Outside the room
Make Your Escape‘s previous game, Spellbound, has a great reputation among enthusiasts, so we’d been waiting with excitement to try out their latest experience. I say “experience” in the singular, but these are two separate games which opened at the same time: Utopia and Dystopia. While they can be played as two standalone sixty-minute experiences, we opted to play Dystopia and immediately continue with Utopia (which you can do without leaving the game world). That’s the way I’d recommend playing them if at all possible.
Their new games are on a separate floor from their existing experiences in the heart of Derby. They’ve used that to their advantage by starting the immersion early. As soon as you arrive at the venue, you’ll be treated differently according to whether you’ve booked for Utopia or Dystopia, something which continues on into the briefing. Playing both games on the same day allowed us to see how they tell you essentially the same story and rules but delivering them in a very different way.
In an alternate time-line, the world is divided between those who have and those who have not. Utopia and Dystopia share a story and a past, separate yet intertwined, where perhaps not all is as it seems.
For those in Utopia, life is good and technologically advanced. Every need is catered for. Every wish fulfilled. Overseen by their benevolent government, the Utopians are protected from the outside dystopian world and the disease-ridden creatures that roam there. As they strive to maintain perfect balance and harmony, will you be able to pass the selection process and begin your new Utopian life?
Beyond the great dome of Utopia lies a desolate wasteland. Disease has ravaged the population, resources are scarce and, for those still managing to survive, life is hard. Yet, long condemned to the darkness, the Dystopians have become resilient and determined. No longer will they accept their fate quietly and no longer will the advancements of Utopia benefit only the few. Besides, they’ve made some advancements of their own and Utopia might just need them more than they realise.
Inside the rooms
With the briefings over and our ‘topian guide gone, it was time to survey the rooms. Both experiences have a good standard of decoration, although how that manifests itself is very different in each game. Dystopia is full of dark colours, wood and metal, while Utopia delights itself in clean lines, bright lights and plenty of tech. You really get a feel for the story just from glancing briefly round the rooms. While each game starts off in a relatively small space, Dystopia seems to leave you there for longer, which was fine for our team of two but may start to feel a little cramped with maximum-sized teams. In fact, neither game has a huge footprint – I’ve been in many escape rooms which could easily contain both – but they’ve made good use of the space they have.
They’ve used the theming to make the rooms places that you want to escape from. That’s easy to see in the darker, grittier Dystopia, but Utopia’s sterility is also a little unsettling. It certainly isn’t somewhere you’d want to see out your days. They’ve added to that feeling with the story, as you slowly learn more about the society you live in and what the purpose of the test you’re undergoing is. I found the additional narrative appealing, and there was a level of humour rolled in, directed at both the Dystopians and their own citizens. Life in Utopia may be more pleasant, but at the cost of being very, very controlled. More than anything, what stood out for me was how the two narratives intertwine, with you following a story that’s pretty much irrelevant to solving puzzles but that spans the two games.
The puzzles varied between the two rooms, with Utopia focusing on high-tech screen interactions while Dystopia went for a more hands-on approach. If you dislike padlocks, then – spoilers! – you’re going to be disappointed with Dystopia which, as you might expect, doesn’t use much in the way of high-tech puzzles. On the other hand, if you don’t really enjoy puzzles that sit on screens, then Utopia’s probably not for you.
Both games had some puzzles that felt very paper-based, albeit dressed up nicely. Personally, I found Dystopia to be stronger, with an emphasis on physical interactions helping me through some of those weaker elements. In particular, one challenge that was broadly speaking a logic puzzle was significantly improved by the physical props they’d provided. That said, Utopia had its own enjoyable interactions, with one in particular standing out because it felt so thematic in a game which is all about seeing whether you’re fit for Utopian society.
Dystopia’s puzzles felt pretty linear throughout the game and gave no real sense of when we were reaching the end other than running out of props and padlocks. Utopia, on the other hand, is parallelisable for much of the game, and therefore better suited to a larger team. The finale is clearly the end of the experience and sees you simultaneously solving a significant number of puzzles that, while not particularly novel, will definitely keep your group occupied!
The finales of both games inject an extra dose of adrenaline into the experiences, seeing you rush out of the worlds in a way that is fitting for the individual rooms and also bring closure to the two games when played back to back.
We escaped Dystopia in 55 minutes having taken probably three or four clues, and Utopia in about 45 minutes with only a gentle nudge, I think.
Utopia and Dystopia were both enjoyable experiences as individual games, but they really came into their own when played back to back. Working your way out of Dystopia, infiltrating the Utopian world and then finding out the truth behind the perfect society is an amazing adventure. The contrast in decoration, puzzles and flow of the story adds to the experience, and what sort of enthusiast doesn’t like two solid hours of escape room?
If you can only play one, then I’d recommend Dystopia if you want something a little more physical and low-tech. Utopia is better suited for lovers of technology, players who dislike darker rooms, padlock haters or anyone with a penchant for a bit of humour in their games.
Our team of two came out on a real high, and I’d encourage experienced enthusiasts to play as a pair to maximise the time and fun they have in the room. There’s enough parallelisation to keep more people occupied, so I wouldn’t worry about playing as a three or four, though you may feel a little tight for space at the beginning of each experience!
We ate in the food court inside the Itsu centre just across the road. Plenty of choice and communal seating so everyone can be happy!
Full disclosure: We weren’t charged for these tickets. That doesn’t influence the review – you can read more on the About page.