Outside the room
Do you choose the red pill or the blue pill? Sorry, the blue room or the green room? Breakout Manchester‘s latest offering is a reboot of their Classified game, imaginatively entitled “Reclassified” and can be played by two teams in parallel. I’d previously played Classified over in the Liverpool franchise and had some demons to exorcise – it was the first game I’d failed, so I quite fancied taking on its sequel. As luck would have it, I was up North the week after they’d opened and, when I took a quick peek on Saturday night, it seemed like fate that one of the rooms was free first thing the next day.
So it was two of us that turned up on Sunday morning to High Street Manchester (they have two different venues in the city) and waited patiently for our room to be ready. When our host came out to greet us, it was clear he was enthusiastic about the room and was keen to see how we found it. Excitement levels were building!
This is your final test before becoming a secret agent. Pass the eight exams and grab your certificate.
Inside the room
We walked into the room and it felt somehow both overwhelming and bare at the same time. Not bare in a negative way – visually there’s a lot of stuff to take in, but it’s obvious that there’s not going to be much in the way of searching. In some ways that’s quite intimidating. Usually, you can settle into a room by ransacking its drawers and maybe finding a key to open one of the padlocks “for free”, but here you’re going to have to work to make progress.
So, minimal searching means it’s all puzzling? Well, no; this room is very, very different to pretty much any other game I’ve played because it has a sizeable skill portion. If you happen to be good at the skill-based elements in the room, then you’ll find yourself passing some of those exams quickly and easily. If you’re not, then you’ll potentially spend a fair chunk of your time on them. For once, this is a room which genuinely rewards larger teams. You’re more likely to have someone with the prerequisite skills and, even if you don’t, you can afford to get one player to spend a fair chunk of time on those tasks if necessary (assuming that one of your players is willing to “play” the game for a while and/or that the rest of the team don’t want to get in on the action!). Don’t let that put you off, though. The skill challenges are fun and, even if you’re not the most coordinated person in the world, you’ll get them done – it will just take you a little longer.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though, because in the time that it’s taken you to read this far, our host was knocking on the door to tell us that there was a problem and he needed to reset the room again. No worries – we’d wait in reception and continue in a minute. Twenty minutes later, when he came out and across to us, we were a little worried that we wouldn’t get to play at all but, phew, they’d found and fixed the problem and all was ready again. Except, that it turned out it wasn’t. In their rush to get it ready again after fixing the initial fault, they’d not reset one of the systems properly. The result of that was that we didn’t have access to two of the eight exams.
That was obviously a bit of a downer but the real issue here was that we were pretty confident that there was a problem but couldn’t communicate that to our games master. There’s no audio in the room and no walkie-talkie (yes, I appreciate the irony of me mentioning the lack of a walkie-talkie given my usual attitude to them…) so the host can’t hear what you’re saying. Worse still, there was no camera focused on the critical part of the room, so he couldn’t see the problem either. We tried holding up notes to the camera, but those couldn’t be read. All we could do was watch helplessly as he told us to do things, via the screen, that weren’t possible. It was incredibly frustrating.
Eventually he worked out there was an issue and told us to bypass one puzzle while slipping a note under the door to allow us to work on the second. That rescued the individual exams but by then the damage had been done – we’d lost faith in the room and so every time we came across a puzzle we were left wondering whether it was working properly. That’s the excuse I’m giving for us totally fluffing a colour-based puzzle. I have mild colour blindness and therefore struggle with anything that involves any level of subtlety, so it really doesn’t take much for me to lose faith in a colour-based puzzle. I’ve said it before: if you’re going to risk putting one of these in the room, then you need to make sure the colours are crisp and use white lights and not the usual yellowy ones.
Ignoring those issues, I enjoyed the puzzles but the style of this room meant there were fewer than in most games you’ll play. A couple of them were a bit Maths-homework-like, which seemed an odd choice in a room which I’m pretty certain they’re hoping to attract families with. In fact, I’d say observation skills are probably more important than solving here. A couple of the puzzles involved some really common elements that usually disappoint me in games but on both occasions they’d been set up in a sensible and simple way that meant they were easy to use – there’s a lesson here for other companies: understand the limitations of your escape props and see what you can do to mitigate against them.
We got out with a couple of minutes remaining, but by then we were really quite frustrated and didn’t feel the usual elation at crossing the threshold. We’d probably had at least three clues which weren’t related to the tech problems.
How do you rate this sort of experience? We came out frustrated because of tech failures (or more accurately, resetting failures). I’m confident, having talked to them afterwards, that the two problems we saw won’t happen again, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they did happen to us. This is why I try to avoid rooms during their opening phases – it takes a while for things to bed in. The initial problem was handled perfectly but, under pressure to get us back playing, they failed to reset the room properly the second time and the lack of audio in the room meant that they never realised a key part of the game wasn’t working. I’ve tried to reflect in the rating that these were unfortunate mistakes without ignoring them entirely. I expect you’ll get a better experience than the star rating suggests.
Putting that to one side, this is a genuinely interesting game. I think it’s probably more deserving of the Crystal Maze comparison than most escape rooms – it brings skill into the game in the most pervasive way I’ve seen while still allowing for people who perhaps are a little less coordinated to pass the tests. I think that innovation alone makes it a room worthy of enthusiasts playing.
I’d highly recommend it for families – I think kids will be thoroughly engaged and enjoy that they have the upper hand with some parts of the game. The only group I’d tell to steer clear are those who are pure puzzlers – there isn’t enough here to keep you satisfied if the skill challenges don’t appeal.
Detailed Room Ratings
We headed over to Busaba in the Printworks, a modern Thai restaurant which I’ve been to a London branch of before. It’s great food but I don’t think it’s quite worth the price premium. Prawn crackers and Thai green curry were both thoroughly enjoyable.
Don’t take my word for it
Have a read of Girl Geek Up North’s review for a second opinion.
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.