What’s real and what’s not? That’s what had many Westworld fans wondering this past weekend as they were transported to a real-life version of the show’s sci-fi theme park in Austin, Texas as part of SXSW 2018.
HBO recreated the show’s frontier town of Sweetwater in preparation for the Season Two premiere on April 22. Called “Westworld Live Without Limits,” HBO spent five weeks building the set, all to give fans the ultimate inside look, complete with more than a dozen buildings, interactive storylines, and performances. Yes, you read that right — no VR here.
And it was no easy feat. Forty crew members assembled the detailed set while 60 actors and half a dozen stuntmen performed a 90-minute experience with a script that was more than 400 pages long. Knock had a chance to check it out, and here’s exactly what went down.
The experience started off at the Eastside Tavern in East Austin. We were welcomed by white-clad Delos employees, checked in, and handed a black or white hat (signifying our good or bad intentions… we were given black). We headed up to a rooftop bar, plied with cocktails and appetizers, and were then taken downstairs to load onto the official Westworld shuttle.
After a 30 minute ride down the highway and past tons of windy roads and empty fields, we were finally there. We were given two coins for drinks and found ourselves in a train car where a chatty bartender welcomed us. And once we stepped off the train, we had arrived in Sweetwater, a bustling town with horses, several saloons, live music, and even a sheriff.
Guests were then left to their own devices, exploring the town’s inhabitants and discovering the many secrets inside. Find the sheriff and tell him about any crimes you saw? Get a drink coin. Play Blackjack with a bunch of cowboys? You may discover who is on your side and who’s not. Head to the post office? You’ll get a personalized letter with clues on what to do next. Dig up a grave? You may just get a code that will lead you to discover what Delos is working on next (we found the code and unlocked a secret room where Delos employees were creating a Drone Host sure to play a part in Season Two).
The most riveting part of the experience, however, came towards the end of the 90-minute thrill ride — a shootout in the town square that was as real as real ever is. Guns were drawn and a cowboy was shot dead. In minutes, Delos employees in white hazmat suits came out to collect the body on the ground. Those guilty for the shot, however, quickly lost their accents and walked away. Fans realized they too were guests of the park.
But the most exciting part? Spotting a samurai, a hint to Season One’s season finale, where Maeve (Thandie Newton’s charter) discovers that Westworld is just one of many Delos parks (another being Samurai World, obviously).
Sure, VR is cool and all, and certainly costs a bit less. But “Westworld Live Without Limits” was an experience of mind-boggling proportions. Fans really did feel as though they were in the show (or at least we did) and nothing gets us more pumped for the show’s premiere next month.