The situation had deteriorated even more quickly than I had anticipated. While scavenging for useful items, a group of the infected had caught wind of our presence. As my fellow survivors ran for the exit, my path was blocked by dead bodies, upturned furniture, and a couple of ravenous zombies, snarling violently. At the other side of the room, I see our team leader, ready to throw the door shut. Time for a mad dash. Wielding a torn off arm as a weapon, I vaulted a table, sprinted towards safety, and impacted head-first with the closing door. The smack was forceful enough to throw the door open again, and with our leader yelling GO! GO! GO! just behind me, I shook the dancing light spots out of my eyes, and continued the frenzied journey to the safe room.
Let’s rewind a bit. It was at the last ScareCON that I heard about Immersive Events for the first time. During their presentation, they talked about how they had set up a prison lockdown zombie escape event – in an actual prison. That was more than enough to tickle my interest, so given the opportunity, we drove up to Shrewsbury to see what the buzz was all about.
“Get to Sanatorium. The Truth is there. Madness reigns. Get to Sanatorium.” This message filtered through the static on the radio. It had been ten years after the infection had begun, and the situation was dire. The truth? What could it all mean? A cure, perhaps? About thirty people had answered the call, and we had all assembled in a tiny room, on the other side of the prison where the broadcast seemed to be originating from. Three soldiers barged in, and quickly took the situation in their hands – we had all come for the same reason, and we needed to get inside the Dana prison. They had a contact inside, a doctor, but judging on the hysterical cackling that came through their walkies, she wasn’t in a great shape. With nothing much more to go on, we forced our way through the front doors. Bad idea. Attracted to the noise, a dozen of the infected came running at us, clawing through the iron gate separating us from them, blocking our only way forward. This would require a bit of teamwork to get through…
Over the next ninety minutes, we were sent through the hallways of the prison in smaller teams, on scavenging missions and fetchquests for items that might prove useful to our escape, or to discovering ‘the truth’ that was mentioned over the radio. The prison was overrun with infected inmates, and we had to navigate the pitch black hallways of the Dana in silence, as any noise could attract the zeds. Careful planning and coordinated teamwork can only take you so far though… Looking for keys to the prison doors, we broke into the warden’s office. He was lying on his desk, motionless. Dead? With trepidation, we searched the dead warden’s pocket, lifted his arms to secure the documents lying under his corpse. And then, as he jerked upwards with a loud scream, chaos ensued. In a blind panic, our team ran through the door. As he approached, I threw his executive’s chair in his path, while our soldier companion slowed his progress with pistol shots to his torso, giving us just enough to time to get out of the office safely. Shoot him in the head man!! Putting our shoulders against the door, the rest of our group improvised for a way out. The warden was rattling the door handle, again and again we saw the silhouette of his growling face appear past the smoked glass window. He was punching the door now, and his screaming was attracting the horde, we needed to get out of here! In the end, we barely made it back to the safe room. We had barricaded doors, any loose furniture that wasn’t too heavy had been thrown in our path to slow down the advancing zeds. Most importantly though, we had secured the keys, and our quest for a possible cure could continue.
In the end, all our efforts had been in vain. We had lost some of our own. We did find that doctor who had been taunting us over the radio all night long. But somewhere along the line, amongst all the chaos and the running, we had missed something. An important element that could have led to a cure and to our safe escape, lost somewhere in the darkness of the hallways and cells. In that doctor’s office, everything turned to disaster. Friends turned, attacked us. All order, all discipline went out of the window. A bit later, we found ourselves locked in a room. The soldiers we had trusted all night were nowhere to be found. A broadcast, one of our soldier pals on the screen. He is screaming, gesturing in a panicked state, but we can’t make out the words. Then, zombies claw their way into his hideout. Nothing good followed after that. We were a lost cause.
