RATING: 3 Keys RESULT: Win REMAINING: *Not Timed
Universal Orlando Resort finally takes a leap of faith and enters the world of premium boutique haunts with this brand new, unique offering that combines immersive theater, virtual reality and an escape game.
It’s here that your group of four will be split into two even smaller groups of two – sent to separate rooms to have your own VR experiences. You and three others will find yourselves isolated in an ancient warehouse, left to your own skill and quick thinking to solve this haunting real-world horror experience’s mysteries:
Why is a former Scottish armory built in 1775 just before the American Revolution still in use today?
What does a tragic fire in Scotland in 1795 have to do with events more than two centuries later?
Is the “Grimslew Curse” real?
Do you dare risk finding out?
Learn for yourselves just what The Repository holds in its inventory. The bizarre relics gathered here have absorbed the energy of the horrific events with which they are associated. Some say they are infected by these dark circumstances. Others believe the objects were actually the cause of these misfortunes. Once you escape from The Repository you will know the haunting truth.
Enter this rich, deeply themed physical environment, where you’ll interact with both live scareactors and cutting-edge technology, get thrust into an original, terrifying story and face the challenge of a cryptic, daunting escape puzzle. This extensive, immersive experience goes beyond horror, beyond virtual reality and beyond anything you have ever imagined.
The Repository dives deeper into the fan favorite lore of The Legendary Truth collective. A mysterious organization that explores all things supernatural, The Repository itself is their proverbial vault of secrets. The concept and world-building are fascinating – but do they translate to the real world?
In short, no – not really.
Just look back to the mysteries Universal Orlando’s artfully crafted backstory pose for us to discover along our journey. The honest answer after personally experiencing The Repository to each question is “I have no idea.” If any of those points are addressed in the experience, I certainly missed them entirely – but considering my professional background centers around my attention to detail, I doubt that to be likely.
The Repository does create a world wherein guests entering become active participants – each with a clear goal to achieve – though it’s difficult to see a way where any of that connects with the storyworld you start off with.
The real world physical sets (which encompass the first several rooms as well as the finale) are truly top notch quality. Great attention to detail is paid to add little flourishes that most guests might never even see – and while to some that may seem like a waste of time – a true designer understands things like that create a sense of immersive storyworld that is authentic and easy to get lost in.
Starting in the old armory itself, guests will be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of objects that surround them – each tagged and documented by the Legendary Truth, and filed accordingly in its proper place. The rooms that follow are cluttered and unwelcoming – exactly as they should be to maintain the mood set by this experience. The finale room – home to the main escape game puzzle is an intricately detailed stone temple, full of artifacts surrounding the sacrificial alter which will soon determine if you escape – and survive – or perish among the cursed objects locked away in The Repository.
The Repository’s physical sets are simply among Halloween Horror Night’s best efforts.
Unfortunately, we must also address the second “world” of The Repository – that which exists within the Virtual Reality headsets. I think you’ve probably already figured out that visually, it’s not good. The graphics used in the virtual world could honestly have been surpassed by a Playstation 2 console, and for those keeping track – that system was released in the year 2000. I find it difficult to accept that sixteen years later, let alone in an attraction created by a media powerhouse like Universal – using both the ability, technology and budget we know they have – that it wasn’t possible to create a more realistically believable virtual world.
See those floating masks in the image above? Each represents one of your teammates – and even though you entered the world with them, and know for well they are living human beings – they’ve been reduced to a floating mask due to limitations of the VR software. I found myself wishing repeatedly that The Repository could be altered to utilize Augmented Reality instead of Virtual Reality. A mix of live footage with CG embellishments would really sell the supernatural flavor meant to be evoked by this storyworld.
To be blunt but honest, The Repository as an attraction probably would have received a higher rating had the Virtual Reality segment been omitted entirely. It’s that stark of a contrast to the quality of the remainder of the experience, and truly brings the experience as a whole down a notch.
The Repository clearly wants to be more immersive theater than haunted house – and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s not really how its marketed, nor necessarily fitting for the environment it exists in as a Halloween Horror Nights 26 marquee attraction.
I’m a huge fan of immersive theater, and there were definitely a few engaging one-on-one interactions to be had within the realm of The Repository. The problem is, there were basically no scares. At all.
