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Alien robots invade Knott’s in shoot-em-up VR game. Your mission: Eliminate 'em all

Alien robots invade Knott’s in shoot-em-up VR game. Your mission: Eliminate 'em all
Concept art of the VR Showdown in Ghost Town shoot-em-up virtual reality video game coming to Knott’s Berry Farm.

I crouched behind a wooden barrel and blasted the alien robots emerging from the Knott's Berry Farm blacksmith shop with my six-shooter laser revolver. Just as I beat back the time-traveling horde, their extraterrestrial mothership landed in the middle of the Ghost Town section of the Buena Park theme park. Time to power up to rapid-fire mode and save the Wild West town from the relentless alien invasion.

When the computer-generated simulated battle concluded, I pulled off my virtual reality headset and once again found myself in a dimly-lit 20-foot-square room, void of any frontier town or marauding robots.

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The new VR Showdown in Ghost Town shoot-em-up virtual reality video game debuts Saturday at Knott's. If the year-long test run proves successful, Knott's parent company Cedar Fair plans to expand the interactive experience to other locations in its 11-park chain. The price of the $6 upcharge will vary based on demand. I tested out the new game this week during a media preview.

Dressed in cowboy hats and duster jackets, the time-traveling “cowbots” swarm the players with unrelenting fervor in VR Showdown in Ghost Town at Knott's.
Dressed in cowboy hats and duster jackets, the time-traveling “cowbots” swarm the players with unrelenting fervor in VR Showdown in Ghost Town at Knott's.

The new attraction is incongruously located in a former laser tag arena in the Boardwalk section of the park rather than the more theme-appropriate Ghost Town area. VR Showdown players are placed into one of eight laboratory pods, a walled-off space about the size of an average living room.

Up to four people play together at one time, with two players in each pod. The VR headsets and laser guns bristle with lollipop-like tracking balls that allow eight overhead optical cameras to track the player's position throughout the game. Each pair of color-coded goggles and corresponding gun are wirelessly connected to a dedicated computer.

The new attraction's back story finds visitors inside the once-secret laboratory of Professor Wells, where they must battle robots sent back in time to steal gold from the Ghost Town bank. The professor character, who serves as the game's narrator and guide, pays homage to the Kingdom of the Dinosaurs dark ride once housed in the building.

Dressed in cowboy hats and duster jackets, the time-traveling "cowbots" swarm the players with unrelenting fervor. Kill the robots with a single shot to the head or two to the body and you rack up points. You lose points if the robots get too close. Watch out for the mini robots that attack you at the knees. And, no, you can't shoot your teammates. No matter how hard you try.

The more robots you kill, the more difficult the game becomes. Grab the spinning gun icon with your own gun to power up to rapid fire mode or enable explosive laser blasts. Shooting the boss robots unlock "Easter eggs" that let you blow the roof off the bank, douse a fire with a toppling water tower or blow up the furnace in the blacksmith shop.

Midway through the game, a steam-powered locomotive barrels into town and explodes, sending debris flying everywhere. Shoot or dodge the debris to pick up more points. Get hit, and you'll pay the price. At the end of the game, a massive mothership lands in the town square and unleashes a fuselage of missiles on your position. Fail and the aliens win. Succeed and you save Ghost Town.

I found the VR Showdown in Ghost Town to be fast-paced, action-packed and intense. The three-minute experience seemed to last twice as long. The computer-generated graphics were not up to today's video game standards, but the gameplay was fun and engaging. I came away satisfied with the overall experience, but immediately wanted to top my score.

The new VR game is the latest entry in the company's digital attraction initiative.

The first entry saw the introduction of a virtual reality component to a pair of roller coasters: Iron Dragon at Ohio's Cedar Point and Thunder Run at Canada's Wonderland near Toronto.

The short-lived Fear VR experience at Knott's Halloween Haunt closed last October after controversy among mental health advocates. The five-minute 360-degree movie strapped viewers into a wheelchair for a tour of a blood-soaked hospital where a demonic patient was on the loose.

Last year, Cedar Fair tested an augmented reality app that let visitors play a smartphone game while waiting in line for a ride. Augmented Reality superimposes computer-generated images over a real world scene, typically via a smartphone (think Pokemon Go). Battle for Cedar Point, an AR game which pitted five coaster clans against each other, will be replicated this summer at Virginia's Kings Dominion.

Still need more theme park news? Check out the Los Angeles Times Funland theme park blog on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram.

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