One of the things I learnt in early June 2012 was that if a zombie apocalypse actually did happen, both I and all my friends would die horribly within hours of the outbreak regardless of how cool we thought we looked. It’s a harsh life lesson to be sure, having watched zombie films with glee and delight for over ten years now and thought how cool you would look mowing down zombies with weaponry you could barely lift. I couldn’t help but feel a little bit disappointed in myself.
So how did I come to learn this lesson? Well someone had the so-obvious-it’s-genius idea of taking over an abandoned shopping mall in Reading and filling it with actors portraying zombies in authentic film standard make up and then getting the paying British public to test themselves in this apocalyptic scenario armed only with pump action BB guns. So me and five of my friends set off for Reading to test our mettle, our team work skills, our ingenuity and our bowels in this most desperate of scenarios.
Zed Events is the company behind this fun day out and they have been running an event in Manchester known as ‘The Manor’ (which is reminiscent of the finale of 28 Days Later) for some time now. They currently have the Zombie Shopping Mall in Reading until January 2013 when the site is scheduled for demolition.
The first two hours of the four hour session are taken up with you and your team mates taking part in a story that involves two cops portrayed by actors taking you from the basement, through the zombie infested shopping concourse, into control rooms and the dark corners of stock rooms behind the empty shops. You have to complete missions of a sort which mostly involve sweep and clear scenarios and culminate in you finding a mad army person and having to leg it to the roof for an imaginary waiting helicopter as the zombies overwhelm the mall. The initial two hours are so much knackering fun, running about with the guides in a fashion similar to the Alien War attraction from the 90s. The location also offers production values that some simulations wouldn’t offer as part of the initial story takes place in a control room complete with CCTV so you can view the undead stumbling about and decide on a strategy as you are sent out in two smaller teams. You also have the opportunity to search abandoned kitchens and cupboards as you look for supplies although you are given goggles, water, a torch and some nifty SWAT cop style utility vests. The atmosphere is tense throughout with the actors never breaking character, equipped with loud replica firearms and then you have zombies shambling out of the dark corridors behind the group as you make your way through the basement.
After this first two hours you get a short break and then you get to go it alone. You are informed beforehand that the zombies only seem to die if you shoot them in the chest (to get round the fact that generally people don’t like being shot in the face with bb guns, regardless of how method they are) and that shooting them in the head will simply anger them. You are given the first of two missions which is to collect ammunition and then off you go into a mall infested with the living dead whilst soundtracks from zombie movies of the past plays through a PA system. Further adding to the coolness, the zombies are kitted out in a variety of costumes and you quickly learn that the zombie in full riot gear can’t be killed. Some of the zombies run at you like the more modern interpretation and some just shamble but they get everywhere. You start with the best intentions with squad pincer movements as you round corners and clear shops but one of them is usually waiting in the darkness to take out your point man. Adding to the fun, you are informed that the actors/zombies will react to your reactions, so if they touch you then you can just throw up your hands and shout ‘Infected!’ and return to base camp for a time out, or you can fall down screaming ‘Choke on em!’ and the actors will go with it. Shamefully in the solo sessions I was one of the first to die and fell to the floor screaming/laughing as an actress climbed on top of me and pretended to eat my guts.
The next solo hour is a mission involving bottles of liquid (some kind of toxin) and getting them to a safe place and then after 45 minutes you have to get to a safe point as the zombies storm at you and you have to try and survive. I’m quite proud of the fact that I was one of the last to die here, even though I was running like the wind to the top of the stairs.
Afterwards there are opportunities to have photos taken with the zombies (who are still in character) and overall the whole thing is tremendous fun. If I did have a complaint it’s that the two solo mission goals are a bit vague and don’t seem to really count for much when perhaps a capture the flag type scenario would have been better.
At £140 it’s not cheap but is well worth it if you ever enjoyed a zombie film, for the best effect get several of your best friends together and go for a great time. Zed Events currently are pretty much fully booked until January but they update their website and their Facebook page with any cancellations, so if you want to you can nip in there - but be quick!