The actors were great. It becomes instantly clear upon entering the armory that these are not your standard haunt scareactors. Universal Orlando quite obviously cast several of their more talented performers – ones who can speak, improvise and bring some pretty outlandish characters to life. Particular mention needs to go to the first character you meet – a Scottish curator who has been trapped in The Repository since 1969 – who does an incredible job of drawing the audience into the story world while presenting an opening act that delivers background information while creating a solid sense of urgency and just enough comic relief to make for a perfectly balanced setting of the tone – and though several groups start in the first room simultaneously, he still finds a way to create one-on-one, private, personalized interactions with each guest during his scene.
Something a bit awkward about several of the live performances – by no fault of the talented actors what so ever – is they are wearing microphone headsets. This seems like a really odd choice for a boutique haunt with small group sizes. First of all, it hurts the integrity of the story world – why would that character be wearing a hands free mic pack – let alone if he’s been trapped here since 1969 in the case of the curator. Secondly from a guest perspective, in a weird way it almost makes the actors more difficult to hear. I realize that may sound backwards – but when you’re face to face in close quarters having a personal interaction with a character, but their voice is coming from elsewhere in the room – wherever the speakers happened to be placed, it actually does make it a bit more difficult to follow the conversation.
It’s rare in the theme park world that an audience size is intimate enough to have face to face, un-mic’ed dialogue with an actor. The Repository should embrace that fact; doing so would certainly help raise the caliber of experience even higher.
Crossing the spectral plane back into the virtual world, the scares are not much better. Bad video game style representations of hooded ghosts occasionally appear in front of you, do nothing and then disappear. I’m not sure what reaction they hoped to elicit from me, but needless to say, they missed whatever mark that was.
There is one scare worth mentioning during the virtual portion – one that legitimately surprised me. During one moment, the floor around you collapses to create a sense of acrophobia. I’ve been a roller coaster geek for years – so needless to say being hundreds of feet off the ground doesn’t intimidate me – and considering the graphical quality remained that of a bad Playstation game from the early 2000’s, it’s not like the virtual world I was standing in was even the slightest bit believable That being said – during that moment of induced acrophobia, I found it hard to even physically move my feet. I got dizzy and anxious – and even found myself saying “Nothing about this even remotely looks real AND you’re not afraid of heights – why is this psyching you out?!” I confirmed with the other two members of my group after exiting – and all shared a similar sentiment (with the one who actually IS afraid of heights saying he almost had to tap out of the VR portion at that point in time.)
Imagine how effective that moment could have been if the VR utilized a quality graphics package?
Don’t enter The Repository expecting a 60 minute escape game – or even anything close. The main “daunting escape puzzle” is a single activity in the experience’s finale that has a two minute time limit. That being said – I was surprised to find there are several other escape game-flavored moments in earlier scenes that seem to go unmentioned.
One scene tasks you with finding a specific key in a room full of literally hundreds and hundreds of keys. This is one of several classic escape room “discovery” moments that leave you physically searching your environment, rifling through drawers and feeling around dark corners – and while to us that make come across as commonplace, it’s not only exceptionally unique but completely unheard of for a Halloween Horror Nights maze.
Another moment tasks you with cracking the code for a safe in a room full of large amounts of superfluous information – again, common for an escape game but a level of guest interaction Universal has never before attempted in a haunt.
The VR segment tries to carry over an escape game feel – focusing mainly on discovery, and tasking you to find three specific symbols, remembering their color combinations for use in the finale. It’s here that your group of four will be split into two even smaller groups of two – sent to separate rooms to have your own VR experiences – and each pair will learn half of the finale puzzle’s code. Unfortunately, like the rest of the VR experience, even this was of very low quality. There is nothing to search or explore. You start in a room full of books – none of which can be picked up, opened or inspected. It becomes a mundane activity of just shining your light over a specific area and seeing the symbol appear with a glow of color. The biggest problem is this can be achieved within literally seconds, leaving several minutes remaining from each of the VR portion’s three acts for you to basically just wander in a very small circle desperate for something new to discover – a something that will never present itself to you because it does not exist.
The sacrificial alter that acts as The Repository’s finale escape room puzzle requires players to assemble the six colored RFID key stones they’ve collected throughout their journey into a very specific, correct order. Lighting indicators will alert players to what is currently correct and what still needs to be adjusted, while magical trails of color seep from each stone into the mouth of the temple idol, while blasts of fog unexpectedly shoot from all around the players. It’s truly a dramatic mood, and would make for a very cool finale – and I suppose from a show perspective, it actually still does.
