A few hours after being eaten at a zombie escape room, we found we’d made a miraculous recovery and were heading to Hide and Shriek‘s Dead Centre. Talk about out of the frying pan into the fire… This time round, we’d be encountering a few more zombies and none of them were going to be chained up. No puzzles this time, just an hour of trying to avoid being zombified…
As the name hints, this zombie experience is set in a shopping centre. That’s by no means unique – I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of one with a similar theming out near Reading, but the difference is that the Southend shopping centre isn’t abandoned. Somehow, that seemed quite a brave decision – to have us careering past Argos, Next and Games Workshop (although it’s probably seen more than its fair share of zombies already) felt a lot more impressive than doing the same in a derelict centre.
We turned up at the requested time only to find that they were running about half an hour late, so we had to hang around for a while although unfortunately not enough of a while to head back to a pub. At least we could wait inside the door, sheltered from the elements and with just a little hint of what was to come. Sadly, the centre’s toilets were off limits so, if you go to this event in the future, make sure you’ve made use of the facilities elsewhere.
Soon enough, it was time for us to head inside. The theatrics started from before we signed the disclaimers while we were waiting for the previous group to clear from the start point, which got us nicely into the mood for the fun to come. And then we were off. For the next hour there was a fair bit of running, a lot of breath-holding, the occasional scream and plenty of zombies. We were guided throughout by our medic, who did a great job of setting the scene, getting us fired up and giving us a break when the running was getting a bit much. Speaking of which – I made the mistake of wearing a fleece and quickly found myself overheating. I’d recommend ditching any jackets before entry, although I should warn you that you’ll be in unheated/exposed parts of the building at times.
They made great use of lots of parts of the shopping centre, some of which involved kitting it out specially, but most were just left as-is. The car park, the loading bays, the service corridors and, of course, the main thoroughfares, all had different feels and allowed the scriptwriters to put together a range of experiences. At the end of the hour, there was a fitting finale that made good use of the centre and brought the experience to a close nicely, before a quick photo opportunity with some of the zombies.
Overall pretty good then, but there are a couple of minor criticisms I’d level. First, the experience wasn’t balanced between members of the group. Our medic chose the same people repeatedly to do the “dangerous” stuff. That may have fitted with the character he was playing, or it may have been because he didn’t want to risk choosing people that weren’t up for it, but at least two members of our team noticed this lopsidedness. Secondly, I never felt much real jeopardy. It was clear early on that there was no winning or losing, that the zombies weren’t really trying to catch you, just to scare you. I’m not clear how you would handle it, but I’d like to feel like I had a proper incentive to run away from them. Maybe I’m just over-competitive 🙂
At the end of the day, though, I felt this was pretty good value for money – and this from someone who’s not a fan of zombie stuff. They’d packed a lot of experiences into a one-hour time slot, and they’d kept you going from start to finish. If they put on this show again, then I’d recommend getting tickets but, more importantly (for me), it’s given me confidence that they can pull off Alien Escape when it opens in June!