Outside the room
It’s always tough knowing what to do when a popup escape room arrives on the scene. The first option is to book in straight away in the hope that it’s good and you can encourage other people to play. Alternatively, you can cross your fingers that it’s successful and wait for an extension to its run – and then get to play when it’s the polished article. Choices, choices.
With Escape This Room, I didn’t have to make a decision – a three week run was all that was available, and I was away for the start, so we organised to go with just a few days remaining on its run.
The venue was a temporary shop just round the corner from Old Street, where they’d taken over what was pretty much an empty shell, not just decorating but putting in all the internal walls for the game too. The amount of blood, sweat and tears that must have gone into creating something that’s only on for three weeks is impressive.
It’s the kind of place where you can’t turn up early – the immersive nature of the game means that there’s no proper waiting space and you jump straight into playing on arrival – it’s not till you’ve finished the experience that the GM breaks character.
A notorious London gangster has arranged for the main vault’s hydraulics system to be sabotaged at London’s most secure bank. The repair team have been kidnapped and replaced with a gang of professional thieves, as that gang your team must find your way through the bank to the vault room and steal a prized diamond currently being stored at the bank.
Inside the room
The game starts before you’ve even deposited your belongings for safekeeping. In some sense, it starts the moment you cross the threshold because, from that moment, you’re criminals masquerading as employees of the bank. Your job is to bypass the security systems and steal a diamond from the vault, with video messages along the way reinforcing the storyline as well as giving you clues as to the next step you should take.
Without wishing to give away too much about the internals, this is a particularly expansive game. If you’re the sort of person who loves the sense of discovery in escape rooms, this will be right up your street, but the trade-off is obviously less complexity in the puzzles in each space and no chance for you to mull over one puzzle while working on another.
While there’s nothing that I’d call a true physical puzzle in the game, there are plenty of physical interactions. I always find that satisfying, but more so here where they’d focused on interactions that fitted better within the story than, say, a key maze or some cogs.
Immersion-wise, they did very well on the intro, cluing and direction during the game, but the bank was incredibly bare. OK, that was partly a factor of being a popup, but it felt like a little more effort would have gone a long way to sell the setting as a bank, particularly in the middle of the experience. They’d done particularly well to develop a hint screen that fitted nicely within the story. In truth, it’s not really very different from any other hint screen (and, in some ways, the characteristics might have been a function of the game being a popup), but it disappeared into the background rather than being constantly in your face.
The only negative aspect of the hint experience was the feeling of receiving help a little too early. We never got close to running out of things to do in the room, and either vaguer clues or even just leaving us for a while longer would have been ideal. Our biggest issue was probably working out whether we needed to do more searching or solving at any given point, so perhaps just directing us at one of those would have been a good first step.
From my point of view, the stand-out feature here was the use of tech throughout the game. I’m not one to advocate shoehorning technology into an escape room, but they’d done a good job of integrating it fairly seamlessly into the experience and, critically, getting it to work well. I counted at least ten different tech components that we interacted with during the game. Some of those were quite simple and one didn’t really fit the theme, but overall they were a welcome addition and particularly impressive in the context of a popup.
We escaped in around 40 minutes having been given five or so clues. As mentioned above, the GM seemed a little bit keen to point you in the right direction, and I don’t think half of those clues were truly necessary.
For a popup venue, this was impressive. The effort the owner had gone to was phenomenal for something that was only open for three weeks or so – this was better than many long-term escape rooms. Yes, if you looked carefully, you might feel that some of the walls were a little flimsy and the rooms were generally pretty spartan, but the game flowed well. There’s a certain amount of generosity I give to popups too – you can’t expect them to meet the same high standards as a more permanent venue. The creator suggested that he saw it less as a popup and more as a proof of concept, so let’s hope that he manages to secure a new venue at some point and turn this temporary game into something permanent.
I’d recommend a team of three enthusiasts, but make sure you discuss cluing with the host in advance. It’s obviously up to you, but I’d recommend asking them to only give clues if you’re behind schedule or looking frustrated.
We ate in Home Slice beforehand, a pizza restaurant that serves up 20″ pizzas (don’t worry – you can have half and half if you can’t decide on toppings). It was a nice enough venue with great staff, albeit a little noisy, but I’d only recommend it if you really like pizza and you fancy trying some slightly unusual toppings – for example pig cheeks, chorizo and spiced lamb with yoghurt. What we did have was decent quality pizza at a more than reasonable price.
Detailed Room Ratings
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.