SDCC 2018: The Jack Ryan Experience

Dawn is on the ground at SDCC 2018. Read her coverage of the Jack Ryan Experience. 

Amazon Prime's new Tom Clancy inspired series Jack Ryan is set to be released at the end of August, and the company has been heavily promoting the show at SDCC this year. Starring John Krasinski as Dr. Ryan, the pilot episode was debuted to Comic-con attendees on Friday. In addition to this, Amazon has also set up an off-site Jack Ryan Experience in downtown San Diego, available throughout the weekend to pass holders and non pass holders alike. I was lucky enough to get through the massive lines for the attraction and, even though I'm not a huge fan of Tom Clancy or spy genre films, I have to say it was a lot of fun.

Upon entering the compound, you are issued an 'Analyst' badge with your picture and a chip that records your activities throughout the experience. Set up to look like an apparent middle eastern, war torn town, there are three distinct areas from which visitors can choose: An escape room, A VR training experience and a bazaar where you can obtain snacks, water and additional Jack Ryan swag. It was really hard to ignore my feelings while being surrounded by this display of late capitalism. The U.S. wages war in third world countries and then creates television shows and amusement park attractions out of these wars for consumption by folks back home. And here I am standing in the middle of one such attraction, trying to decide which amusement to choose first. Needless to say, the irony wasn't lost on me.

I decided to go with the VR Training experience first because, honestly, it looked bad ass. In groups of 4, participants are sent into a military style tent where they are fitted with a climbing harness and a VR headset and associated backpack. We are then given a mission: get through the training obstacle course as fast as possible. The course itself is roughly three stories off the ground, on top of a makeshift building resembling that which has been damage by war. The whole setup is rounded off with a replica of a U.S. Military helicopter. This is where the course begins. Participants are asked to sit on the floor of the helicopter with feet dangling out of the door. Their harness is then clipped to a rope and pulley system, meant to lower them out of the helicopter, and their VR headset is put securely over their eyes and turned on. Once all safety checks are complete you are then pulled by the rope system and lowered to the course below.

If you are a person with trust issues, this would be a particularly difficult experience for you. Although the VR system is mapped to the course typography, there is a massive amount of trust you place in the human beings running it. The staff members guiding you do not exist in the VR field of vision. So, much of your ability to get safely through the course requires you to follow their voices, in order to avoid falling to your death below. I am especially afraid of heights, and even though the distance from helicopter to the course is no more than 10 feet, the VR experience makes it seem significantly higher.

The next four sections of the course consist of a plank walk, a crate filled room with enemies to shoot, a zip line to the ground, and a driving simulation. After being lowered out of the helicopter to the area below, I was trembling so badly that a staff member had to hold me up while I did the plank section. It was a little embarrassing. Then, once I fired off some rounds at a few 'bad guys', my harness was re-clipped to the zip line, where I blindly stepped off the side of the building, and zip lined to the ground. This was a serious exercise in trust, and in my sheer terror, I cannot even imagine the facial expressions I made. The VR part of the experience was moderately glitchy but overall it was totally worth all the waiting in line.

At the end of my mission I was given a Jack Ryan coin, and a bag with additional swag. Upon completion of the escape room, visitors are given a similar coin and swag bag. If you are lucky enough to make it through the line to get into the compound, the line to do the VR training, and the line to get into the escape room, and receive both coins, you can turn them in for an Amazon Fire Stick.

I was lucky enough to experience both activities and get my Fire Stick. Although, the escape room involved less adrenaline, it was equally as fun. To be honest, I think the Jack Ryan Experience was significantly more entertaining than almost anything inside the Convention Center. The attraction, which sits on First Avenue between Harbor Drive and Island Ave, will be open for the rest of the weekend, and if you are able to fit it into your schedule, I highly recommend it. For those unable to be in San Diego this weekend, Amazon's Jack Ryan series will be available for streaming on August 31st.

-Dawn Stronski