It’s grim up North. Particularly when you have to deal with Winter drawing in, carrying a backpack full of gear and that zombie infection that has swept through central Manchester. What’s that you say? You didn’t know? Pah! You need to watch more news…
Following in the blood-spattered footsteps of British zombie films “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later“, the zombie chase game “2.8 Hours Later” brings all the japes and laughs of a contagious disease to a city near you. While that might not sound like that much fun, I can safely say that it’s well worth looking into.
After seeing a link to their site on Manchester photographer Anna Hardy’s twitter feed, I got in touch with the organisers and arranged to head up to Manchester to see if it would make the feature that I had in my mind’s eye. While most working photographers will know that having high hopes for a job usually ends in a damp squib, the undead were true to their wheezing word.
Starting off at the evenings headquarters, I managed to see the make-up artists at work as they transformed a batch of friendly volunteers into brain-feeding shamblers. While the effects were impressive, the icing on the cake was hearing the zombies saying; “Thanks, love” in strong Coronation Street accents when their look was complete.
The events are essentially a glorified (or “gorified”) game of tag where groups of 6 to 8 participants are released from the start point every 80 seconds and make their way to the first point on their maps. When they reach it, they meet the first character who reveals their back story that will somehow involve the next grid reference. Over the course of the evening, the participants pass from point to point, meeting many weird and wonderful characters as they go. All sounds fun? I’m forgetting to mention the decaying cherry on the cake; their route and the scenarios they encounter are all connected to the recent outbreak of zombie attacks that has swept the city.
With some nights seeing up to 500 people dodging the undead through the city streets, it pays to stand out from the mere panic-filled masses and Manchester didn’t disappoint with a number of Shauns of the Dead, a Thriller-era Jacko (who insisted he was actually dressed as Chris Kamara), a few Lara Crofts, random soldiers and SWAT team members, a team of cheerleaders (including a dubiously bearded member) and even the cast of the Beastie Boys “Sabotage” video.
The scenarios that the players encounter vary from city to city to make sure that the events stay fresh and while some scenes stay the same, others are adapted for the locations that they use. Speaking of locations, I have to doff my digicap to the organisers for the venues that they managed to hire for the night including a church, a skate park, a brand new office complex, a housing development show home and a pub to name a few. I really don’t want to spoil any of the plots as if you give it a go, I’d hate you to reach one and think “Oh it’s THIS one…”.
As I made my way around the course, I’d stay at each location as a few teams passed through to make sure I got the best angles but would then latch on to a team to experience the next stage with them. One nice side-effect of my presence was that the players would assume I was part of the game and for the whole time I was with them, they’d be freaking out even more than before. Every time I slowed or stopped, groups would grind to a halt and start checking every corner. Mooohahahaha! Absolute power corrupts absolutely…
There were some great little bits of detail that I’m sure many players passed in their rush to get to safety, such as the noticeboards filled with notices for missing people.
As you can imagine, a city-wide game like this takes some organisation and the police have to be informed beforehand to stop the 999 switchboard going into meltdown. This creates the rather bizarre scenes such as the ones in the busier areas where zombies will be groaning, screaming and crawling around a busy shopping district while a disinterested police team sits in their car 10 metres away.
With tickets priced at £28 (£24 concessions), the night is really proving to have a strong following with a good percentage of the zombies being people who’ve played on previous nights and want a go at scaring the bejesus out of the next sorry bunch.
If at any point in the evening you’re caught by one of these friendly chaps, you’l more than likely become infected. Due to these ridiculous health and safety laws, the organisers aren’t allowed to inject participants with lethal reanimating viral compounds so the zombies resort to some hasty scribbling with a UV pen. A nice touch being that while sometimes they make it obvious, at other times you may think you may have escaped untouched. The UV tube will reveal all…
With the infected and the survivors reunited after passing through quarantine, the celebrations can begin with a full bar, fast food for those not full up on brains and zombie disco to get that spare adrenaline out of your system.