Knott's Scary Farm adds zombie kills to its chills and thrills
On most afternoons and evenings, Knott’s Berry Farm, the “other” amusement park in Orange County, is merely the landmark for commuters on the eastbound 91 and southbound 5 that equates to a collective sigh of relief as drivers are released from the snarls of notorious LA traffic.
In October, Knott’s Berry Farm proudly transforms into Knott’s Scary Farm, probably the biggest Halloween event at any theme park. One that’s been a well-known OC staple for the last four decades that many other SoCal attractions have followed suit.
Longtime Southland residents who see the local attraction as a loco distraction may dismiss Knott’s Scary Farm as just another annual iteration of costumed scarers and haunted mazes more suitable for packs of young’ns and desperate daters. But for those in the know, this year is delightfully different.
The country’s first theme park introduces an ambitious new experience that’s highly interactive and the first of its kind in North America. Called Special Ops: Infected, it’s billed as an objective-based cooperative challenge to “survive the zombie apocalypse in an all-out war!”
Because participation spots for nightly missions are limited and not guaranteed with admission into Knott’s, Special Ops: Infected is an especially hot ticket that’s virtually unattainable to casual visitors who stumble upon or get wind of the coveted chance to kill zombies once inside the park.
So why the buzz? Sounds cliché… hasn’t the whole zombie thing been done to death already? Well, let me explain the hype as if those previous questions came from a jaded skeptic instead.
Call of Duty, one of the most successful blockbuster franchises in video game history, is a military first-person shooter that's beloved for many reasons. While some people become immersed in the epic, cinematic, and often shocking single-player campaigns, others outright ignore the Hollywood-worthy story mode and jump straight into Call of Duty’s legendary and expansive multiplayer competitions. And then there are the gamers who skip both of those and opt for the massively popular zombies mode, in which players must work together in order to survive against waves of the undead.
The first appearance of this zombies mode in Call of Duty was partially responsible for the surge of similar games in the last half decade, a time that coincided with the spread of the undead into more mainstream entertainment. Zombie movies are no longer a horror niche, and “The Walking Dead” has been TV’s top-rated show among the all-too-important 18 to 49 age demographic.
Sure, there’s a "Walking Dead" maze up at Universal Studios, but like all of the themed “mazes” at Knott’s Scary Farm, there’s only one linear path to take, it’s often too crowded for proper scares, and the result is always the same: you manage to escape. Your reward? You get into another long line to shuffle through another maze.
Zombie fever’s at a fever pitch, and thanks to Knott’s Scary Farm, now you can live it out gloriously because instead of rolling out their haunted attractions in new editions, they’ve debuted a new addition. Instead of a TV remote or video game controller, you hold onto a modified assault rifle. Instead of sitting safely in front of a screen, you crouch behind cover and run through acres of quarantined terrain.
A Special Ops: Infected mission at Knott’s Scary Farm may be the most thrilling 15 minutes of October.
As part of a squad of up to a dozen recruits, you’re guided by fully-geared commandos who treat you like soldiers thrown into a warzone. After briefing you on the team’s upcoming mission and emphasizing how critical the completion of the mission’s objectives is to humankind’s survival against a global epidemic of flesh-eating zombies, your leaders take you into undead territory and bark orders throughout the entire mission, which can vary.
“Hold your fire! Do NOT make a sound. You, you, and you… with me! Wait here. Find the key! Activate the beacon! Secure the perimeter! Do NOT engage until my signal! Shoot the infected only! Keep this door closed! Do NOT touch that! Press the red button. Get outta here! RUN!”
Amidst the chaos will be the best scares of the night. I literally jumped into the air at one point… while frantically firing shots back at the zombie that came out of nowhere. My group realized that if this were real life, it would not end well. One of us panicked and accidentally shot a survivor that we were supposed to rescue. She was immediately reproached by our commanding officer.
Looking back, that part was funny, but the entire thing was fun. Knott’s Scary Farm has put forth a tremendous effort into Special Ops: Infected, and it clearly shows. All of the actors involved, particularly those playing the high-intensity squad leaders, must be commended for making the experience an immersive and thoroughly entertaining one.
Although there are some kinks in the laser tag and scoring system that could be improved in the future, Special Ops: Infected is an overall fluid and immensely exciting time. I really hope that it returns as a Halloween attraction every year because it’s by far the highlight of Knott’s this month.
However, the problem for most people will be actually getting to experience the limited affair. Here’s what to do: get there early. As soon as you enter Knott’s, go to either of two outposts at Camp Snoopy (to the right of the park’s main entrance) designated as ALPHA and BRAVO. Here you will receive little cards with a return time printed on them. These are your tickets, and they go fast! General admission doors open at 7:00 pm, my party arrived at ALPHA at 7:20 pm, and the earliest remaining time was at midnight, which is only one or two hours before the park closes (depending on the night). We also ran to BRAVO via the shortcut on the map to secure a second appointment as well, and I recommend you try both because they’re significantly different from each other. Plus, after one mission, you’ll want to do the other. If you only have time for one, my group seemed to enjoy BRAVO more. Finally, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothing, but not too comfortable! Don’t be like the kid we saw who lost his phone because he was wearing basketball shorts. Oh, and get your pre-sale tickets online for big savings!
As for the rest of Knott’s Scary Farm, there’s a cluster of four mazes on the other side of the park, past the Gypsy Camp, that you can potentially kill with one stone before it gets crowded. Head through the foggy Ghost Town to find the Forevermore maze, which features an Edgar Allan Poe-inspired serial killer. The nearby Pinocchio Unstrung maze sounds awesome, but I didn’t have time to check it out. Trapped: Lock & Key returns as an interactive maze in which your group must solve puzzles to progress, but it requires a reservation and costs an additional $60. Avoid the nearby Witch’s Keep unless you’d like to rest your weary legs for a few minutes during a marginally converted Calico Mine Ride. The Black Magic maze, featuring Houdini’s ghost, may have a shorter line because it’s tucked away in the far corner behind the Xcelerator coaster. The Gunslinger’s Grave maze is the closest one to Special Ops: Infected, but I wouldn’t bother unless the wait is under half an hour.
You’ll see some great design and get a few jumps in the mazes and scare zones, but honestly most of the rest of Knott’s Scary Farm is just a way to kill time outside of killing zombies in Special Ops: Infected. If you can get multiple missions there into your visit this year, that’s arguably worth the price of admission alone.
SCREAM AND SHOUT :: knotts.com