Friday, 14 September 2012

2.8 hours later

6th September 2012

Bristol, UK

"Your goal in the Zombie apocalypse is simple: survive."

On a late summer's evening in the West Country, hordes of blood-thirsty zombies descended upon the streets of Bristol to deliver yet another hair-raising round of "2.8 Hours Later" as part of igfest 2012: the city's 5th annual street games festival. Programmed by Slingshot - who also designed the zombie game itself - the festival took place between the 5th and 8th of September with the aim of providing a completely fresh outlook on the concept of outdoor gaming. Showcasing an eclectic range of street-based games designed by international artists and designers alike, the festival is a celebration of mass social interaction employing the diverse urban landscape of Bristol city centre as its setting.

Having managed to scrape a pair of tickets with a friend for their best-selling zombie-survival game, I was unsure of what I had got myself into as I arrived at the St. Nicks meeting point early evening on Thursday 6th September. Looking around the narrow, stall-lined avenue, the event had attracted a sell-out crowd with large groups of fancy-dressed punters nervously stood about, anxiously discussing what horrors lay ahead. Splitting into groups, the first wave of 'survivors' were asked to huddle around a highly animated game representative who explained the premise and rules that would govern this most unusual of evenings. It went as follows: the world as we know it has come to an end. A destructive virus has destroyed the population of planet earth by turning its inhabitants into soulless, blood-lusting zombies and as 'survivors' of this chronic epidemic, lost in the smouldering ruins of an apocalyptic Bristolian future, it was our task to reach an evacuation point that promised shelter and safety. In order to reach the end of the game, we were all given maps and the night progressed by moving through a series of staged locations using co-ordinates gained from other 'survivors' we would come across throughout the night. These survivors were played by very, very convincing actors who really brought the game to life in the most disturbing of ways. The zombies themselves were littered in and between these staged locations and could potentially be hidden anywhere, resulting in a surreal situation whereby streets I have known my whole life suddenly became steeped in potential peril. If caught by a zombie at any point during this survival dash then a simple tag system came into play (no actual flesh eating thank god), as a simple tap on the body meant you had to stop and let the zombie mark you with the infection using an ultra violet pen. This mark would later be analysed at the evacuation point meaning you could continue playing as a 'carrier' even if you had technically been 'infected'.

After joining forces with a couple who were looking to expand their post-apocalyptic survival team, we were told the first set of co-ordinates and after finding it on the map, headed off into the new dystopian world which had replaced our once familiar city. Arriving down by the archway at the bottom of Broad street, we were met by a terribly distraught young woman dressed in blood-stained scrubs. Clutching a photograph of a man in her hands, she thrust it forwards pleading us to try and find her husband who had gone missing. Taken aback by this crying woman, the game became a reality and from then on the pace of the night never lifted. Telling us that she had last seen him at the old police station, a new set of co-ordinates were given and off we went in search of our next clue. Walking past a highly appropriate 'See No Evil' graffiti mural, which depicted blood pouring down a high office block, we headed down Nelson street until the foreboding, blackened stone fa├žade of the abandoned police station loomed before us. Entering through a rusted gate, a small staircase led us down into the dimly lit prison cells where our first 'encounter' of the night took place; the first in a series of enclosed, claustrophobic 'levels' where the tension and drama were cranked up to dizzying heights. Hearing a scream from down the hallway, a surge of adrenaline pounded through my body as we nervously tiptoed past the dormant jail cells. A low pitched groan then reverberated off the prison bars as we rounded the corner to come face to face with a ferocious zombie who stood in front of the exit door, covered in blood and drunk on rage. A few others had joined us by this stage and seeing no other option but to make a dash for it, we all bolted towards the door he guarded; side-stepping the murderous lunges from the groaning corpse that swayed blindly before us.

Pacing through the centre of Broadmead with the rest of my group afterwards, high on the buzz of surviving my first ever zombie encounter, we kept turning corners to find staggering corpses down every avenue. Not wanting to attract their attentions, we backtracked several times finally reaching a large loading bay behind a row of closed shops just off The Horsefair. In this clearing, surrounded by a gang of drugged-looking zombies, stood a mad scientist dressed in a blood-stained white coat who was waving a glass vial above her head. Sensing our obvious reluctance to approach, the eccentric woman attempted to soothe our concerns by stating that she held an antidote in her hands which acted as a repellent against the undead and that she would only reveal the next set of co-ordinates if we came closer. Having no other choice but to trust her questionable chemistry, we edged forward while constantly keeping an eye on the swaying zombies around us. With the co-ordinates of the next location revealed, the scientist closed the vial without warning which seemed to stir the zombies from their slumber as they suddenly roared into life, grabbing anyone that was not quick enough to react in the mad frenzy that followed. Panting heavily in an adjacent alleyway after the ambush, I looked around for the other members of my team who I had lost when everyone had scattered from the zombie attack. Fortunately they had not gone far and we soon regrouped, checking the map to see that the next location would be the old derelict bank on Wine Street. Arriving at the bank as the sun bid farewell to the day, we were greeted by a maniacal stream of giggling that cackled from within the building. Opening the loading bay door tentatively, a hysterical man introduced himself as the 'banker' whose lunatic disposition and hysterical ramblings proved to be highly disturbing. Pointing to a red line on the floor, he ended his nonsensical tirade by ordering us to follow it as apparently it led to the exit. Leaving him to dwell in his own insanity, we proceeded to follow this red line along gloomy corridors towards a stairwell which brought us down into the basement vault. Entering the underground room, utter anarchy ensued as we discovered a frantic zombie woman snarling at us through the bars of the vault. A sneaky manoeuvre by our new friend Steve, goaded the manic zombie from the doorway she was protecting, allowing us to quickly dash to the relative safety of the street outside.

