So, I had my eye on this event from the moment it appeared in my facebook feed and I was instantly interested in it, especially the VR; however, I wasn’t sure whether or not it was a bit gimmicky and if it’d work: you see, my expectations from the experience was that it’d be a “boo” haunt that you’d walk through whilst wearing the VR headset with jumpscares from live actors. The event described itself as “combining previously unseen VR technology with interactive performance for the first time in the UK”, so you can see where I’m coming from, right?
After a week or two of mulling it over, I decided to go for it. £30 or whatever wasn’t much, and it was an hour experience and more stuff for you guys to read – it’s been just shy of half a year, and whilst the facebook page is plenty active with information about haunts and horror events, the blog was stagnating.
I got to the page and realised that loads have people had already beaten me to the punch – the entire show had sold out in a month or something ridiculous! 10,000 tickets for the event sold! Fortunately, they added a few more dates and I managed to snag myself one of the 500 extra tickets released – phew!
Background on story:
The state of Arizona has been infected by a sinister virus that has wiped out millions of people in a matter of days. In an attempt to control it, the US Government has quarantined the entire state, building a wall around Arizona.
To combat the virus should it spread, the United Nations have contracted a highly decorated military officer named Colonel Hanz to set up training hubs around the world.
The ‘Cultek Military & Training Facility’ in East London has been set up by Hanz to train an army of Londoners on how to tackle the virus, should it spread overseas.
The base has been designed to put new recruits through their paces with the potential for the best recruits to be sent out to Arizona to tackle the virus on the front line.
Sounds fun, right? Well you’re not wrong.
I arrived early to the party (a whole half hour earlier) wearing my lovely and cheap Primark clothing on, my work shoes, and two football socks tied together around my neck – we were instructed to wear something of a specific colour to identify our group, which I didn’t realise until 12 hours before the event…
So I’m sat there at the rendez-vous point earlier than I should have been and I get approached by a guy in a military outfit. He asks what I’m doing there and I explain and he lines me up, on my own, against the wall in silence. It’s a little awkward, but we’re in the backstreets of London and there’s nobody else here.
Soon enough, the rest of the group turn up. We all get insulted on what we’re wearing because we didn’t really know what to wear except for “clothes you don’t mind getting ruined and flat shoes”.
All of a sudden, we hear a loud rumbling come from round the corner and this monster arrives:
Our chaperon to the event, dear readers, was this huge ass army vehicle. The back is rolled up and we’re ordered to get in, then we’re “locked” in place.
So we’re trundling sideways through the backstreets of Stratford in an army vehicle that’s almost pitch black and blasting out some old school Prodigy. After about 5 minutes, we arrive at the event. We get lined up and have a mini ice-breaker event before we’re taken inside to be registered. We’re handed a clipboard with the usual waiver for these events: no touching the actors, no photography, that sorta thing. We’re then invited to take a seat in this mini cinema thing showing the backstory for the event, with these posters dotted about the walls:
So we sat. And we sat. And we sat some more. It took about 45 minutes for us to be called up and into the event. We’re dressed in a green overall and get asked to sit again to wait our turn. We continue sitting and making jokes, mainly at each others expenses.
This is where I’m going to have to get a bit vague on the event itself due to the waiver/NDA I signed. For those that haven’t done an immersive event before, you’re basically guided through different “scenes” in different rooms where you are part of the show – the actors (in this case, the soldiers) talk and interact with you, asking you questions, getting you to do things for the show to continue.
So we meet a bunch of characters and get a bit more on the story. There are a few extremely obvious jumpscares that had red herrings that could have been executed better, and one that was almost predictable, but still managed to make everyone in the group flinch.
We’re then guided to the next bit where we’re trained on how to kill the infected. We have the HTC Vive strapped onto our heads, headphones placed over our ears, and remotes placed in each hand, like this:
(not me, just so you know)
so basically they had recreated a training ground for us to get used to killing zombies. Honestly? It was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever done. Your senses are telling you that you’re in a freezing building in London, but your eyes are telling you that you’re in the training grounds and are under attack. I turned around at one point to talk to the scientist because the lenses were dirty, expecting to see her stood there with the rest of the background behind her, but all I saw was more of the simulation, which actually really took me by surprise.
The VR itself was outstanding. Think Borderlands meets Left4Dead, but there’s no moving. The responsiveness was astounding, and the headset didn’t feel that heavy and didn’t cause any motion sickness for the 10 minutes I had it on. I actually caught myself really getting into the game and was extending my arms and looking through the scope of the guns to get the best shots.
As soon as it started, we’re moved on to complete the rest of the immersive experience. One guy got ejected for kicking the zombie from the second legitimate jumpscare which was annoying, but we got back into the story pretty quick.
We finally met the head honcho who revealed the (obvious) plot twist and the secondary plot twist (both of which I can’t explain), and that was it.
What do I think?
Well as far as immersive theatre goes, it was awful. All the male army guys had the same persona, the “I’ve given up” meets sarcasm thing that you seem to get from at least one zombie theatre, and all the females were the stern quiet type but there was no air of authority around them. There was also one woman who tried her hardest to pull an American persona and accent, but it fell flat on its face. I also got the feeling that all the actors were bored of being there as the event had already been running for a month, which ruined the experience a bit. I was kinda hoping they were more like the guy that picked me out in Sub Species: Operation Lockdown. The group I was with didn’t help either – they were all friends and were pretty much cracking jokes at every available opportunity (from fear? Who knows), so it was really hard to buy into the story.
The story and jumpscares themselves were also very predictable. If you did The Generation of Z mid-2015, then you basically know the story already, with some scenes being recreated entirely.
I will tip my hat to the guy that played the mad doctor and his apprentice, as their characters were the most developed and easy to believe – this was probably the only time in the entire event I felt immersed.
As for a demonstration of the VR? Well, read what I posted above. I’d have paid £30 to play that game for half hour!
All in all, I’m glad I managed to get a ticket and I’m glad I did it. The HTC Vive is definitely one to look out for if you’re into virtual reality gaming and have a spare £800 lying about the house. I’m sure the event was much better during the second week, but I still had fun and enjoyed myself.