April 16th 2016, the night the zombie apocalypse fell, whether it was from some mutated strain of the Zika Virus or a disease spread through porta-potty toilet seats we did not know. What started as four friends gathered for a night of homemade pizza, bottles of Bump ’n’ Grind coffee cream Stout, Mugshot Rye Porter and Foolproof Shuckolate chocolate–oyster stout quickly went south. Dark hallways, fog machines, flickering lights and people moving in a twitchy arrhythmic way; if not for the M4 in my hands this could be a really bad rave. This is Zombie Apocalypse Live (ZAL) a tactical live action zombie experience. Part haunted house, part live action video game and overall a great way to let off steam on a Saturday night.
The moment I saw the promo video for this I knew I had to go. A text to my wife, a few tags to friends on Facebook and we were on the preorder list for tickets. Doing preorder allows you to receive a text message one hour before the ticket site opens to for the event in your area; the day that text message came through Susan (my wife) was on the site ordering the ultra deluxe Special Ops Elite Mission, a longer course with extra ammo. Slight problem, we printed the tickets and saw they were for Phoenix NOT Chicago, a problem quickly solved by the sales team at ZAL. Now we were just counting down the days until the zombie apocalypse; the fact that we would be doing this the day after tax day was just icing on the cake and we started making plans.
As I mentioned we got together for pizza and beer the night of the event, and made the trek up to a warehouse in the suburbs of Chicago. Our post-apocalyptic survival crew of four people included possibly the best review crew possible for something like this: 2 haunt builders/ aficionados, 2 shooters, 2 guys, 2 girls 100% zombie fans. A check in at the reservation desk and we were ready, well ready to wait in line at least. We quickly learned that the reservation time we booked (10 pm) was more of a guideline, the woman working reception explaining that people tend to show up later in the night; I would recommend going a bit earlier and getting in quick. But the wait was not bad about 20 minutes. Plenty of time to look around and get a feel for what we were in for, Ed immediately started looking at the set design commenting on the how great the mockup of a Chicago street complete with el tracks was done. I started looking at the weapons that were being handed out at the armory (well a booth but hey). When we got to the desk we were ready, and the weapon of the day… M4 trainers in a carbine and pistol version. These are training weapons with laser inserts in the muzzle, a CO2 operated recoil system, the weight of a real firearm capable of firing in semi-auto or burst mode. The feel of squeezing the trigger of one of these is very satisfying in burst with slight recoil and a pop as it fires. Yes it is far quieter than the actual weapon, but in my head I had a suppressor. No need to attract more zombies right? Unfortunately you cannot hit the zombies so Shelleye’s dream of dispatching zombies with a replica of Addy’s bat from Z Nation would not be fulfilled, and no lopping off actor’s heads Michonne style. But hey we have guns.
Weapons in hand we stopped for a group photo, then on to a safety check and a quick explanation of the selector switch on the rifle. The safety check pretty much was Please don’t hit the zombies, some zombies will get back up after you put them down (so that everyone in your group gets a chance to rack up kills) and since you guys have the extra ammo package go nuts with the burst mode… HELL YEAH!!! The staff really makes sure groups go in at good intervals to prevent them from running into each other and we stepped into dark hallway moving toward the dim flickering lights ahead. In order for something like this to work you have to get your audience to suspend disbelief fast, something that the first room did for me, a hospital room with what felt like a mental patient staring at a staticy TV screen, that’s when the first zombie popped out and I started shooting. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to step into a Resident Evil video game (or drop your favorite FPS game here) this is about as close at it gets. Granted there are no loot drops, and you get reloaded midway through each half of the two part course, (it certainly would have been fun to “find” an RPG or minigun) but a few minutes in you are watching every door, swinging around corners both hoping and dreading something is in your line of fire, ultimately unloading on anything that even remotely sways in the breeze. I personally got frustrated when the reloading crew refused to drop until I realized they were not zombies.
I am pretty sure that each city ZAL tours through has a sets exclusive to that local, but the highlights of our experience were the CTA train rocking on a gimbal, a creepy blacklit rotunda, and the libray. Going later in the night meant the fog machines had filled some hallways with enough haze to really accentuate light beams passing through cracks, leading you forward and creeping you out. We had to keep pushing Ed forward as he evaluated the haunt elements wondering what he could incorporate into his next build; the team decided he was a mullet away from being Eugene in TWD, truly a shoot or protect situation. The actors play their parts to the fullest, some wore head bands with LEDS that went from green to red when hit, but these zombies were into it and more than a couple times I watched those head bands go flying when you put that zombie down. You quickly get used to the sounds of your team opening up on that zombie again as they get back up providing targets for the rest of the group. At least I think that’s what they were doing and not shooting me.
Overall it was a fun night, no more expensive than a short trip to the range, and about as long when you factor in the wait midway through the course, where you get reloaded and they space out the teams travelling through. You will also get some interaction with the zombies at this point who if you decide to shoot them will target you when you go back in. Everything the crew at ZAL put together is top notch, talent, the course and the ability really make you feel like you are in the situation. Also the fact that even with the technical glitch we had ordering our tickets, the problem was solved quickly and did not impair our night of zombie blasting. I rate this 5 out of 5 zombies.
Zombie Apocalypse Live is a touring event, check for details on locations and dates as well as other events at zombieapocalypselive.com.