Hey, I found this great place to go shopping with the girls this weekend…
Please note that the following review will have spoilers on this escape room experience.
About ZED Zombie Events UK
Location: Reading, Berkshire, several minutes walk from the train station. 25 minute train ride from Paddington Station, London.
Themes: “The Mall” though ZED Events also hosts other types of zombie survival experiences.
Players: Each group is a maximum of 20 players total.
Duration: 2.5 hours
Cost: from £119 per person
One of my favorite things to think about during my work commute is zombie apocalypse survival techniques.
I might ask myself, If zombies attacked the front of the bus, how would I escape? Who would be the best survivors to pair up with? Do I have enough supplies in my backpack to survive once I escape?
It’s something I’ve only dreamed about until Ben and I traveled to London, UK this summer to live some of the city’s best escape room experiences.
We got to live out some of our zombie apocalypse fantasies at “The Mall” experience by ZED Zombie Events UK, an immersive theater/escape room experience that takes place in a derelict shopping mall in downtown Reading, Berkshire.
This is not the kind of theater experience where you wear your nice “going out” clothes. One group of friends were thematically dressed in military khakis and camouflage make-up. Even wearing a tank top in that cold, musty basement, I was sweaty.
Meanwhile, a lab assistant drifted among the participants, asking for names and blood types.
“Where did you get that scratch?” he gestured with his pen towards my arm, “Have you been experiencing symptoms of cold or flu – sniffling, fever, muscle aches? Oh, really?”
He motioned me to join a separate group as the bespectacled Dr. West droned, “At Centesis, we are pushing the boundaries of science and technology. Today, we are holding clinical trials for our new test treatment of the common cold. If our control group would just step this way…”
What happened next could only be described as explosion of noise. The lights flickered and died. Dr. West shouted for calm. Security officers shot in and out of the room. Figures appeared behind doors, banging and bawling. The doors burst open, and someone screamed. In the mostly-darkness, my eyes struggled to identify the looming shapes among snarls and confused shouts.
“Keep close to my parents!” Ben touched my shoulders as we were ushered by security. Oh yeah, I thought before I could stop myself, we’ve got old people with us.
Over the next 2.5 hours, we became immersed in our own version of Dawn of the Dead. Split into groups, we were given airsoft weapons (limited ammo), a guide, and several missions.
Darkness was a real danger here. Only some of us had good torches. One gum jammed. After running up and down several emergency stairwells, I regretted forgetting my asthma medication. In between ragged breaths, I hugged my gun and let other players take shots at ambushing zombies. Every corner and every open door seemed to be some sort of threat.
What really struck me about this experience were the changes in behavior among our group.
During the first couple of missions, I remember being very quiet, even covering my mouth during “sneak missions” for extra caution. I kept to the front of the group, neglecting Ben’s parents more than once. His father Russ, a tall and imposing figure even for his age, had a combative glint in his eyes. He was always among the first to scout new locations despite his poor eyesight. Ben’s mother Cheryl struggled to keep up, hiding behind our guide and taking cues from her son.
Ben himself was probably the only person who appeared unchanged – he would give micro-orders within our group to cover our blind spots. We often fought back-to-back. At one point, he talked the girl with the jammed gun into trading weapons because hers had a better torch.
We were returning from a mission to retrieve Dr. West’s research papers. Several zombies ambushed us near the security room, our safe haven. As our group fended them off, Russ and I ran ahead to the entrance.
“Give me the papers!” Dr. West yelled, his arm outstretched from the half-closed door.
I clutched the papers tighter. You can’t trust this doctor.
“You want them, you’ll let ALL of us in,” I motioned to Russ, who stuck a threatening pose. (I have to admit, we both forgot in this moment about the explicit game rules not to point guns at people’s faces.)
Dr. West flailed in Russ’s steely gaze, “Of course, of course, of course…” but he wouldn’t budge from the door. I could hear shouting from my teammates on the impending zombie approach.
Before I had thought it through, I was striding shoulder-first into Dr. West in a sort of soft tackle. My teammates pushed through in a single wave, overwhelming Dr. West as we filled the small security room.
It’s a story moment that I won’t easily forget, and certainly not something you’d experience in just any role-playing game.
From that point on, I felt more emboldened to play the game as more of a fighter. During the final mission, our group was tasked with finding samples of the zombie virus.
Without our guide, we explored the dark, crumbling halls of the mall’s basement. We were in constant fear of losing our three good flashlights or running into the “invincible” zombie. I found myself rooting for the group to push on, even to the point of getting our group lost.
After living this experience, I’ll definitely have more to think about the next time I strategize zombie apocalypse survival on my morning commute!
"The Mall" zombie survival experiece by ZED Zombie Events UK was an incredible experience from end-to-end. While it is on the pricey side, I have not found any similar immersive/escape experiences in the United States that matches the production quality of ZED Zombie Events UK. It is something I would definitely seek out on my next vacation to the UK!
STORY IMMERSION 5/5
From Minute 0, you are fully immersed in a story, with movie-quality make-up, sound, lighting effects, and in-character actors. The story changes constantly, giving every player a sense of urgency and a purpose.
Not every zombie encounter is a "fight-and-flight" kind of situation. Sometime's it's just better to hide and sneak, which were some of my favorite parts of the game. There are many little storied moments throughout the experience that give individual players a chance to shine - if the security guard calls for a volunteer to "clear the area," go and do it!
PLAYER EXPERIENCE 5/5
"The Mall" experience is intentionally designed to be fearful, gripping experience that will keep your adrenaline pumping the entire time.
In the game's debrief, I was told by one of the actors that it was not unusual for players to experience fear or temporary personality changes. One remark was, "I've seen mothers who are either really protective, or they change into a 'fend for yourselves" [attitude] and leave everyone behind."
What's important to remember that ultimately this is a game, so let yourself enjoy the immersion, whatever that happens to be.
Several story missions necessitate teamwork and strategy with all the players in your party. This is also supported by the fact that there are a limited number of working torches and everyone has limited ammo stock. If you don't work well together or use your shots wisely, you will be zombie chow!
"The Mall" is not recommended for players who have accessibility needs, special health conditions, or won't be able to sustain high physical activity for 2.5 hours. There are short rest periods scattered throughout the game, including a water break, but you'll definitely want to wear good shoes and breathable clothes for this experience.
TECHNICAL PERFORMANCE 5/5
There are different kinds of locations scattered over the mall's 250,000 sq ft, which gives the story events variation and surprise. While there are no crazy puzzles like your typical escape room, there is more than enough story material to make up for that. Most of the props, set pieces, and effects supported the theme and the sense of immersion.