Outside the room
When I first saw the planning application appear for Mission Breakout, I have to confess that I was briefly super excited at the prospect of an escape game in an underground station. I’d talked about the possibility in the past and come to the conclusion that it would never happen, but being proven wrong was fantastic. That gave way to disappointment, however, when I realised that the game would almost certainly not be played deep underground and instead merely be located in a building over the old underground station.
When we arrived at the venue and started down the stairs, the excitement returned – while this isn’t down on the platforms or really anywhere near them, it most definitely is underground and, most importantly, it feels like you’re entering the station both from the existing structures such as the staircase and from the work they’ve done to add to the atmosphere. Throw in the sound and breeze as the occasional train passes under your feet and this really does do an impressive job before you even enter the game.
We were greeted by the owners, who showed us through to the briefing area – a wonderful circular room where you’re shown the introductory video. I used to think that video briefings were a trade-off between giving a consistent message and losing the feel of the room, but recently I’ve had a couple that have worked well – and this was right up there with the best. It presented the story and the safety information in a way that fitted beautifully with the theme.
Based on the extraordinary true story of the very confidential Codebreakers! Will you be able to decode the secret messages of the Nazis, escape the room and save the world?
Inside the room
Most games that you play have a very boring entrance. Even if, on the other side of that doorway, there’s something bordering on a filmset, usually it looks entirely unprepossessing. When the outside of the room is impressive, the inside usually delivers so, before we even got into the game, I was pleased to see a doorway that really felt like it was protecting state secrets. Going inside, I wasn’t disappointed. Visually there is plenty to love in this room – from small touches to the dominating pieces of equipment that adorn this game. They’ve gone to a lot of trouble to make a room that’s enjoyable to be in and also recreates (I think) the Second World War environment.
It isn’t just the look that they recreate, it’s also some of the feelings. I’m all in favour of immersion in a room but you have to balance that experience against the fun of the game – does it add or detract? There were three elements in this game which different types of player will experience very differently. The first thing you’ll come across is the noise. This is a game set during the Blitz, when air raid sirens abounded and people were crammed into underground shelters (like the venue itself!). I usually object to background soundtracks but here I didn’t mind too much, in spite of it being one of the loudest I’ve experienced.
Next up was a claustrophobic space within the game. Now, every escape room is going to cause some sensation of claustrophobia – you’re trapped in a space for up to an hour – and if that gives you cause for concern, then you should be contacting the venue in advance or talking to someone who’s already been. This one was probably the most extreme I’ve been to – the whole team gets into a space that’s only just big enough to fit six players and where you’re genuinely trapped for a short while. Again, for me it added to the experience, but I found it surprising and for some people that won’t be a good surprise.
Finally, code breaking probably wasn’t a glamorous affair. I’m sure at times it was incredibly frustrating, and the room captures that. It actually captures it in quite a cool way but, in my opinion, for far too long. There’s one puzzle where the prop increases the likelihood of making repeated mistakes, which led to a fair amount of frustration. To make matters worse, the puzzle was a bit of a bottleneck and, while multiple people could be involved, one person bore the brunt of the tricky work. Having said that, even within our team we ranged in opinion about this part, with one player really liking it.
This isn’t a room where you need to do much searching, so the challenge came in other forms. Firstly, there were puzzles where you had to follow relatively complex instructions to use the equipment in the game. Secondly, there were lots of exploratory puzzles – try things out and see what happens, spot a pattern, keep going until you’ve worked out how to get past the puzzle. There are a couple of traps with that kind of puzzle and we fell into both. First, you might not start trying to solve the puzzle because you assume that it’s brute-forcing and shouldn’t be done; and second, you might solve the puzzle by accident.
Teamwork was a big part of this game. While, as mentioned above, there were bottlenecks where larger teams may feel unable to fully engage, there were several puzzles where our team worked in parallel. That seemed particularly fitting given the amount of teamwork involved in code breaking during the war.
We escaped with fifty-three minutes on the clock, having taken around four clues.
Having spent a chunk of time fighting against the frustrating prop, our time was rapidly running out as we opened the final door. Except we weren’t actually sure whether it was the end of the game or not. We reached some tape that was clearly blocking off a part of the venue but nothing obvious to say “congratulations, you’ve escaped”. The moment you cross the threshold from the game it needs to be obvious – that’s your moment of triumph and probably the high point of the game. If the player is left uncertain at that point, the game fizzles out.
This is a visually impressive game run by fun game hosts, with interesting props in a venue that is genuinely cool. There’s less pure puzzling than I’d have expected, with more of an emphasis on getting you into the spirit of being a codebreaker. I think that final part will result in a greater spread of opinions than most – if you suffer from claustrophobia, dislike loud background noise and get frustrated easily, then you should probably steer clear. If you’re fascinated by the life of the codebreakers during the war, then I think this will be genuinely exciting. For me, those negatives were dwarfed by the positives, and I came out having really enjoyed myself.
Enthusiasts: I’d recommend taking along just three players. For less experienced teams I’d suggest no more than five, and even then expect to feel a little blocked at times.
Don’t take my word for it!
If you want the alternative view to mine then here’s a review from another London escape reviewer.
We ate in an excellent Cambodian place just down the road called Lemongrass Restaurant. It’s a fantastic restaurant – I can recommend the sharing starter (we went for “Treats A”) and the Lemongrass Chicken.
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.