[Update: You can now read a first hand account of surviving this experience.]
For many of us, going to the mall is a terrifying experience. In the United Kingdom, that experience is set to get a whole lot scarier, as “real” zombies take over an abandoned shopping mall. Participants will engage in a terrifying full-immersion survival horror story, then fend off waves of the undead in a series of video game-style missions.
Taking inspiration from everything from George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead to video games like Left 4 Dead and Resident Evil, the Zombie Shopping Mall experience — also known simply as The Mall — is an example of how real-life informs our fantasy experiences and vice versa. If it were an attempt to market a video game, it certainly would be an attention-grabber.
The real-life game will subject groups of 15 survivors to over three hours of tense, nerve-wracking survival horror. Speaking to GamesBeat, Lee Fields, director of Zed Events, explained the inspiration behind The Mall: “I’m 40 and I’ve been a fan of zombies ever since I was a kid, watching Betamax and VHS video tapes and then gaming. There’s a nod to pretty much everything in there.”
Fields’ background is in special effects, movie props, and costumes, and he is combining that expertise with his experience of running Airsoft events. For Fields, The Mall is all about “the quality aspect,” and it promises state of the art special effects and props, to help create a suitably horrific atmosphere.
Participants will be armed with Airsoft guns, which shoot plastic pellets, but these alone won’t help them survive. “The guys start off with very little ammunition,” said Fields. “The weapons only hold a few rounds. They can pick up melee weapons as they go around, like cricket bats and baseball bats. These are all foam live-action role play (LARP) weapons, and they’re designed so you can have a bit of a tussle with the zombies.”
The Mall experience comprises two dramatic sections, the first of which plays out much like a movie. “It has its peaks and its troughs,” said Fields. It ebbs and it flows. It has lots of quiet times, when you really are just creeping around in the dark. There are other times when all hell breaks loose, and you’re having to run for your life.”
The second part of the experience is more akin to a fast-paced video game such as Left 4 Dead, and it features a number of shorter missions. These will provide some tough challenges for the survivors. “You’ll have fairly nasty zombies in there,” said Fields. “We don’t do the big Resident Evil-style grizzly creatures, but we have zombies with body armor, who are very difficult to put down. Much more of a slant towards the Left 4 Dead-style gameplay.”
The zombies themselves are mostly what Fields calls “professional zombies.” Many have been featured in movies such as Outpost and The Zombie Diaries, and Fields met many of them while participating in zombie walks in London, “walking round and scaring the tourists.”
Unlike in many video games, these zombies don’t require head shots to take down. In fact, head shots are actively discouraged. “We don’t really want the zombies to be getting head injuries. Much like Resident Evil, it’s not just about head shots; it’s what can you damage on the torso area to take a zombie down.” But do the zombies mind being repeatedly shot in the chest? “We use quite low-powered guns. The guns hold very little ammunition. They’re very accurate but not so powerful.”
The 250,000-square-foot shopping mall situated in Reading (about 25 miles west of London) has been empty for years. It may be demolished, but Fields is hopeful that Zed Events will have use of the venue at least until the summer. He has been using the site for a variety of Airsoft events for over two years, and it attracts visitors from all over the world.
As well as The Mall, Zed Events continues to host two other zombie-themed events, based in run-down manor houses in the northwest of England. Fields doesn’t rule out the possibility of taking these events outside the UK either, if the right opportunity arises. As he says, “It’s a proven formula. We have a proven way that it works. We’ve been doing this sort of thing for 20 years.”
Tickets for The Mall can be purchased for £119 ($188) from experience provider Wish.co.uk. A plane ticket to the UK may cost a little more, but it will probably be worth it.