Unfortunate as all that was, our experience wasn’t over. As we were waiting for our demise, a crew member came to our rescue, and we were invited to experience a tour of Méro laboratories, allegedly the origin of the infection, a decade earlier in the timeline. We were welcomed by a kind receptionist, who sat us down in comfy couches as she explained a little bit about our tour. A great performance, as the actress perfectly used that specific, ever so slightly condescending scientist-talking-to-the-general-public tone of voice. Between the lines though, we could already hear that what we would encounter was a lot darker than she made it seem. All of us went through decontamination individually, and were then told to line up, hands-on-shoulders. Makes sense, you don’t want contamination of the lab ware. Suddenly, the lab technician leading this section singled me out. “Except for you – you get a private tour!” Was this because of my extensive scientific background? The other five of our group ventured into the lab, while I was kept back. The lab technician lady instantly adopted a more sinister persona. Obviously something had been off in this laboratory, but I hadn’t expected it to be this bad! Another girl rounded the corner, wearing a lab coat and disheveled makeup, and the both of them started laughing in my face, as they placed a pair of lab goggles onto my head. I soon got sent out on my private tour, and my, did the situation get grabby. I think I had three pairs of hands on me at all times, pulling my hair, pushing me against the walls, taunting from all sides. I have no idea whatsoever how many nurses and lab workers were present in this section – they came from everywhere, and all of them had it in for me, it was a madhouse! After a bit, I caught up with my group just as things went south for them as well. They had encountered the lead professor of the complex, who was explaining his research, when suddenly the subjects he was experimenting on broke loose. We managed to escape through some tight crawl spaces and ended up all pressed up against each other in the darkness. Then, something next to us started growling…
Wow. A lot to take in, that was. After the event, some locals who had gone through Sanatorium with us took us to a pub, and over drinks we each shared our own war stories. Amazingly, we had experienced so many different things, while being in the same group for the better part of the evening! Sanatorium wasn’t a perfect event, far from it. But, you immediately forgive every single flaw, just because the experience is SO unique and fun. What other event allows you to chuck furniture at an approaching zombie horde?? In the end, we had no idea what we had done wrong, and why we did not find the cure. The ending was chaotic and abrupt, the story we experienced muddled, partly because you have to try and understand the lot while thirty guests are standing around, not all of them paying the attention they should. We couldn’t make out the audio of the final broadcast, and a lot of the radio messages broadcast over the different walkie talkies were lost on us as well. It is generally quite chaotic, and not every single guest immerses themselves to the level we had hoped they would. Hell, there were people casually strolling along while the zeds were coming near. I might have slammed a particularly slow someone into a wall, while escaping the undead. I’m not even sorry. When we were waiting in the final room, I was a bit pissed off when someone from the crew came to get us out, announcing we could now go into the Origins maze. I had no idea it was over. But, that is the thing. I wanted more. So much more. I was still fully immersed, and I wasn’t dead yet. I wanted to stay in that prison, surviving, escaping zombies, all night long. I wanted to go down in flames. Time had went by so damn quickly, and only sitting in the pub afterwards, I fully realized how much fun I had had, recounting my favourite moments to the others. For an hour and a half, this had been my life, not some haunted walkthrough. There’s no cheesy strobes, no show lighting. Only the pitch blackness of the prison hallways, tiptoeing around the barely visible silhouettes of twitching infected inmates, hoping they would not notice you. As for the general chaos, wouldn’t any zombie apocalypse, where you are thrown together with a random bunch of people, be more than just a little bit chaotic? An immense experience. Immersive events sure chose their name carefully.
As for Origins, their scare maze, this was an amazing walkthrough as well. During Sanatorium, we had discovered some promotional files that had been scribbled upon, notes scrawled all over the paper. A picture of a jolly grandma had been made into a devilish image. The catchphrase of Méro Labs – Honesty.Integrity.Transparency. – with the transparency violently scratched out. Technical files on the medications they had been developing, drugs countering Alzheimer’s disease, reinvigorating certain brain regions. It was such a cool connection to see the untainted versions of these promo posters hanging on the walls of the reception lounge that served as the start of the maze. The transition of Sanatorium into Origins had been a bit haphazard (well, there is that ten year time difference between them, after all), but these little easter eggs connected both experiences really nicely.
In the end, this might have been my favourite scare attraction of the lot we went through this October. Yes, I was confused, dissatisfied at some point, eager to know where we had gone wrong, wanting to do it all over again, to reach the good ending, to uncover all mysteries. But all that makes IME’s experience even more memorable. I cannot commend this experience enough. Don’t expect a perfectly sanded down experience. It doesn’t need to be. You’ll find your own way. You might be frustrated at some point. On the other hand, who knows, you might even stumble across the crucial piece of the puzzle.