On Saturday morning two very excited men arrived at my house so we could rock up to Daresbury in the north of England to visit Zed Events – The Manor. One was a bouncing Big Rich, 6 foot 8 of enthusiastic Zombie fan. The other our very own young Scott Berryman who, rather than being a wannabe soldier like us, is actually in the military.
Our mode of transport was a bright orange G4 Land Rover, packed by Big Rich with everything you would need to survive the apocalypse such as Shovels, axes etc. None of which would actually be required but we felt it was important to look the part.
We arrived early, and after posing for some shots with melee weapons, were allowed to move through to the car park. It was then that we caught the first site of the Manor. The building is a large old stately home surrounded by a ramshackle collection of outbuildings, garages and accommodation blocks, as well the main Manor itself. After being a stately home it was turned in a care home for old people, presumably this was the reason for the many extra accommodation blocks. However, it had not been used for over 20 years and the ravages of time were evident. Collapsed roofing overgrown by vegetation, with piles of rubble and disused building materials were the norm.
Inside peeling plaster and wallpaper, with disused equipment and broken windows completed the scene. Inside the cramped corridors was even better with smoke used with shutters and minimal lighting to create a terrifying atmosphere. It was a truly post apocalyptic setting and a perfect place for the action. Notable locations included the ruined and overgrown swimming pool with vines and creepers invading through the smashed windows. A laboratory in a dark room complete with chemistry equipment and a lone dentist chair, all illuminated with shards of light through boarded windows.
There was also a morgue complete with body bags and documentation with DECEASED written in large letters on copies of the waivers you filled out upon arrival, and a safe room complete with wooden barricaded door very similar to a certain zombie based computer game.
After signing a waiver and collecting our ballistics glasses, or donning Zed Event overalls, we were informed that, from the changing area door, everything outside was “in character”. This was the first hint of the truly cinematic experience that awaited us. Outside were several troops, of various ranks who would lead our group of 18 (in two groups of 9) around the experience.
The Captain, a softly spoken but professional acting soldier, took us through some elements of the backstory which neatly deviated from the normal Zombie canon in such a way that it meant you had more success shooting the zombies in the chest and legs. It also meant that the zombies couldn’t be killed but would get up after a minute or so of inactivilty. I won’t explain how, but it was coherent and well thought out way to prevent the poor Zombies having nutters shoot them in the face all day, and allow the same zombies to used over and over. Indeed in some places were you took longer to move through, they would snatch at your feet as they re-animated.
Whilst we are on the subject of nutters, our merry troop of three expected to be surrounded by rabid zombie fans. For us, it was worrying to note that we were the nutters and the rest of the group were surprisingly normal. Therefore we started to refer to them as “redshirts”. In fact one girl in her pristine white trainers was brought by her boyfriend with no knowledge of the day they had come for. Perhaps she expected a nice lunch, or a look round a stately home, what she got was running round in the dark smokey ruins blasting Zombies. More on that later.
The weapons themselves were Airsoft guns. Now I have owned a couple of these in the past but the ones we used (and would come across later) were nothing like the soft spring loaded shop bought ones of my youth. These were metal, and according to Scott were lighter than real guns but they certainly had a heft to them and we opted for the model with stocks.
They were loaded with a single cartridge that contained 30 of the BB’s, meaning 10 shots as the guns fired 3 BB’s a time. Any ammo over and above your initial single cartridge (or 2 cartridges in Rich’s light fingered case), had to be found on site. This added an element of risk where the more trigger happy you were, the more likely you were to be out of ammo and have to rely on others. The recoil from these weapons was as surprising as the range (about 10-15 feet for a perfect shot, up to 25 feet before the ammo lost momentum), and the BB’s made a satisfying tizz as they impacted meaning any hit could be confirmed by the shooter and Zombie. Some other weapons were also used such a an MP5 and an astonishing rifle, used by Scott that had such power he unfortunately shot one poor actor in the face 3 times from about 200 feet before he adjusted his aim.
The reason for Airsoft over paintball guns is that more cinematic make up could be used rather than a shop bought rubber mask, fitting over paintball goggles. On balance I think this was the best trade off as the Zombie make up was superbly done, the only concession being the ballistics glasses they Zombies wore, but as they all seemed to wear clear ones you stopped noticing this very quickly. One of the girls had trouble cocking the shotgun, in a rather girly and pathetic way, only to be told “You’ll be alright when the adrenaline kicked in.” She was. 2 hours later I caught sight of her defend a corridor from 3 Zombies while shouting and pumping round after round into the room. She was awesome.
After some practise targets and some training in firing arcs and clearing rooms shouting “Clear” and ”contact” we were to be introduced to our foe.
We were lead around to an old lean-to find a large Zombie chained by his wrist to the shed. His makeup was superbly done with contact lenses and a bloody maw, dripping gore down his shirt. Snarling and moaning it flailed and tried to grab us while the Captain took us through some more story. I watched in awe as it grasped and snatched forlornly at us.
From this point on I don’t want to give you any spoilers. Suffice to say that the 3 hours (was it only 3 hours?) were filled with jumps and scares, moans and realistic snarls, the relentless pressure of the zombies you had killed getting up behind you, darkened corridors filled with smoke illuminated with torches, barricaded safe rooms with Zombies banging on the doors, people dragged away screaming, Level 4 infected, Rocket propelled grenades, collecting keys, blowing doors, finding dictophones from mad scientists, morgues, and shooting. Lots and lots of shooting.
It all ended in a wonderful finale that saw Big Rich and I holding a final desperate action while Scott meleed the Zombies to the ground before sprinting like an action hero around the corner, shotgun held one handed, pumping rounds into the dead around him as he sprinted to safety.
Finally, after all was said and done the friendly team at Zed Events were glad to pose for any manner of Zombie shots (such as attacking the truck) while we took photos. They also answered questions and were just generally lovely.
So the question is, is it worth the money? Naysayers would say it’s nothing more than glorified cops and robbers, however it is the best game of cops and robbers you have ever played in your entire life, and truly one of those rare experiences where you genuinely get out of it the more you put in. At times I found my heart racing and the sweat getting in my eyes. I even danced around a Zombie that jumped me from a locker, looking more like the maid from Tom and Jerry than a seasoned Zombie veteran.
If you act the part yourself and have enthusiasm that infects everyone else (or a big enthusiastic loon such as Rich) then you will jump more at the frights, feel more fear at the make up, panic more about your ammo and just really get into it. Yes there was still the odd mistake (such as a door we shouldn’t have opened) and the overuse of one particular corridor (it was a particularly spooky corridor), but this didn’t distract one bit. I hope that our gusto helped everyone else enjoy the experience, having said that we were so awesome we could have taken the whole thing on with just the three of us. A fact that was commented on by the organisers themselves.
The proof of how much fun it was was that I haven’t been able to talk about anything else for 2 days straight and we smiled all the way home.
IT. WAS. AWESOME!!
We are already saving up for the Mall.
And my American friends don’t worry, I spoke to one of the Directors and they have plans to bring it Stateside (he gets 300 emails a day from America asking when its coming over, or you can do what 25 guys did last weekend and fly over from the States!) In fact they are beginning to look at locations and are flying to the US next week to scope some out..
Oh and the girl who was taken there as a surprise? She had the biggest grin on her face at the end of the day and I think her boyfriend got away with it.