You may have read about this already. You may have heard it spoken about on the Onemetal podcast last year. You may even have looked at the promotional videos scattered around the internet. But have you gone and done it? ‘Cos your fearless reporter (well, me actually, and it wasn’t an all-expenses paid jolly but out of my own pocket) has experienced it and, quite frankly, if you like the look of it and don’t have a go then you’re missing out on a really exciting day out.
For those of you who don’t know the Zombie Shopping Mall is a zombie survival game run by ZED Events at a closed-down shopping mall in Reading, Berkshire – although if you do fancy having a go you need to be quick as the mall is due to be demolished anytime soon. But until then you can pay your money, turn up and immerse yourself in a Dawn of the Dead-esque experience that will literally take your breath away – especially if you’re as unfit as I am.
Slotting into character as soon as the door is closed, the staff instruct you on the situation at hand. A unit of soldiers have gone missing during a zombie virus outbreak and it’s your job as second unit to try and find them. Arming you with a flak jacket, torch, a bottle of water and, of course, a shotgun, your first mission is to patrol the abandoned mall with two professionals as escorts and to make your way to various checkpoints, obviously avoiding the army of the undead that are scattered about the place. Oh, and these aren’t the George A. Romero shuffling zombies; these are the remake runners, make no mistake.
After that you get to go and explore on your own, or with a group if you so desire. The point is you’re not escorted by the soldiers so there’s no set plan or tactics – it’s zombie kickin’ time! There is a mission brief but when you go out this time the zombies are hungrier so they’re a little faster and a little harder to put down.
Round three and it’s time to head out again for another mission, but all the while trying to avoid the regular flesh-eaters and the ones that are armoured and near-impossible to take out on your own. Testing your group mentality and how loyal you are to your friends, this is the most gruelling stage but the intense finale is definitely worth the blood, sweat and tears.
If you’ve seen Dawn of the Dead – and I sincerely hope that you all have – then getting kitted up like Ken Foree or Ving Rhames (depending on which version of the film you favour) and acting out those action fantasies is probably the most thrilling thing you’re ever likely to do with a weapon in your grip (matron!). The event itself was tremendous fun, was professionally organised and there’s plenty of photo opportunities with the zombies at the end of it all for a bit of a giggle. It is very easy to forget that it is only a game as you get to scramble around every dark service corridor, backroom and empty shop-front and when you’re in a group of nervous wrecks the tension is almost unbearable, but once you hear the zombie’s howl (oh yes, they howl – one in particular with a very piercing scream) and the adrenaline kicks in, it’s everybody for themselves as you dash for the nearest bolt-hole.
At around £139 for the four-hour experience it may on the surface seem a little pricey, but if zombies are your thing then this is as close to the genuine thrills of being in a Dawn of the Dead-type situation as you can get, and for that it is definitely worth it. Also worth it is taking a change of pants as it certainly isn’t for the lily-livered, and a bit of a tip – an abandoned children’s ball-pit has never seemed quite as terrifying as it does here. So all-in-all a top day out and something that you won’t easily forget. Highly recommended.