The Walking Dead Experience Tests Your Zombie Mettle at Walker Stalker Con
Have you ever had to stick your hand in a mostly-dead guy's stomach to find the key that will unlock a helpless woman chained up in the corner of a trailer? It's certainly a feeling I've never experienced before. How about being locked in a jail cell just inches away from the grasp of an undead businessman who hopes you'll be the main course for his last meal? Personally, I try to avoid jail cells as much as possible, but when there are zombies inside, that's doubly true. I guess I tend to stay away from zombies in general, but it's pretty hard to avoid them when you're right in the thick of things at the very start of the outbreak.
The Walking Dead Experience, the Kickstarted escape challenge touring with Walker Stalker Con, drops you into the start of a zombie outbreak with little warning. We all like to joke and hypothesize about what roles we'd fill if an actual zombie outbreak occurred, but the Experience actually lets you live out that morbid fantasy... to a degree. Zombies aren't real, so the threat of losing your life isn't there, but that doesn't mean the creative team behind the 30-minute adventure didn't try their hardest to make you feel like every breath you took might just be your last.
Billed as the first chapter of an ongoing interactive narrative, The Walking Dead Experience is a tightly constructed event that puts up to six people in varying scenarios as they all work together in an attempt to survive the first night of the end of the world. Before stepping foot into the enclosed trailers and staging area, each participant is given a secret note with a clue to help at some point during the event. We're also all warned not to get physical with any of the actors or zombies. Though the threat of zombies is there, everyone participating is just a person in make-up, and no matter how close they get to you, will not attack. This is a key note explained several times. The only instruction belabored more is one about not touching or throwing the fire extinguishers, which are not props, but actual, real fire extinguishers. I can only imagine why this point was stressed so adamantly.
I mean, really; who throws a fire extinguisher at someone?
Our night began with the door closing behind us and the lights slowly coming on in the trailer home of two very unlucky people. One had a giant hole in his stomach, the other found herself cuffed to a shelf on the other side of the room with a gag in her mouth. Despite the frantic grunts and cries of the woman on the side of the room, nobody in the group quite knew how to proceed. A thick bag of cash sat on the ground in front of us, and the table was covered with illegal substances. Something had gone deeply wrong in this little space, and where once we all wanted to be the hero, we suddenly all found ourselves looking to someone else to step up. Again, this is just a scenario with actors. If we can't pull together for pretend, I'm very wary of how we'll act when the poop really hits the fan.
Someone finally removed the obstruction from the woman's mouth, and she relayed that her captor swallowed the key to the cuffs. That meant one of us then had to dig around in his exposed abdomen to find it. Again, the room was full of people looking to one another, each person hoping the next would deal with this unwelcome task. I sighed heavily, and reached into the cavity hoping I'd feel something cold and metallic. Instead I got a handful of guts. A swing and a miss on try number one. Wonderful.
A few gross seconds later I managed to get my hands on the key, with a little help from another survivor's cellphone flashlight. The mostly-dead-but-kind-of-still-alive guy on the couch really appreciated how long it took. If this were a game of Operation, you could have heard the buzzer three counties over. Maybe finesse wasn't the best option, but it got the job done eventually. Whatever, that guy was totally on the road to Zombietown, USA already. We freed the woman. She proceeded to pull a gun on us. Thankfully, someone had been given the hint to tell her Uncle Joe sent us. That bought us some credibility, and her gratitude when the first zombies showed up outside her window.
Once the undead started banging, she shuttled us through what could only be described as a prohibition tunnel. There's no way there was room enough for an actual physical person in this tunnel, but we squatted and waddled through it anyway. Several arms reached out for us, but everyone in the group made it through unscathed. I don't know what happened to Uncle Joe's female friend, but I like to think she's living somewhere nice with all that money, and not at all totally dead.
The other side of that tunnel dropped us off in the office of what I assume was a warehouse security room. The closed-circuit feed showed a bunch of rooms with various degrees of zombie populations, and we had to help the last remaining guard navigate his way through the maze by checking cameras and reporting to him on the walkie talkie left behind by his partner, Dave. I have to give props to the older gentleman who answered the radio's calls for this Dave person with a solid impression of "Dave's not here." I honestly wonder how many times the guys acting this out on the other side have heard that one. Guiding him through was easy enough, but like any zombie outbreak, you're never truly safe as long as the undead are nearby.
Now I don't want to spoil the whole Experience. It's really something you should try on your own if there's a Walker Stalker Con in your area over the course of the next year. What I described was basically the first 10-12 minutes, and over the course of the challenge, you'll encounter other survivors and different areas that do put your faith in the others in your group to the test. You'll have to search rooms for clues and come up with creative solutions to zombie-centric puzzles.
There's no way to truly lose; it's more a matter of how quickly you're able to make it through each of the different small scenarios together. Outside of those first few minutes in the trailer, I'd like to think our group did fairly well. Perhaps it was just the jitters and unease of not knowing the boundaries of what we were allowed to do, but as we progressed deeper, more people snapped to the challenge rather than remaining shrinking violets.
The Walking Dead Experience isn't a cheap event, but the production values show that money is well-invested. Individual Survivor tickets will run you $60, and there are options to do the Survivor experience and play a zombie in full makeup, too. Given that there are only so many times you can run through the scenario in a given day, and the limited number of people that can participate, it's a fair price to pay. I'll be interested in seeing how things are changed up for the next chapter, or to even try running through it again with a different group of people to see how they react differently.
If you've ever wanted to see if you've got what it takes to live through the zombie apocalypse, there's no better way to find out.
You can learn more about Walker Stalker Con's upcoming events and The Walking Dead Experience at their respective websites. We were given the chance to participate in the Experience for free.
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