On Sunday 31st July, I set off for what was only described to me as ‘a scary zombie thing with guns’ by my dad. Suitably intrigued, it turned out to be The Walking Dead Apocalypse experience – a shooter that falls somewhere between airsoft and scarefest. Described online as “a live action video-game-like zombie shooting experience,” the night I traveled out to was in Kidderminster; and the suitably terrifying Drakelow Tunnels. The tunnels are disused nuclear bunkers that are as vast as they are dark – very fitting for an apocalyptic night of zombie killing.
The experience starts in the most un-glamorous of car-parks, waiting for a bus pick up that would take us to the entrance and subsequently into the depths of zombie-infested tunnels. Whilst this ramped up some excitement and got queuers anticipating what could be in store for us later in the evening; the timing was a little off and took longer than necessary to get us moving towards the site – especially whilst waiting on a cold slab of tarmac. However, we were eventually picked up and dropped off at the start zone (it was late evening and had gotten dark, so the atmosphere was intense); taking our places in yet another shuffling queue to get inside the bunker. Entertainment was provided in the form of music and chained up zombies – actors would walk up and down the line with a shock-collared beastie in tow that would snap at anyone moving too close. Covered in gore and lit up by torches, this was terrifying – though was only a taster of what was in store for us later. The bloody assailants worked particularly well on the dark summer’s night; getting lots of laughs and screams from the nervous cluster of bodies waiting to face the hoarde.
After another disappointingly long wait, we managed to muster up some excitement once we hit the front doors. Being paired with another duo in the line (as teams of four were recommended), our new team nervously proceeded through the concrete walls to meet our commander. All the event staff were dressed in army gear and in character as front-line defense against the zombie masses – though some were definitely more into it than others. The charismatic leader de-briefed us on the event as a whole and where was on-and-off-limits, and upgraded us for our dissatisfying waittimes to the elite mission – meaning more ammo and access to the full stretch of Apocalypse. We were then milled through more lines and sat in front of a TV screen to get an overview of the setting by a particularly unenthusiastic trooper and thrown in front of a “weapons technician” to get to know our M4 Rifles. These were supposed to be weighted and set to have 30% recoil of the real thing, which would have been great if they worked for the entire time – mine lost all its capabilites other than a weak puff of air by the last leg; making it more a game of spud shooting than realistic warfare.
The event itself was unarguably amazing – eerie music and noises blared from speakers meaning you didn’t know what was coming from in front and from behind; and the Drakelow setting was everything you could have hoped for from a creepy horror experience. Zombies burst from hidden rooms and behind floorboards, crashed discarded poles and chains together in the dark, and did their very best to look as terrifying as possible. Although the actors couldn’t touch you – they would get as up close and personal as possible, with screaming bloody faces charging within inches of your own. The event even had lost a survivor which you could converse with and choose to save or leave behind – trapped behind a wall and terrified beyond belief. We ended up picking him up on the way only for him to turn and attack us at the last minute – nothing a well-place head shout couldn’t sort out!
But that’s where a lot of the good things ended. For an immersive experience there were lots of moments where the tension was broken – such as seeing earlier groups ahead or behind you when passing through a section. The checkpoints for reloading weapons were manned by either bored-looking or out-of-character participants, which killed the creepy mood as the game went on. Most disappointingly, the event itself lasted all of twenty minutes – when we had queued over an hour and a half to get inside to begin with. The whole thing ended up feeling like a money-grabbing scheme rather than something created with fans in mind; especially when faced with £20 print charges for pictures at the end. It’s a brilliant idea and one that has been successful up and down the country; but was sadly not executed as well as it should have been.
I did really enjoy myself in there and would definitely do something similar again – but I wouldn’t do it with the same company. A lot more thought needs to go into timings and making a longer, more immersive experience; one that makes you feel like the wait was worth it. Half of the fun of the whole thing was the location itself, but that was nothing to do with Apocolypse’s input. With some more enthusiasm, heaps more content, and special attention paid to making all the technicalities play out properly, the event would be one bringing people back time and time again. It’s halfway there and could easily be something truly fantastic, but, as it stands, I came out with achey legs and a sense of “was that really it?”