The problem – from a puzzle perspective – which is one of the key marketing pieces of The Repository experience is that the color order is, at the end of the day basically a brute force guessing game. I knew which three colors were represented in my VR room – and the other half of my team knew the three colors from theirs. What we didn’t know is if my three started and their three finished, or vice versa. And then from that point, my order could have been A-B-C, A-C-B, B-A-C, B-C-A, C-A-B or C-B-A. There was nothing, at any point, to indicate which was the correct combination to lead to the solution.
A few odd things worth mentioning – first off the entrance to The Repository is NOT inside Universal Studios Florida. It’s actually adjacent to the rest rooms outside the Blue Man Group theater. What this means is if you book an entry time anywhere in the mid or later evening, you will be required to exit the theme park, walk out and back to the courtyard outside Blue Man Group and enter there. You’ll need to present your valid Halloween Horror Nights ticket AND your ticket to The Repository to gain entry. Upon the completion of your visit, you’ll exit from the back of the building and be merged into the crowds leaving the American Horror Story haunt, putting you immediately back into the theme park. For this reason, if you choose to visit The Repository in the remaining days of HHN 26, we highly recommend selecting one of the earliest available time slots (beginning at 5:00pm) and starting your night there for the most efficient experience possible.
It’s also worth mentioning that if you or someone in your group wears glasses, you will be forced to remove them prior to donning the VR headset as it will not fit properly otherwise. This left one member of our party near blind for the duration of that section of the attraction. If contacts are an option for you, we highly advise you wear them on the night of your visit.
We’re told roughly 40% of guests who enter The Repository successfully manage to escape – and while from a standard escape room perspective that number may seem high – it actually comes across as rather low when you take into consideration that the “game” portion of the experience is basically “arrange these six colors.” Without clear direction as to how one is to determine the proper order, it becomes a literal guessing game to solve a broken puzzle.
I’m not a fan of brute forcing a code if I can help it, because to me playing a game is about the experience – and figuring out the right way to decipher that code is a big part of that experience. That being said, had I not known how to brute force combinations, we would have never successfully escaped The Repository – as it was literally our only option.
The quality of the Virtual Reality segment remains a major point of contention for me. Yes – it’s only a six minute piece of a 20+ minute attraction – but it is the single most touted portion of it – in fact your entry ticket doesn’t read “The Repository,” but in fact “HHN Virtual Reality House.” It’s literally the key aspect used to push ticket sales, and literally the worst piece of this experience.
On the caliber of the attraction as a whole, I’ll be honest that I’d heard some mixed things prior to my visit – and the truth is far more of them were resoundingly negative. I’m happy to say that I definitely did not hate The Repository like I thought I might, but it still needs a whole lot of polish before this can become a viable crown jewel – something it should have instantly become – in the Halloween Horror Nights arsenal.
The physical sets and live actor interactions – for the most part were absolutely stellar. Though I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that several different actor interactions felt more like repeating the same “here’s what to do in the VR section: just remember the colors!” over and over. The fact that such rehashed instruction still left us with the feeling of “now how do we use this information” kind of only makes that finale puzzle seem a bit worse than it already did.
At the end of the day, am I glad I experienced The Repository? Yes. Absolutely I am. Would I recommend others experience it in its current form? Eh – maybe not. At least not this year. I believe this is clearly a learning process for Universal, and honestly believe they can and likely will polish this into something very special in years to come. Until then, I have a difficult time not echoing the unanimous sentiments of literally every person I’ve spoken to that has entered The Repository this year: it’s just not worth $50 for the twenty-or-so-minute long experience we received – six full minutes of which was terrible quality VR.
The Repository is something I’ve waited for Universal to try for many years now, something I really wanted to love, actually expected to hate and was for the most part satisfied to walk away with a “good not great” outcome. My hope is that should this attraction return for HHN 27 and onward, it will be a completely different experience from start to finish to justify buying another ticket for return visitors, because the honest truth is in its current state, it’s just not an upcharge attraction worth paying for twice – maybe if it were a $20 ticket, but definitely not at a $50 price point.
Venue: Halloween Horror Nights 26
Location: Orlando, Florida
Number of Games: 1
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 20-25 minutes
Capacity: 4 people
Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.
Cost: $49.99* per person (plus valid admission to Halloween Horror Nights which is required for the date of your visit)