Watch the horror unfold among our group in this video on 2.8 Hours London 2012
You never think a zombie apocalypse will strike your city – until it does. Fortunately, my friends and I were prepared when one struck London on 10th November. Or at least we thought we were prepared.
Conceptualised by Slingshot Games, 2.8 Hours Later is a real-life zombie apocalypse game where players need to navigate their way across a city in “2.8” hour-long marathon while dodging actors dressed as zombie hordes. Essentially, it is an elaborate game of tag, as getting ‘infected’ by a zombie means they tap you and you must stop to let them mark you with UV pens. The catch is that some of the UV marker pens work and some don’t, so you don’t find whether you’re infected or not until the end when you’re ‘scanned’ at a quarantine camp. In case you’re infected, they make you up as a zombie, and then you’re off to party at a Zombie Disco.
My friends and I were told of our starting location near the Docklands in London mere days before the event. We made our way there on a cold Saturday evening, along with about two hundred other people taking part on the same day. Once we signed the customary waivers (“remember, if you get hit by a bus, you WILL die!”), we were briefed and given maps with grid coordinates and sent off on our way.
Our first checkpoint was through an underpass – which we were told was ‘clean’ – but, surprise surprise, there were zombies there. And while we ran, my map fell out of my pocket. I would probably be the most useless member of a group in a real zombie apocalypse if I lost my map within the first two minutes of trying to make an escape. That first encounter with zombies left us spooked, and we spent our time constantly checking our corners and walking in separate flanks.
Next stop was a shipping container yard. Bit ironic, because while on our way to the game we were discussing the best places to hide in a zombie apocalypse and a shipping container yard was one of our top choices because we figured they would be a storehouse of many different kinds of essential supplies and not many people would necessarily think about going there. We quickly realised why nobody in their right mind would ever go to one: shipping container yards are fucking scary places at night! Especially when you have a crazy actor with a hook torturing a bound woman inside a container (who gave us the next coordinates) and not knowing whether there would be a zombie around the corner. (And shipping container yards have lots of corners as we discovered!)
The game is as much about orienteering as it is about strategy. At each checkpoint on our way to the “helicopter extraction point”, actors played various eccentric characters who gave us grid coordinates for the next location – sometimes in exchange in for tasks which, not surprisingly, involved going into dangerously zombie-infested areas. And then we had to figure out the best way to reach that coordinate using the map we were given.
We reached a multi-storey car park, where we found the “husband” of a woman (actor) we met earlier in the game. Apparently, he was a diabetic who had dropped his sweets on another floor of the car park, and needed us to get them. You would think that teamwork is the best way to tackle this, as there were three floors between us and the sweets we needed to get, and we did indeed start off that way but man, when a zombie starts chasing you, you really do forget whatever you planned! once one of us did pick up some sweets, we were hit by the that sinking realisation “Aw shit, now we need to make it back.” I was the first person to get ‘infected’, tagged by a zombie as I indeed up being a human shield against one of my friends.
The game organisers went out of their way to make it creepy. Along our route, we found makeshift memorials with pictures of “missing people” with nobody around. As usual, we were spooked and keeping out a watch. Were we supposed to do anything at the memorial? We didn’t know! This element of uncertainty throughout kept the game interesting.
By far the scariest bit was a park infested with zombies that we needed to make our way across. We walked in and saw the footpaths and the greens littered with shuffling actors (at 8pm at night, you can’t even clearly see them) when a couple asked us whether they could join our group. We said yes and started discussing how we’d approach this, when that guy started screaming. In that instant, it clicked for us that it was an actor and we ran for it. And boy did we run, with zombies chasing us from all directions! We were told that the helipad in the field had been overrun, and we needed to cut our way across the field to go a blinking transponder which would give us our next location. Many of us got tagged in the process.
There were chances to ‘cure’ ourselves too. At one point, when walking down a road we were told there would be pills lying on the footpath, which would get us “something groovy” if we gave it to “the professor” at a checkpoint. This checkpoint was the last one, where we had to play a game of British bulldogs to get cured: “the professor” would play a harmonica for a length in proportion the number of pills we gave him, and when the music stopped the zombies would chase us. Our task was to dash to pick up glowsticks lying on the ground and bring it back to the starting point, where each glowstick would earn a ‘cure’: the UV marker on your hands being wiped off using cleaning fluid.
At the quarantine camp, we were then checked under UV lights. I got tagged twice and had one ‘cure’, but miraculously, I survived! Others in my group were not so lucky. In all, three of us – Charles, Mike, and I – survived while the other three – Will, (other) Will, and Matthew – were turned into zombies. And then, the Zombie Disco! That itself was such a laidback party, sharing a unique experience with zombies and survivors alike who had all clearly had a fun night.
You could be cynical and say that we paid a lot of money to have people chase us around. But what makes this experience a success – over 10,000 people have played 2.8 Hours Later to mostly sold-out crowds – is that you buy into the premise. You buy into the fact there’s an actual infection you need to survive. It’s a masterfully created game which always keeps you guessing about what could possibly happen next. Much of the publicity around the event is through word-of-mouth, which gives it a vaguely cultish underground charm. 2.8 Hours Later is physically-demanding too, as if you plan to escape unharmed you really need to sprint when zombies chase you.
So imagine yourself at night, adrenaline coursing through your body at regular intervals, trying to figure out where you’re heading, walking for roughly three hours, taking ragged and deep breaths of cold air, a heightened sense of awareness…and just when you think you are safe you hear scream filling the air and you have to run for your life. You know it’s a game of make-believe but it’s the eerie atmosphere that makes it exhilarating. That is what makes 2.8 Hours Later so epic.