As we explored the maze of dark corners, accompanied by the constant throb of a motion tracker, it was as close as I've ever come to genuine terror; there was a moment in a lift, when an Alien stuck its head through a hatch, that I remain embarrassed by.
Sadly, the place closed down following a burst pipe or something, and has never really re-emerged, despite a couple of abortive attempts. Yet - beyond the virtual worlds of video games - it was my first experience of being transported to another time and place outside of what usually happens in everyday life.
And now, immersive theatre has returned in a big way.
Since Alien War, companies like Punchdrunk and You Me Bum Bum Train (how can you not love something called You Me Bum Bum Train?) have popularised the whole immersive theatre thing. For a long time, it remained the domain of the middle classes, the hipster, arty elite - and something I would never have been seen dead at - but suddenly the genre is opening up to everyone.
And if you like your video games, they're doing it for you.
In recent times, zombie experiences have taken the best of what Alien War did all those years ago, and mixed it with the adrenal rush of paintball - putting the audience in the middle of a zombie movie. A while back, Punchdrunk ran a show themed around Doctor Who, and last year Secret Cinema finally went all-out to appeal to the masses, putting on an epic screening of Back to the Future.
Admittedly, this seemed to please nobody but those who attended: some sniffed at it as an overpriced hipster indulgence, dripping with irony, while many among Secret Cinema's hardcore fanbase complained that it was evidence of the company selling out. Having attended the event, I can confirm that it was neither.
If you're a fan of Back to the Future, it was a unique opportunity to become part of the movie: a full-scale recreation of the film's Hill Valley in the 1950s (with a hidden doorway to a 1980s dive bar), from The Enchantment Under The Sea dance, to Lone Pine Ranch, to Doc Brown's house. When the film began - projected onto the famous clock tower - the movie played out for real around the audience. Everything from Marty McFly hanging off the back of a truck, to the time travelling DeLorean racing around the town square as Doc Brown ziplined over our heads.
There was nothing ironic about it any more than there is about Disney World or Universal Studios or Legoland - just a sincere attempt to entertain, brilliantly realised and utterly immersive (we had a burger in the town diner, as the future Mayor Goldie Wilson swept the floor, stopping occasionally to chat about his aspirations).
There was even a man going around selling gin and tonic-flavour fruit pastilles. What's not to love?
This year, Secret Cinema is staging its most ambitious event yet - The Empire Strikes Back. Those who've bought tickets (not remotely cheap at £70, admittedly) are already being drawn into the Star Wars Universe, teased with cryptic emails and links, and hints of a special event on May 4th. If you ever played with Star Wars action figures as a kid, this is that fantasy writ large. If anything about it other than the price irritates you, then you're an idiot. No... you grow up.
The two most recent full-scale Punchdrunk shows - The Drowned Man (no longer running), and Sleep No More (at a more or less permanent installation in New York) - were, by turns, utterly pretentious, and completely enthralling.
Surreal, hallucinatory, and bewildering in their scope and depth - and something that I can't imagine any games fan not enjoying. Across the two shows, the audience explored trailer parks, psychiatric hospitals, and deserts, witnessing stabbings, black magic orgies, and bizarre mental breakdowns. Best of all,the sheer scale of the shows - both took over multiple floors of huge buildings - mean that no two people had the same experience. They were real-life sandbox video games, and, if you go to a Punchdrunk with a group of friends, half the joy of the evening is comparing experiences afterwards.
"Did you find that secret passage behind the cinema screen...?"
"I got taken into a room, and this woman made me drink some stuff..."
"This bloke took his pants off and rolled around on the floor and I saw everything."
A DASH OF BIOSHOCK
With Sleep No More in particular, there was a faded, 1930s glamour to the production design - it was impossible not to think "Bioshock"; the evening began in a smokey bar as a swing band played, and we sipped absinthe cocktails. Later, I got thrown out of a lift into a misty graveyard, and got to watch a man having a bath.
And for me, that's the joy of immersive theatre - it's everything I always loved most about video games: being transported to another place, an environment I would otherwise never get to visit... and just being allowed to explore, drifting through the world like spirits. Or, at least, while drunk on spirits. Isn't that part of the joy of, say, the Grand Theft Auto games; just getting to delve into in a brilliantly realised world?
There's also something about it that appeals to the voyeur in me: in Punchdrunk you can't interact with the performers (unless you're one of the few who gets dragged into the show), but nothing else is off-limits. The detail extends to diaries, and the contents of suitcases and desk drawers. You can choose to follow a single performer through their thread of a story, or - as most seem to do - just go wherever your will takes you, and explore the world. It could feel aimless, yet - somehow - in each of the Punchdrunk shows I've been to, everyone seems to end up in the same place for the climax.
Not every immersive theatre show works: last year I went to a thing near London's O2 Arena called The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face, that seemed to tip into a level of pointless, arty pretentiousness that would grate on anybody. Performers wearing Bo Selecta masks led the audience through nightclubs and jungles... concluding with a nude man (yes, another one) playing an endless guitar solo atop a sunken shipping container, surrounded by floating dolls.
But if you're a games fan, I implore you to get over whatever prejudice you have against theatre and the arts, and try one of these shows. If the thought of a reworking of MacBeth doesn't sound like your cup of tea, then try one of the zombie experiences first - something like The Generation of Z, which is putting on a London version of its well-received run at last year's Edinburgh Festival.
You probably won't regret it... but you definitely won't forget it.
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