A rift has opened in Sunny Clarita, a portal back to Whitechapel during the Autumn of Terror, where the shadow of the man who would be Jack the Ripper hung heavy over London’s working girls. Wax House: The Legend of Jack The Ripper VR experience invites armchair detectives to step back in time, review the evidence, discover Jack’s true identity, and finally close the case of the first modern serial killer. Just remember, Jack is still on the prowl and should you fail in your mission, you may just end up as his latest victim.
The Mountasia Family Fun Center is not the first place you would expect to find such a macabre spectacle, but it’s not without its perks. While the VR experience is only around 30 minutes, the arcade, go-kart track, batting cages, rock wall, laser tag arena, and restaurant make for an all-day experience, which will hopefully justify the trip to LA residents hesitant to make the trip for the VR alone.
As my brother and I made our way to the back of the arcade where Wax House: The Legend of Jack The Ripper resides, we’re greeted by a charming facade where weathered masonry gives way to a glow-in-the-dark cityscape that evokes the cold tension of 1880’s Whitechapel, even though it apparently preceded the experience itself. The Hollowzone team behind the experience has added their own flair as well, with a fairly high-quality mannequin dressed up as Jack the Ripper himself stands among the posters calling attention to his ghoulish crimes.
Once our time has come to begin our investigation, we’re ushered into a lovingly-crafted staging area that showcases the experience the team has working with VR experiences for Knott’s and Bone Yard Effects’ Into The Black haunt. The walls are lined with bricks and scattered with boxes of cargo that create the impression of traveling through the alleyways of Whitechapel. A phonograph springs to life, as the lead detetive gives us a little background on what we have been sent to do. A wax museum dedicated to the murders has been created as a morbid tourist attraction, displaying actual items from the victims and other pieces of the puzzle that need to be put together to uncover Jack’s identity. After this piece of narration ends, what had previously appeared as a static illustration suddenly takes on a life of its own, giving us additional insight into the murders and Jack’s victims. One by one we pass by exhibits that continue to flesh out the story before getting to the end of the hall where a silhouette is shown of the wax sculptor, hard at work on his next creation. A wooden gate slips open and we step forth into the space that will soon be transformed into this museum of horrors.
This particular stage of the experience, between leaving the staging area and the VR experience proper, isn’t my favorite. The cacophony of children hopped up on candy and the lust for tickets pours in as we try to make out the audio from a fairly dull instructional video that tells us how to get suited up with the play area completely visible in the background. It’s certainly quite large, 3000 sq. ft. according to the Hollowzone’s (the company behind Wax House: The Legend of Jack The Ripper) website. This may include the staging area because it doesn’t feel quite that large, but it is certainly sufficient. Seeing the entire space before entering VR comprises some of the initial immersion and the whole setup process falls short of the polish of what you’ll get with The Void with its system of cords and pulleys that make getting suited such a seamless experience before heading into the VR space.
For the uninitiated, The Void is right now the premier location for these large-scale VR experiences (two of which Jeff and I recently had a chance to go see, read about that here) so forgive me if I do a lot of comparing and contrasting with those experiences when talking about this one. Seeing the play area also reveals that unlike The Void, Wax House: The Legend of Jack The Ripper does not feature physical walls, which isn’t much of an issue unless you purposefully want to undermine the immersion of your experience by walking through them, but it also lacks The Void’s physical props. This is understandable given that the play area is reused in different contexts throughout the experience, but does somewhat lessen the physical immersion.
The technology is a different story. Unlike The Void, which uses a multi-million dollar proprietary tracking and headset system, Wax House: The Legend of Jack The Ripper uses the recently-released Vive Pro which in some ways proves to be the superior solution. The visuals are crisp with little to no screen door effect and the tracking system worked flawlessly, even when reaching for small props on the ground in the corner of the room. The comfort and ergonomics are no different, with the helmet system being adjustable for an ideal fit and the vest holding the laptop powering the cord-free experience fastening snugly to the body so that the added weight is quickly forgotten.
And as we don our headsets and take in this new world we find ourselves in, the Mountasia Family Fun Center seemed to melt away. I find myself with that now familiar sense of wonderment as my unconscious brain struggles to discern whether I was just some dude with a plastic wand and a big honking headset on my face or if I truly am a Victorian gentleman on the hunt for Jack the Ripper. Never being one to deny a bit of escapism, I hang on to my suspension of disbelief and for the next 30 minutes, we’re in Whitechapel. Well, actually we aren’t Victorian gentlemen per se, with our avatars showing up as plague doctors. A little strange given the last major plague in England was about 200 years prior to the crime spree of Jack the Ripper, but plague doctors are cool, so I roll with it.
