARRIVAL!

The Ride Experience

First, let's address the placement of Mass Effect: New Earth. Upon entering the gates of California's Great America, you'll find the ride nestled in the park's upper half. Hilariously enough, this means the attraction is right across from the park's kid-friendly "Planet Snoopy" zone. As you approach the theater, you'll notice two things. One, it is a massive structure Mass Effect: New Earth is only partially using. The abandoned portions of the building are cordoned off using a banner enticing you to explore "Terra Nova," thus identifying where this ride takes place. Second, as you get closer to the queue, you'll quickly identify a few "interesting" props.

Exterior of Mass Effect: New Earth

Earlier I mentioned this ride "transports" you to the planet of Terra Nova. There are two things to note about this location and how it relates to Mass Effect's in-game canon. One, your only prior exposure to Terra Nova is if you played the "Bring Down the Sky" DLC for Mass Effect 1. In fact, in some odd way, this ride is a direct sequel to that DLC. To illustrate, at the ride's entrance, there's a memorial plaque to those who "sacrificed their lives" to help Commander Sheppard stop Batarians from destroying Terra Nova. The second important thing to note is Terra Nova's relation to Mass Effect 3. In Mass Effect 3, Terra Nova is abandoned by the Alliance's Sixth Fleet upon the start of the Reaper's invasion of the Milky Way Galaxy. So, you could say I was a little miffed to see the props for Mass Effect: New Earth were promotional items from Mass Effect 2's launch. There are two sets of N7 armor, one male and the other female, and they are carbon copies of the ones you saw at GameStop when Mass Effect 2 first released!

Queue Line "Theming"

Furthermore, it is vital to note, Mass Effect: New Earth is a "theatrical" motion simulator. Before boarding the ride, an attendant hands you a pair of passive 3D glasses. Moments before the ride starts, a funny safety video plays. While easily ignorable, this video conveys some essential context related to New Earth's story. During the film, we discover we are tourists about to be whisked away to a tropical resort on Terra Nova. As a representative from the travel agency begins talking about time-shares, the feed cuts out. A reporter from the "Alliance News Network," cautions that Terra Nova's defense fleet is reporting "unusual activity" near their Mass Relay. With loud blaster sounds in the background, the reporter screams that something is invading the planet. As they are about to tell us what the invaders may be, the feed abruptly ends, and the doors to the theater open. It is at this point, a real person dressed in an Alliance uniform, loudly greets you to enter the room and introduces themselves as "Conrad Verner."

Alright, I bet that last sentence got you by surprise. So, let's talk about what differentiates Mass Effect: New Earth from other dark rides. For the Plants Vs. Zombies version of this attraction you use a gun to shoot highlighted objects on a 3D projection screen. In Mass Effect: New Earth there's no player interaction outside of anything you say to the actor. As the film plays, this actor provides commentary and moves around to mimic the audience's 4D seats. Worth noting, there's a non-themed security guard present during the entire ride. Their job is to guarantee you are not a dick to the actor. Speaking of which, if you end up riding this, DON'T BE A DICK!

I will admit the ride has a few special effects and moments that always impress me.
I will admit the ride has a few special effects and moments that always impress me.

As you take your place in the theater, you'll notice a few things. First, the chairs are incredibly similar to the ones used in everyday 4D theaters. The seats jostle you around and spray water during various portions of the film. When everyone takes their positions, the movie begins. "Conrad Verner" welcomes us to "Mass Relay Getaways," the go-to place to experience a relaxing vacation in Alliance space. After a handful of theme park related jokes, Verner pilots our spacecraft to the nearest Mass Relay, which leads to several references to the Mass Effect games. As our shuttle makes its way to the relay, we conveniently pass by the Normandy, which, for whatever reason, is being captained by Garrus. After Garrus tells off Conrad, we enter the relay. Unfortunately, our actor prematurely ejects us out of warp and drop us in the middle of an asteroid belt.

A collision causes our ship to careen out of control and into the atmosphere of Terra Nova. Luckily, the ship's virtual intelligence assumes emergency control and pilots the spacecraft to a resort. As the actor drones about the beautiful amenities at Terra Nova, a Reaper appears and begins blowing everything up. An explosion flings our ship into a canyon, causing a swarm of insects to fly out. After the vessel reboots, Conrad discovers Wrex piloting the Mako. For whatever reason, it appears Wrex isn't busy leading the Krogans and is instead the field commander of the Normandy. Wrex somehow hacks into our space dingy and assumes control over the ship. The screen then swoops to the Reaper as our ship shoots at its enormous red eye. The Reaper then blasts out a beam of energy, causing us to crash directly into its maw. With no other option left, Conrad orders all available weapons to unload into the Reaper's eye. Following this flurry, the Reaper explodes, and we are victorious. The film promptly ends, and the actor motions to the ride's exit.

So... How's The Ride Holding Up?