Darkness had now fallen upon Bristol, stoking new fears in the shadows that formed across the city streets. Using a street light to trace a route towards the next location, we set off across the Victoria street bridge before cutting down an alleyway towards an old church that rested at its far end. Spotting a zombie about 50 metres off, we quickly darted through the iron gate before he saw us in the hope that hallowed ground would protect us from the evil creatures that lurked outside. Wandering in through the large Gothic doors, small shrines displaying missing person posters had been left at the entrance; illuminated by the dying candles that flickered across the walls of the small vestibule. The church itself was submerged in darkness although the figure of a man could just about could be seen in front of the altar ahead; his elongated silhouette bleeding towards the stained glass windows that hung above. Seeing us enter, this manic figure turned around and invited us to come forward although a sick desperation seemed hidden in the invitation. Approaching him one step too far, the 'carrier' leapt forward in a blind rage but was thankfully pulled back just before he reached us by a sturdy chain that shackled him to a heavy wooden pew. Having been bitten, this man was in the process of turning into a zombie yet still held on to a few remaining human faculties allowing him to communicate with us. Ordering the congregation before him to kneel down on our knees, he gave the next set of co-ordinates that would lead us into the latter part of the game...

Charging on into the night, the co-ordinates that the mad priest had given us forged a path towards a series of empty buildings that stood dormant at the entrance to Temple Meads train station. After being called over by another survivor, we were shown into the stairwell of a particularly quiet building whose inner silence contrasted greatly with the hustle and bustle outside. Creeping up the winding stairwell cautiously, we approached a doorway at the top which led into a dark corridor where the only light came from the rooms that led off it. From one of these rooms, a small shrill voice greeted us and we entered to find a bizarre, eccentric-looking lady stood at its centre. Requesting us to come and see her blood-stained kitchen, a surreal tour around her hiding place followed until she gave us a new set of co-ordinates and directed us back into the corridor towards the exit stairwell. Heading down this staircase led to what was, for me at least, the most intense part of the night. Reaching the bottom, a metal door led into a large room filled with columns and more importantly, two dazed looking zombies that snarled at one another in the corner. Carefully tiptoeing through the door, muffled sobbing could be heard coming from a glass-sided stairwell to our left and upon closer investigation we found a very distraught woman who told us her leg had been badly broken. Sensing a potential ambush in her cries for help, we hesitated in stepping forward but with no other options we entered the narrow stairwell and approached the young lady. Suddenly all hell broke loose as a huge roar surged up from the staircase below and before we knew what was happening, a rabid zombie lurched out of the darkness towards us. A manic few seconds drenched in wild panic followed as we beat a hasty retreat; closing the door just as the zombie slammed his head against the glass partition; snarling and hissing before our very eyes. The moment of safety was short-lived though as the other zombies soon rushed over, charging at us from our exposed rear. Avoiding a swipe from their claret-covered claws, the group disbanded in every direction, fleeing through the series of columns towards the exit. Clambering down a final set of stairs in leaps and bounds, I wheezed in the cool air outside while my heart thumped furiously within my chest.

With only one location left, we plodded away from the bright lights of the station and headed towards the industrial-looking area behind Temple Meads. Stumbling through these dark lanes, we finally came upon the big top that marks the newly developed 'Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone' where we discovered more zombies on the gravel square. Deciding to give them a wide berth, a short walk led to our final survivor encounter of the evening. Dressed like some sort of apocalyptic Willy Wonka with a dilapidated leather suitcase full of play dolls before him, the underworld dandy leered at us through his crooked spectacles while his gold teeth glinted in the moonlight. Frantically asking the way, he replied in a guttural drawl, 'I don't have any information for you but my friend does...', lowering his face from view and holding up a small hand puppet that instructed us to cross "The Bridge of Vipers" and then "run like the clappers" to the safety of the evacuation zone. Following the path down to this curiously named bridge, an incredible scene unfolded as a gang of inebriated zombie hookers - the Vixens - tottered in high heels along the metallic crossing which had been lit by photogenic beams of light from below. Managing to reach the other side in one piece, we navigated our way through a few final darkened streets before coming across the evacuation zone which could be seen in the distance....the only problem was that a large gang of zombies blocked the way. Combining forces with another group, we all charged down the street, ducking and weaving through the flailing limbs until finally reaching safety. A brief screening process followed our arrival where each survivor was analysed for ultra-violet infection bites. Those unlucky enough to be branded with the mark were given a zombie makeover to complete their transformation. Emerging from the tents, a zombie disco was in full flow where a few beers rounded off the night with a good old fashioned 'thriller' boogie. 2.8 Hours later was a deeply disturbing but exhilarating experience that I definitely won't forget in a hurry....until the next apocalypse rolls around of course....

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Zombie attack!

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