As you head down the lane leading to the door of the Wax House, make sure you take a little time to absorb the scenery and look through the windows of the houses where the people of Whitechapel are carrying on with their daily business, it’s the only environment outside of the Wax House where you’ll be spending the rest of your time, so I wish we had devoted more time to exploring it. Don’t stand around for too long, though. There are clues to uncover and puzzles to solve. The clock is the true adversary here, with each of the Wax House’s 4 floors offering a frantic 6-7 minutes to complete as many objectives and find as much evidence as possible before moving to the next floor.
Wax House: The Legend of Jack The Ripper sells itself as a virtual reality haunted house escape experience, but in practice, it is much more of an escape room than it is a haunt. We only had two people in our party, but it really seems designed for a full party of 4, both due to the number of things that need to be done in the given time span and because each of the members of your party will be given a special tool to help you get the most out of the experience. I was given a lantern, which didn’t really feel like the most useful of items and I kind of wish I could have swapped it out for something else. It’s fun to play with and it proved occasionally useful for reading clues, but thanks to the experience as a whole not being that dark and the Vive Pro’s increased resolution, most text was pretty legible without its aid. My brother got a somewhat more useful item, a magic orb that revealed hidden messages that gave additional insight into Jack’s character and hints as to his true identity. I’m not certain what the other possible items are, but I believe they include some sort of map or compass which may have aided in allowing us to get to some of the puzzles faster.
We managed to find most of the placards scattered about the floors which give additional narration when placed in front of the various scenes of Jack’s murders, but we only ended up solving one of the puzzles, though we found at least a few other spots that seemed to have secrets to uncover. None of the puzzles seemed particularly challenging, with it being more a matter of having everyone work together to figure out where everything was quickly to get a handle on things rather than a single puzzle requiring a large investment of time. Luckily, the puzzles follow the same structure as in The Void where you will simply be granted access to the next portion of the experience after a certain period if you fail to complete a particular puzzle.
The question of whether Wax House: The Legend of Jack The Ripper is worth it’s $30 ticket price depends on a few things. For those that love VR like I do, those people addicted purely to the feeling of being transported to another place and time, you’re going to get that with this experience. The visuals are crisp and the realism in terms of lighting and scaling captures that sense of presence, that sense of being in a physical space that VR enthusiasts crave. It isn’t quite as ambitious in its scope as something like Ghostbusters: Dimension from The Void with its massive metropolitan vistas and it’s fairly scant on animations. It doesn’t have the visceral scares of Nicodemus: Demon of Evanishment, which is likely due in part to it being in such a family-friendly environment, but the environments are still unnerving with ominously arranged mannequins and the occasional jump scare from a falling object or a bat colony suddenly flying out as you go to peer through a window. Where Wax House: The Legend of Jack The Ripper shines is as a VR escape room, that emphasizes teamwork and creativity to flesh out its world and reveal its hidden secrets. Even as a group of two that failed to figure out many of the puzzles, I did feel like we had enough to be able to ultimately piece together the identity of Jack the Ripper, though we ultimately didn’t succeed and faced the consequences of that failure.
I think there is some room for improvement here and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were renovations throughout the season as the team seemed willing to continue improving and iterating the experience. I would particularly like to see more animations and potentially a scenario where the lights would flicker or go out, which could both increase the tension and give the lantern more of a tangible purpose. I’m not sure I would recommend this over the experiences at The Void for anyone but the hardcore escape room junkie, but my recommendation would be to see them all. Every large-scale VR experience I have had up to this point has been exhilarating in its own way and the fact that Wax House: The Legend of Jack The Ripper could use another coat of polish to live up to the truly stratospheric bar set by The Void doesn’t take away from what Hollowzone has accomplished here in crafting one of my favorite VR experiences ever. If you’re local to Santa Clarita, it’s an easy call. Get out of the heat, go see this and spend a nice afternoon enjoying all the great stuff The Mountasia Family Fun Center has to offer. It’s a little harder to recommend OC residents take the hour plus drive, but even if you’re in LA, I would seriously consider trying this out for a truly unique addition to the Halloween season.
Tickets for Wax House: The Legend of Jack The Ripper are available for select days throughout Halloween at hollowzone.com or at the Mountasia Family Fun Center ticket counter.