Outside the room
When I booked Incredible Midtown, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. The prices (only £12 per person plus booking fee) suggested something on the treasure hunt end of the spectrum, but there were hints that it might be a little more impressive. Certainly the pedigree gave me high hopes – Secret Studio (of Escape in Time fame), were behind it and that in itself was enough for me to take a gamble and book. It did leave me with a slight concern though, as their background lies in film making rather than puzzling, which had, to some extent, shown in their escape room. Would they struggle to make use of their strength in the less controlled outdoor environment?
That film making background had been put to good use, to produce one of the better advertising videos I’ve seen in this space, which had prompted me to book out an entire game of 10 tickets, rather than having to share the experience with random people.
You don’t get any real background before turning up at the meeting place. They make it clear there will be puzzles, there are hints at treasure hunt elements and a clear brief that it’s going to be all about the history of the area. Beyond that, all you get told is to meet your guide on Charing Cross Road at the designated time.
Oh, and did I mention it was outside? In December? Who thought that was a good idea?
There’s not much I can say here without risking spoiling the game. In fact, there’s not much they tell you even when you arrive – and what they do tell you may or may not be relevant. Even if it is relevant, you’ll have to be listening carefully because information flies at you at a million miles per hour in the first few minutes…
Warning: slight spoiler in the second paragraph. I don’t think it’s really a spoiler, but if you want to know as little as possible then skip this section.
This isn’t an escape room, or a treasure hunt really. It’s interactivate theatre with a puzzly flavour. You’re thrown off balance right from the start and throughout you’re always wondering whether what you’re doing is right. That sense of awkwardness is great, because it makes the game just that little bit more tense, and there was one particular point which it was just perfect.
As soon as you arrive, you’re given a booklet that tells you a little bit about the local history (in a fun way!) and also hints at a number of characters who’ll be involved in your evening. I won’t spoil it by saying how many, or what their names are, but I will tell you this – the acting was excellent and varied. Each character we encountered was wonderfully performed and very different from all the rest. There were moments that were (harmlessly) scary or creepy but others that made the whole group laugh out loud.
As hinted above, there wasn’t much in the way of puzzles. We learned a bit about the local history and buildings, but we rarely had to do any detailed puzzling and there certainly wasn’t anyone marking our entries at the end. What’s more, with ten people, even when there was puzzling, it was rare that you got involved, and it wasn’t like an escape room where you might have parallel streams of puzzles.
Although billed as 90 minutes, it was almost exactly two hours from our start to finish. I don’t think we were particularly slow for a group of ten – I suspect that time is somewhat typical.
This isn’t really a game about winning or losing – certainly no mention was made of it at the end. We did manage to solve all the puzzles, but I imagine most teams would, so no particular kudos in that. We had a good time and threw ourselves into it, which I think is probably the best definition of winning. Thinking about it, that should probably hold true for everything I review…
This is, most definitely, not an escape room. I’d thought it might turn out to be similar to Agent November, but it was most akin to Colab Theatre’s Hostage. In fact, it put right some of the wrongs that I’d perceived in that performance – namely that there was challenge involved. Admittedly they weren’t tough challenges, but they did at least give you a sense of control.
If you go into this expecting tough puzzles (and, after all, the website suggests fiendish clues and perplexing puzzles) then you’ll be sorely disappointed. In fact, that’s exactly what I was for the first few minutes, but then I started to realise how much they’d undersold the immersive theatre aspect. If you accept (or expect!) that the puzzles aren’t the point then you’ll have a great time.
Overall, it’s a great experience. If you can see a slot that hasn’t been booked then I’d recommend grabbing three or four friends and making an evening of it. I don’t think it works so well with ten, although it’s OK, and I definitely wouldn’t do it in a group of ten strangers. Fighting over clues and deciding who gets to play a more or less active role in events would definitely put a dampener on the evening.
We headed over to Pizza Pilgrims, a great pizza place over in Dean Street (and with a couple of other locations in London). Excellent pizza and friendly service – I recommend the calzone.