For one thing, the ride doesn't even open until one hour after Great America's "rope drop." Second, if the park does not hit a minimum capacity quota, the park's management will close down the ride to save money on operating costs. Finally, the attraction is proving to be an incredibly hard sell to the park's "general public." As such, the park's management only uses two rows in the theater when it has a total of four. Sadly, the ride's struggles to appeal to non-gamers was to be expected. For one thing, I think we can all agree Mass Effect isn't the first video game that comes to mind when designing an amusement park ride. While many consider Mass Effect 2 a "game of the generation," the franchise itself is currently in video game purgatory. Likewise, as someone who has ridden Mass Effect: New Earth more than once, I cannot begin to list how often I overhear adults asking their kids "what's Mass Effect?"

To add insult to injury, Mass Effect: New Earth is downright frustrating for anyone with even the slightest bit of nostalgia for the video games. Look, I get amusement parks should be afforded some creative freedom when tackling intellectual properties. Additionally, I understand the expectation is to "turn your brain off" when you ride most theme park attractions. To illustrate, Universal's "Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts" makes no narrative sense, but it's my favorite ride in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Amusement park rides don't need to make canonical sense to provide riveting experiences. What drives me bonkers about Mass Effect: New Earth is how it brazenly grafts Mass Effect onto OG Star Tours! Seriously, this ride may be the most creatively bankrupt thing I have ever seen in a chain amusement park.

Think I'm joking? Let's run down New Earth's rap sheet so we can lock it up in theme park jail! Both attractions start with the doors of a shuttle bay opening and a pilot clumsily guiding riders into space. Both attractions feature an early moment where the pilot pulls you out of warp and into a debris field. Both attractions feature scenes where you fly by iconic characters. Both attractions have iconic characters telling your ship to buzz off. Both attractions showcase the defeat of an enemy that shouldn't be possible. Both attractions feature an enthusiastic pilot taking credit for defeating an enemy when they shouldn't. Beat by beat; this is, without a shadow of a doubt, a slap-dash carbon copy of Star Tours!

This blog would have been far more tragic had Mass Effect: New Earth featured a different cast....
This blog would have been far more tragic had Mass Effect: New Earth featured a different cast....

Furthermore, and I cannot preface this point enough, this ride missed its window by FOUR YEARS! It takes place during the original Mass Effect trilogy, but OPENED IN 2016! Seriously, who, in 2016, is going to California's Great America to watch a "best hits" compilation of Mass Effect 2 and 3? WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?! Admittedly, had the ride been themed to coincide with the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda, it would have been an even more hilarious disaster.

What's Next?

In an alternate universe, where Andromeda wasn't a dumpster fire, I can imagine Cedar Fair updating this ride to coincide with different releases in the Mass Effect series. As it stands, the attraction has remained entirely unchanged since its launch in 2016. As someone whose "home park" is California's Great America, I can note only one change about its script in its three years of operation. Ever so slightly, the actors are starting to throw in some camp to the standard plot. It's not nearly as deliberate as Disney's Jungle Cruise, but in my last visit, the actor made a few references to ride's neglected state.

Accordingly, let's return to Cedar Fair's original dark ride expansion plans. To put it bluntly, they've done jack shit since 2016. To their defense, the reasons for their inaction are relatively obvious. Wonder Mountain's Guardian at Canada's Wonderland cost the company $10 million and has a significant footprint most parks cannot handle. Additionally, the re-theming of the Action Theaters has proven problematic as they have become coveted space for several "Halloween Haunt" events. That is not to suggest the company is blameless. In fact, their harebrained dark ride agenda is an emblem of how inconsistent their management has been in recent years. Cedar Fair is by far one of the most frustrating amusement park chains to follow. Part of what makes them so annoying is they play "favorites" with their properties. On the one hand, Kings Dominion and Cedar Point are always exploring expensive park renovations or new rides additions. On the other hand, Michigan's Adventure or World's of Fun are fortunate if they can get a new set of trash cans.

Making fun of Michigan's Adventure is like making fun of the New York Knicks. It's easy to do and you ultimately shouldn't.
Making fun of Michigan's Adventure is like making fun of the New York Knicks. It's easy to do and you ultimately shouldn't.

But what about those TrioTech rides I mentioned earlier? During a recent road trip, I managed to ride a few, including the one at Knott's Berry Farm. Honestly, I have to say I actively dislike them. I didn't enjoy the how obvious it was I was playing a video game. The graphics are decent, but the transitions between the screens kill the experience. There's virtually no theming between the screens, and there's next to no feedback when shooting targets. At least with Boo Blasters, you have physical targets which visibly respond when you shoot them. That is not the case with any of TrioTech's dark rides, which in my opinion, results in a ho-hum experience.

But what about Mass Effect: New Earth? As it stands, it is an amusement park oddity that is bound to become a future episode of "Defunctland." It, much like the video game franchise it is based on, sits in limbo. Parts of Mass Effect: New Earth are certainly appealing on paper. Unfortunately, Cedar Fair's frugality ruined the ride's chance from the very beginning. At no point does it attempt to paint a story the general public or die-hard Mass Effect fans benefit from watching. That said, I'm dreading the ride's eventual replacement. What I have seen of "Season Two" of TrioTech's motion simulators has me shaking in my boots.