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Reviewed – The Swarm at Thorpe Park

Reviewed – The Swarm at Thorpe Park

2012 sees the completion of Thorpe Park’s latest addition, The Swarm.

The Swarm, which was created by renowned rollercoaster manufacturer, Bolliger & Mabillard (Nemesis Inferno, Oblivion), is the first of its kind in the UK and one of only 2 currently operating in the world. Dubbed “Europe’s Tallest Winged Coaster”, The Swarm takes a different approach to scaring its guests. Rather than guests sitting above or below the track, riders are suspended beside the track, with nothing below or above them.

With an estimated investment of around £20million, will The Swarm thrill its riders, or leave guests wanting more?

Note: There will be spoilers ahead. If you wish to experience The Swarm, unaware of what is in store, then please discontinue reading and return after riding to share your thoughts!

The Swarm:

The Swarm is located on a purpose built island, separate to the main body of Thorpe Park, and can be accessed via paths passing either Depth Charge, or The Flying Fish rollercoaster.

Based around an apocalyptic invasion upon earth, The Swarm sets a new bar for Thorpe Park in terms of theming and atmosphere, with easily what is their best effort yet to provide an immersive and engaging environment for its guests. The island houses various large theming elements, including a real plane wing and fuselage under which the rollercoaster narrowly passes, as well as fire engines, overturned trucks, and even a helicopter. All are fitted with atmospheric lighting, and use liberal amounts of smoke/mist to help create the destructive environment that Thorpe Park are aiming for. Also incorporated into the ride, are water jets, placed within the bodies of water that the train passes over. These are triggered to simulate the train skimming the water, which is noticeable, and impressive, both on and off ride.

The Swarm features an open-roof station in the form of a partly destroyed church, that whilst impressive from the outside, is all the more impressive when viewed from the inside. Broken wooden beams and supports adorn the ‘roof’ of the station, along with large arched window frames complete with broken shards of glass. The control booth has been themed to be an overturned police trailer, that has seemingly been ‘thrown’ into the building by the swarm of aliens. The queueline features numerous TV screens, each playing a mock news report telling of the events that are unfolding around the Thorpe Park area. Several set and landscaping pieces are scattered throughout the queue, including a satellite dish and burnt trees/foliage.

Overall, we were greatly impressed with the theming, and whilst there are things we would have liked to have seen (Broken fence panels throughout queueline, greater emphasis on the alien invasion etc), the theming is of fantastic quality, and some of the best we have seen at a UK theme park.

As the ride leaves the station, guests endure a grueling climb to 130ft, and with little time to think, the train inverts visitors before sending them plummeting down 127ft, and under the plane wreck. It is here that the ride reaches its maximum speed of roughly 60mph. Following that, the train then makes a swift climb back up to roughly 100ft, into a Zero-Gravity roll. Depending on the riders position, this element can provide a certain amount of ‘Airtime’. Though we feel the element could benefit from being marginally lower, so as to be taken at a slightly higher speed. The train then makes its way through an incline loop, and into a turnaround, which we found to be one of the most intense and fun parts of the ride. The train then enters a corkscrew before another turn into the final element, an inline twist. The train then enters a magnetic brake run, before slowly swooping down into the final set of brakes.

Overall, the ride, excluding the lift hill, lasts around 50 seconds. The Swarm isn’t the most extreme or forceful rollercoaster at Thorpe Park, and we do not think that the team behind development intended this to be. However, this does not detract from the experience, as it is plenty forceful in its own right, combining intensity, smoothness, speed and inversions in perfect balance to make The Swarm one of the most re-rideable rollercoasters UK Park News have ridden to date.

The Swarm interacts numerous times with the various theming elements scattered around the course of the rollercoaster, as well as many of the ride’s supports, creating opportunities for both ‘Head and Foot Choppers’. These are created to provide the rider with a sense of impending collision with the objects. We found, however, that this was unfortunately not the case, and provided more entertainment off-ride than on-board. This view has also been shared by numerous site visitors and personal contacts, all agreeing that the head/foot choppers were not particularly effective.

The Swarm, as well as the island itself, has a bespoke atmospheric/ambient soundtrack, intertwined with a ‘Rock’ instrumental piece of music. Though the soundtrack was great, we did find it to be rather quiet, proving quite hard to hear in certain areas of the island. This was especially evident in the station. During the removal of a train, and whilst everyone ceased conversation, the station fell practically silent, feeling a little out of place at a theme park. Whether or not this was due to the island being set up for the live music, which was being performed throughout the day as part of Thorpe’s ‘Premier Screaming’ event, we are unsure. It is entirely plausible that the island’s ambient music was turned down to accommodate this. We also noticed that several of the park’s audio loops where experiencing technical difficulties on both days, so this could have also effected The Swarm’s island. We will update this section upon further visits or feedback from visitors.

As with other B&M rollercoasters, the restraints on The Swarm are some of the most comfortable in the industry. However, we experienced some discomfort towards the end of the ride, with the ‘soft’ portion of the restraint becoming uncomfortably tight around the shoulder/neck area. The restraints are similar in style to those found on Air at Alton Towers. Whilst this is a minor inconvenience, and doesn’t significantly detract from the ride, we do wonder why this happens, as we have yet to hear of this happening on Air.

During our visits, the island played host to numerous actors, portraying several roles. These included Army officers, a group of ‘campaigners’, and scientists. These all added a great level of immersion to the experience, with actors shouting at, studying, and directing guests. Our personal favourite, a priest (the actor also portrayed a crazed doctor). Played by the actor who previously played Lez Cougan, the priest would stand in the station praying and warning guests, not once going out of character, creating a great sense of impending doom. Of course, each and every one of the actors portrayed their role very effectively, however, this actor stood out to us. We do hope that these actors remain throughout the season, at very least, during the most busy of times (i.e. weekends and school holidays). We feel it adds alot to the ride experience, and keeps guests entertained both in the ride’s queue, and out.

We feel that The Swarm requires a few rides to really appreciate. During our first ride on the 15th of March, we were underwhelmed. However after subsequent re-rides, both on the 15th and 16th of March, The Swarm has proved to be one of our favourite rollercoaster’s at Thorpe Park.

There is no doubt about it, The Swarm is not Thorpe Park’s most intense rollercoaster. However, it provides a unique experience, which many compare to ‘Air’, at fellow Merlin Theme Park, Alton Towers. Firstly, travelling alongside the track gives riders a greater sense of speed, particularly at the front of the train. Secondly, the theming is superb, and a great step forward from Thorpe Park’s previous rollercoaster, Saw: The Ride, which was also superbly themed. We can only hope that this is a sign of things to come within Merlin-run theme parks, as it adds greatly to guest immersion.

If you want a fun, high energy thrill ride, with a great atmosphere and unique features, then head to Thorpe Park to experience THE SWARM for yourself!

 

 

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