Hollywood has sold us a bitter lie. After years of watching action movies we have been fooled into thinking that any one of us could be an action hero. How thrilling it would be to clamber, Indiana Jones-like, on top of a Nazi truck, sending villainous soldiers crashing to the road below and shrugging off bullet wounds in the arm like they’re nothing! Of course, any real-life clambering across the back of a truck would mostly involve flailing around like a one-legged fat man on a unicycle, followed by several months of intensive physiotherapy – and let’s not get started on the realities of getting shot in the arm.
As a result, Dubai citizens who want to get their action-movie kicks in a safe, non-lethal environment have until now had to rely on paintballing, which has the advantage of allowing you to experience the hunter-prey dynamic of guerrilla warfare but the disadvantage of leaving you covered in bruises and looking like an explosion in a Skittles factory. Putting the ‘pain’ in ‘paint’, if you will. But now there’s another alternative: Dubai Autodrome’s Laserdrome.
It might sound like a straight-to-video movie from the 80s, but the Laserdrome uses some very clever technology to replace the paint with harmless red lasers, allowing for all the action and none of the mess. Naturally, when Time Out was offered a chance to have a sneak peek, we leapt at the chance.
After locking our valuables in the Autodrome’s changing rooms (remember: mobile phones can give a soldier’s position away – and there is nothing more embarrassing than being shot to death while your Nokia plays its ‘My Humps’ ringtone), we were split into two teams of five and fitted with the Laserdome’s special uniform – a bulky, but oddly light, jacket containing hidden sensors that are capable not only of registering being shot, but also the identity of the shooter. From the hip of the jacket runs a cable ending in a gun, which can only be fired when gripped with both hands – to stop people from blocking their opponent’s fire.
Once equipped, we were then brought into the combat zone, which looked like TV’s The Crystal Maze crossbred with a fairground ghost train – all airbrushed dungeon walls and neon highlights. In real life, war is hell; in Laserdrome, it’s a gothic nightclub. In any case, the teams were parted and taken to their starting bases. After a countdown and some hushed tactics (which basically amounted to ‘run about and shoot everyone’), some dodgy electronic music kicked in and the games began.
For the yellows, at least, that meant running around like heavily-armed headless chickens, spraying lasers left, right and centre. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that sprinting from cover to cover doesn’t count for much – it only makes you an obvious target. Similarly, sniping from one position will only work for so long before you find yourself outflanked and outgunned. And while, unlike paintball, being shot only means you lose the right to shoot for a few seconds, human pride will make sure you don’t want it to happen too often.
Instead, the best course of action is to sneak, Rambo-like, from spot to spot, shooting from a distance and then darting away from your vantage point before anyone else can get a bead on you. This is easier than you’d think, since the arena features a number of nooks, crannies and windows from which prospective snipers can do their thing – and as ridiculous as it sounds, it does become awfully tense. This is definitely a bad thing if you’re the kind of warrior who shoots first and works out which team the victim was on later, but does add to the thrill of the fight.
After much ducking, diving, running and gunning, the music finished and the Time Out team was led into the debriefing room, experiencing a weird mix of tiredness and adrenaline. As we chilled our nerves with bottled water, the results were handed out, detailing not only the best and worst shooters, but also a whole bunch of other stats. And as dispiriting as it was to discover that my effectiveness in the combat arena was only 12.73 per cent, it didn’t in any way diminish the fun that I had enjoyed – especially since I didn’t have any bruises to show for it.
Laserdrome opens at Dubai Autodrome in mid-July. For more information, call 04 367 8700 for more information. Dhs80 per person for 20 minutes.